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How to Play a Short Stack

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Playing with a short stack is a common occurrence in sit and go’s and MTTs. A short stack would be classified as someone with about 10 big blinds in a SNG and about 15 in a MTT (or shorter).

Many players get this short and feel as if they have no chance at coming back, so they decide to throw in the towel. They shove with any two cards trying to knock themselves out.

Chip and a Chair

If this sounds like you, just keep the term “chip and a chair” in mind.

The term chip and a chair originates from the comeback that Jack Straus made in 1982 to win the WSOP main event. He made the comeback starting with no more than a single $500 chip.

The point is that you should not give up in a poker tournament, regardless of how short you may be. The shorter you are, the more difficult it will be to come back – more difficult, but definitely not impossible.

Short Stack Strategy

Believe it or not, you do have a few strategic options as a short stack. But before I get into that, I want to briefly discuss a couple important points first.

  • If you’re short, you shouldn’t try to play flops. The reasoning should be straightforward, but I’ll explain it just in case it’s not.

If you only have 10 or 15 big blinds, you just don’t have the maneuverability that you would have if you had more chips. Just by raising preflop, you just about commit yourself whereas with more chips you can raise and fold or raise/c-bet/fold and be fine. Doing that with a short stack just leaves you more crippled than you were to begin with.

As a rule of thumb, when you are a short stack you should be making plays that result in you pushing your stack in. This can be preflop or post flop depending on the amount of fold equity you feel you have.

  • As a short stack, you have little to no fold equity. Any play you make as a short stack will revolve around this. Fold equity is huge in tournaments and SNGs. If you’re looking to make a play, you should try to use the play that gives you the most fold equity.

Ok, so with that said, let’s go over a few plays or tactics you can use as a short stack.

“GO” Plays

A “GO” play consists of one of the following plays: stop and go, go and go & limp and go. I use these plays when I have no fold equity preflop, but feel as if I have fold equity post flop. Each play can easily have an article of its own, so I’ll just briefly describe the play as well as when you might consider using it.

Stop and Go: The situation where you’d use a stop and go is when another player open raises before you preflop and you can’t re-shove preflop and expect them to fold. Instead, you just flat call and shove any flop.

This play will work best when you’re calling out of position, like in the blinds. That way, you can shove first and avoid any awkwardness that can come from being in position post flop (like the raiser c-betting) in case you miss.

Go and Go: The go and go is a play that you’d use when you’re deep enough to raise preflop and are doing so with the intention of shoving the flop. You might do this when you have, like, 12 big blinds. That way when you’re flatted the pot is big enough where you can shove for about the size of the pot.

I have a couple suggestions for when you use this play. One, I would suggest blending or “balancing” your range with this play. In other words, I would not only do this with marginal hands like suited connectors, small pairs and maybe AK, but also do it with my premium hands. You’ll find that you create more fold equity this way. Secondly, this play also works best out of position (if possible) so you can shove first.

Limp and Go: I would use a limp and go when I’m the first to act, have a hand worth shoving, but have no fold equity with the big blind. To use this play, simply limp preflop and shove any flop.

This play works well for a couple of reasons. For one thing, when you limp preflop, many regulars or “thinking” players will have to consider the possibility of you limping preflop with a monster like aces or kings. This alone will buy you a ton of fold equity – especially if you do limp preflop with monsters. It also works well because often times it’ll fold around to the big blind who will be on ATC and will check/fold most flops.

Push/Fold Strategy

The push/fold strategy is the most common tactic that you’ll use as a short stack. To learn this strategy, using tools like SNG Wiz is recommended. SNG Wiz will teach you how narrow/wide you can shove based on the ranges you assign to the players left to act after you.

With that in mind, SNG Wiz isn’t perfect. SNG Wiz cannot factor in the fold equity you have (or don’t have), history or meta game that you might have with a player or if the blinds are about to go up in the next 30 seconds. So, here are a few additional tips to use when you are utilizing a push/fold program.

  • When in doubt, push wide. Pushing wider than what SNG Wiz suggests is hardly a “big” mistake. So, if you’re not sure if you have a hand you should be shoving with “X” big blinds, go ahead and do it and double check it later.
  • The earlier the position you are in, the less you should be shoving mid to lower A, K and Q-x type hands. The reasoning behind this is that it’s very likely that you’ll be isolated with dominating hands, especially from players that have an idea as to how wide you’re shoving. I’d much rather shove something like 87s from UTG then shove a hand like K8 off suit. The closer you get to the button, the more of your face card hands you can include back into your range. SNG Wiz will tell you different, but I just hate shoving a hand like A2, only to have a hand like A9 iso me.
  • Pay attention to the clock. I’ll push my 6 big blind range (wider) with 7-8 big blinds if the blinds are going up the next hand. I’ll push even wider if I’m about to go through the blinds next with the blinds rising the next hand or two as well. Many players miss this one.

Summary of How to Play with a Short Stack

As a short stack, it’s without a doubt much easier to just give up, try to bust and just load another game.

However, as you can tell from the information I just gave you, it’s not as if you’re dead in the water just because you are a short stack. You do have options. It’s possible to come back from being a short stack. I’ve done it and I know many others who have too. You can too, using my short stack strategy above.

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Written by Matt Geer

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