Playing the Short Stack in a Poker Tournament

Playing the Short Stack

When playing in a no limit poker tournament, one of the worst positions you can be in is playing the short, or smallest, stack. There are no guarantees that when you go all-in you are going to win, but you can pick the right times to try to double up. Typically when you are playing the little stack you have one move (or play) left in you, so if you want to stay alive you may as well make use of what chips you have left.

The Short Stack in a No Limit Hold em Tournament

If you are in a NL Hold em tournament and the blinds are 300/600 and you have 900 chips left, the blinds are going to put you all-in. Before the blinds reach you, you should pick a time to push all in. If you wait for the blinds to come you will be forced to play whatever 2 cards you are dealt when the blinds put you all in. This is like playing bingo and really sucks!

Say there are 6 hands to be dealt before the blinds reach you again. You must take your chances on the best starting hand out of 1 of those 6 hands, but what hands are worthy? Sometimes you have to lower your standards to get your money in the pot on the best possible hand you can in the time frame you have to do so. In this situation I play ANY pocket pair, ANY 2 face cards, ANY face card that is suited (even it is a hand like K5 suited or Q9 suited) and any ace no matter what is with it.

Let's take into consideration another situation of playing the short stack. Say the blinds are 150/300 and you are holding 900 chips and want to limp in (just call the blind to see a flop as cheaply as possible). I am strongly against this - if you have a hand you want to see the flop with and you are that short stacked, you may as well just push all in. If you limp in, 1/3 of your chips are gone if your flop doesn't hit for you, and your only chance at winning the pot would be to bluff.

Going all-in on situations like this offers you a few things: 1) If you push all-in, at least get a draw out; if you limp here and get no flop and someone bets at you, you will be forced to fold. At least if you are all in pre-flop, you may draw the card you need on the turn or on the river. 2) If you push all in everyone may fold, giving you what blinds are out and making your stack that much bigger.

Playing Short Stacked Heads-Up in a Tournament

When you are short stacked while heads-up in a No Limit Hold'em tournament (last 2 people in tournament playing for the win) your strategy drastically changes. Playing the short stack in this situation isn't so bad because you are heads up and the worst you can do is make 2nd place. Let's say the blinds are 1,000/2,000 and your opponent has 100,000 chips to your 8,000 chip stack. No matter what position you are in, you are putting blinds in the pot on every hand. If your opponent is playing his big stack right, he should be putting the pressure on you at every turn.

This is where I go psycho on my opponent! If you let them bet you out every round, you are losing chips left and right and will be blinded in very shortly. So this is where I play the luck card. You have to double up a few times on your path to win their stack, so just go for it immediately - ALL IN no matter what cards you are holding. As I mentioned earlier, a few things can happen: your opponent may fold, giving you those extra chips, or they will call you and have a draw out where you may get lucky and hit your card.

Playing the short stack can be very simple if you take the amount of the blinds and your position into consideration. If you go for your all-in move and lose anyways, you shouldn't feel so bad since you did the best you could. If you make a bad play you may be mad at yourself even hours after the tournament is over for you. Remember, in NL Holdem tournaments you should be thinking at all times. If you overlook even the smallest detail, it could mean the end of your tournament life.

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