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How to Play With a Short Stack
At one point or another everyone has found themselves with a small stack in a poker tournament. Whether you got there through losing a big pot, a cold run or cards or simply having the blinds catch up too fast it is vital to your poker profits to know how to deal with the situation. This article looks at short stack play with less than 10 big blinds, looking at the strategy concepts that could help to get you back into the tournament.
We will start by assessing the constraints which a small stack needs to work with at the tables. The importance of being first to enter the pot is discussed next, with a look at when to make a move and when not to. Finally the circumstances of your opponents are considered and factored into short stacked tournament play.
The simple strategy adjustment to make with less than 10 big blinds is ‘forget post flop poker’. If you call a raise before the flop the pot will usually be the size of your stack or bigger – meaning that you are pot-committed to any further action by the attractive odds. If you raise a pot and an opponent re-raises you then calling to see a flop is not an option for exactly the same reason. Short stacked play in multi table tournaments involves making decisions before the flop only.
Opening the Pot
They key to short stacked play is to be the first to enter the pot – and to move all of your chips in when you do. With 10 big blinds you can afford to be a little selective in the hands you do this with. At 5 blinds or below any-2 cards are usually good enough. Your objective is to steal the blinds and antes without a fight. Since any raise you make will commit you to calling a re-raise then the most effective way of doing this is to move all-in.
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There are some factors which influence how successful these moves will be. First is your position at the table. If you are in late position you will have seen several opponents fold ahead of you. The fewer opponents the better your chance of a successful steal. Your cards do make a difference, holdings which are likely to be ‘live’ if you are called are favored in these circumstances.
Holding Live Cards
Since you will often be called by ace-x hands, pairs, and high card hands such as King-Queen it can actually be better to go all-in with 9-8 than with Ace-5. The reason is you are likely to have a better chance of surviving against the range of hands that might call you.
Your opponents should also influence your play with a small stack. A medium stacked opponent is a far better target for a blind steal than a big stack or another small stack. The latter are more likely to call you while a medium stack will usually be comfortable enough to fold and wait for a better opportunity.
To summarize, short-stacked tournament play is all about pre-flop poker. Moving all-in is often ideal with any hand you play, since you will be committed to call any re-raise due to the pot-odds. Stealing from as few opponents as possible, with ‘live’ cards and from medium stacks will maximize your chances of success.
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