Thursday Poker Blog! Managing the Short Stack

Welcome back to Poker Blog Thursday!  If you think back on my poker career and your time conversing with other players, you will probably notice that many poker success stories involve improbable scenarios.  These scenarios typically take the form of either an epic bad beat that you or a friend needed to win or, as we will discuss today, a comeback from a tiny chip stack.  To win a tournament, you must acquire all the chips.  Chips are power.  The more chips you have, the more flexibility you have with your play.  However, the tables can turn quickly.  So, just like a large stacked player should not resort to reckless play, a short stacked player should not concede defeat. 

Recall learning about exponents in math class.  Remember how quickly a small number could create an error message on your calculator when you take that number to the nth power?  Short stacked poker is the same thing.  A triple-up followed by a double-up and suddenly, you’re above-average stacked.  Another big pot and you’re among the chip leaders!

Below are some tips to give you a fighting chance to survive with a small chip stack:

1) Making sure you are really short stacked before you resort to short stack mode.  Whether you are short stacked is not merely a matter of the amount of your chips.  It is your chips in relation to the blinds and antes level.  Tournaments are not about catching up with your competitors, it is about survival.  Far too often I see a player lose a tough hand early (i.e. pocket aces getting cracked by trips), get their stack down to, say, 600 chips, and then immediately go all in the next time they have an ace even though the blinds are still only 15/30.  This player has TWENTY big blinds!  Right now, his stack can survive over 13 blind orbits around the table before he’s out of chips!  Relax!!  Does this player need to double up soon?   Sure.  Does he need to double up in the next 3 hands?  No!

Many players consider being shortstacked any time they have less than 10 big blinds left worth of chips.  This is not a bad formula and it is easy to use.  I prefer Dan Harrington’s “M” figure.  Your stack’s “M” is your stack divided by the following sum:  the small blind plus the big blind plus the product the antes times the number of players at the table.   In other words, if you have 5400 chips, and the blinds are 150/300 with an ante of 50 each at a full nine-handed table, your M is 6, or (5400/ (150 + 300 + (9 * 50)).  The M calculates how many times around the table your stack can survive before you are out of chips.  It is far more complex to calculate than to see if you have 10x the blinds, but it is a far more telling stat, especially when antes are added to the mix.  Harrington states, and I agree, that if your M is 5 or below, you are short stacked. 

2) Once you’re shortstacked, you have one move pre-flop:  ALL-IN.  This is pretty self-explanatory but remember we discussed this issue in the suited connectors post.  This is not the time to call a raise with T8 suited hoping to flop a draw.  It’s time to double-up, period, not to go prospecting. 

3) First in time, first in right.  Stealing the blinds and antes is a critical part of surviving a short stack.  Being short stacked is like trying to float in the deep end of the pool.  Every so often you need to flap your arms to keep your head over the water.  Stealing the blinds and antes is flapping your arms in poker.  If you don’t get called, you have just added an M to your stack.  Your range of hands should expand when you are short stacked, but only with respect to instances when you can get in first!  For example, if a player makes a pre-flop raise from second position, and your M is between 3 and 4, I am folding my A9 offsuit there.  A9 is a stealing hand, not an all-in vs. a raise hand.  Also, as your position improves, so should your range of hands to move all-in with.  If you are desperately short stacked, any ace or king is worth pushing with from the button or either of the blinds. 

4) Do NOT slowplay AA, KK or AK.  We discussed this earlier in my post about pocket aces.  Your competitors are expecting short stacked players to shove all in frequently to try and steal blinds.  The quickest way to get your opponent to think something is fishy is to merely call for a significant portion of your stack.  I am an advocate of disguising your hands by betting them all the same way. 

5) Target other short stacked players.  This transcends a lot of the other tips in this post.  I am a big fan of building my stack back up by targeting other short stacks even with marginal hands.  Remember, they are in the same predicament as you.  They have to try and steal blinds as you do, often with weak hands.  Accordingly, if a similarly short stacked player goes all-in before me, I will often call with a marginal hand like KJ or 55, hoping to catch someone playing something weak like JT or A3. 

I hope these tips give you the ammo to have a great comeback win story someday!

Explore posts in the same categories: Poker Tips and Tales

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