Ending up short-stacked in a poker tournament is a situation many players fear. However, there is a way to survive this situation: Short stack poker strategy. You simply must know how to play optimally with a short stack, if you want to be a successful poker tournament player. As long as you have any chips left, you can still survive and rise again.
You have probably heard the famous term “a chip and a chair”. It originates from the World Series of Poker Main event in 1982, when Jack Straus thought he had lost all his chips, but he found a single $500 chip and was allowed to continue playing. He ended up winning the whole tournament! So, as long as you have a chip and a chair, you can still win.
Actually, short stack strategy is much more simple and easy than deep stack strategy. A short stack in a poker tournament can be defined as 25 big blinds or less. Playing with a 25 big blind stack is quite different from playing with a 10 big blind stack.
The first topic in today´s post will be playing with a very short stack of 10 big blinds or less. Next, I will talk about playing with a 12-25 big blind stack, which allows much more options than playing with a shorter stack. I will also discuss short-stacked tournaments, in which all players are short-stacked.
How To Play With 10 Big Blinds Or Less? – Go All-In.
In tournament poker, you need to change your range according to the stack you play with. There is not only one right range for each stack size, though. As usual in poker, you need to adjust. The exception is short-stacked play. If you have 10 big blinds or less, you can use the Nash Push/Fold chart, which you can find online for free. When you have less than 10 bb left, you don´t have other options available than to push all-in or fold.
The chart tells you which hands to push in each position and stack size up to 10 bb. You can also find push/call charts for short-stacked heads-up play on the same website. I do n´t get any comission from the website that keeps up the Nash Push/Fold chart, I just wanted to tell you where to find it, since the chart is very useful. I actually have a printed version on the wall in front of my desk, like many tournament players.
Pushing hands according to the Nash Push/Fold chart does NOT mean, that you will win every time. It simply means you will win money in a long run; you will win more often than you lose, so it is a + EV (expected value) move.
You can not limp with this stack size, because you do not have fold equity. Many weak players with 10 big blinds or less try to limp into the pot, which is a mistake. Even if you had pocket aces and you limp hoping other players to raise, it´s a terrible play. You are just giving your opponents a chance to hit the flop for free. Min raising is not any better. Just go all-in with the hands you should go all-in with, and fold the rest.
When you have a hand you should push, you just have to make the move and go all-in. The last thing you want is losing all your chips by blinding out. You may be called and be busted out of the tournament, but you may also double up.
What if someone has already raised before you? The hands you can 3-bet shove or call all-in with can be calculated using Hold´Em Resources.
12 – 25 Big Blinds – A Great Stack Size For A 3-Bet Shove
Having around 12 to 25 big blinds allows you much more options than having 10 big blinds or less. You can open raise hands all-in, but you can also just open raise, call and 3-bet. Especially when you play on the blinds, you can 3-bet shove against aggressive players with this stack size. Which hands should you 3-bet with? Against aggressive players opening from late position, any pair, suited Aces, Ace Ten offsuit or better and suited connectors (T9s+, J9s+, Q9s+, K9s+) work well as hands to 3-bet shove with.
Against a loose player it is also possible to defend the big blind with just calling with hands, that are not strong enough to 3-bet shove. Unsuited connectors that flop well, such as JTo and QTo are great hands to defend the big blind with.
If the blinds are tight and do n´t 3-bet a lot, you can even min raise steal with hands like K5s or Q7s. Against tight players on the blinds, you can even steal the blinds when you have only around 15 big blinds left!
Small 3-Bets And Limping
When you have around 20 big blinds, you can make some moves playing very short-stacked does n´t allow. When you 3-bet with 20 big blinds, most of the time you should 3-bet all-in. However, in some situations you can just min 3-bet, either as a bluff or hoping to get more value for a premium hand. You may want to exploit a loose opponent, who folds to 3-bets too much, by making a small 3-bet as a bluff.
You can also min 3-bet with a premium hand, hoping for a call or a 4-bet. Opponents who want to see the flop, but would fold to a 3-bet shove, may happily call a small 3-bet. You also want to encourage a loose 4-better to 4-bet by min 3-betting your nuts.
Limping on the button or small blind with around 20 big blinds left, when the players on the blinds are very aggressive, is a profitable option. You have a hand that plays well, and you want to see the flop, but your hand is not strong enough to call a 3-bet. Let´s say you have JTs on the button, and the blinds 3-bet shove a lot. You can just limp with this hand, and call a small raise from the blinds.
The same move can also be done on the small blind, if the big blind is an aggressive player who likes to 3-bet shove. If the big blind just raises every time you limp on the small blind, you can limp 3-bet all-in with a hand that would be profitable to push against the big blind. That way you make more profit against this kind of player, than you would by just going all-in first.
Some tournaments start short-stacked, or most of the players get short-stacked quickly because of the blind structure. Many hyper turbo MTT tournaments are this kind of tournaments. Hyper turbos with an opportunity to rebuy and add-on are common. For add-on tournaments the best strategy is to register when the rebuy period is ending, just before the add-on. You should just get the buy-in and the add-on.
The reason you should not register for these tournaments from the start is, that you just increase variance with all the gambling weak players and rapidly rising blinds in these tournaments. You might end up having to rebuy several times, which will cost you several buy-ins. Of course there are many weak players in these tournaments before the add-on, but it is still not very profitable to play these tournaments from the start.
When you get the buy-in and add-on, you typically start playing with just around 15 big blinds. When you play these tournaments on micro stakes, there are many weak players who have no idea how to play with a short stack. Almost everyone have a short stack, and they try to limp with weak hands to see the flop. Of course, you should not allow the limper to do this, but punish them by shoving all-in instead.
You have a big edge in these tournaments, even if you just push hands all-in as instructed in the Nash Push/Fold chart. The variance in hyper turbos is higher, but because of the simple strategy required in them, they are one of the easiest poker tournaments to beat.
Hyper turbos are my favorite games on days when I feel like my brain is not functioning well, and my ADD symptoms are taking over! Hyper turbos are a great option for those brain-foggy days also because they do n´t last very long.
Another very popular form of short stack tournament is Spins or Spin and Go. They are 3-handed hyper turbo sit and gos with a random prize pool. They normally start with a 25 big blind stack. You can play Spins on Party Poker. Spins have a very high variance, though, so pay attention to good bankroll management.
Final Neuroatypical Thoughts On Short Stack Poker
On many poker books you can read something like this: “Do n´t tilt about being busted from a tournament. If you had n´t ended up short-stacked, you would n´t been forced to go all-in in the first place.” I find this kind of annoying. Sure, you can mess up and play a hand horribly wrong, and end up short-stacked because of that. But you can also play perfectly well and just get unlucky in a bad beat poker hand, ending up short-stacked.
You can end up short-stacked in a tournament despite playing well, it happens quite a lot. In some tournaments, like hyper turbos, all players are short-stacked. Regardless of why you ended up with a short stack, short stack poker strategy is the key to survival.
With 10 big blinds or less, your only option is to go all-in or fold. Nash Push/Fold chart is a great help for deciding which hands to push. With around 12-25 big blinds left, you have much more options. You can go all-in, open raise, call and 3-bet. 3-bet shoving with this stack size is especially profitable.
Against tight blinds you can steal the blinds by min raising with even just 15 big blinds left. With around 20 big blinds you can also min 3-bet as a bluff against players who fold to 3-bet too much. You can also min 3-bet with premium hands against players who want to see the flop, but will not call if you 3-bet all-in. This also works against players who like to 4-bet bluff.
With 20 big blinds you can also limp on the button and small blind against aggressive 3-betting opponents, when you want to see the flop. If your hand is strong enough to go all-in on the small blind, against a big blind who raises every time you limp on the small blind, you can limp 3-bet all-in.
When you still have 12-25 big blinds left, you may want to use these different short stack strategies to avoid ending up with 10 big blinds or less. If your stack gets that short, your only moves are folding or going all-in.
Do you find it easier to play with a short stack or a deep stack? Let me know about your experiences with playing short-stacked in the comment section below.