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How To Play Draws When Short Stacked

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Oct 11, 2017

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One of my Twitter (@JonathanLittle) followers recently told me about a hand that illustrates a few disastrous errors that many amateur poker players (and some pros) make on a regular basis. Late in a $500 buy-in live tournament with blinds at 2,000-4,000 with a 500 ante, everyone folded to the button, an unknown player who seemed reasonable, and he raised to 10,000 out of his 60,000 effective stack. The small blind folded and our Hero decided to call in the big blind with 7Heart Suit 6Diamond Suit.

Right off the bat, Hero’s call is almost certainly a mistake unless the opponent has significant flaws in his postflop strategy. While 7-6 may seem like it has some potential, it is actually a fairly weak hand that is not getting the proper pot odds to call and see the flop. If Hero instead faced a min-raise (to 8,000), calling would become acceptable, but as the raise size becomes larger, Hero should defend with a stronger range.

The flop came 9Club Suit 8Spade Suit 3Diamond Suit, giving Hero and open-ended straight draw. Hero checked, the opponent bet 8,000 into the 25,000 pot and Hero called.

With a marginal draw, Hero has an easy check-raise all-in on the flop. By check-calling, Hero will have a difficult time getting full value when he hits because quite often the turn will check through and the opponent will either fold to or call a river bet. If Hero misses on the turn and the opponent bets, Hero will often be priced out of drawing. By check-raising all-in, Hero will force numerous better hands to fold while also ensuring he gets to see both the turn and river when he gets called. When playing out of position with shallow stacks, check-raising all-in with your strong made hands and draws is almost always the right strategy.

The turn was the 10Spade Suit, completing Hero’s straight. Hero pushed all-in for the opponent’s 41,500 stack into the 41,000 pot.

I despise this lead. If the opponent has nothing, he will certainly fold. He may fold even a decent made hand such as K-9 or A-8. Hero doesn’t have to worry too much about getting outdrawn if the turn checks through because the only terrible river cards are the queen and jack, and even then, there is no guarantee those will leave Hero with the second-best hand. Hero should instead check, allowing the opponent to value bet with his made hands and bluff with his junky draws. Notice that the only time leading gets called is when the opponent has a strong made hand which he will almost certainly value bet if checked to. Leading essentially forces the opponent to play well, which is the exact opposite of what Hero should want to happen.

The opponent called with JSpade Suit 7Spade Suit for a better straight plus a flush draw, busting Hero.

Hero shared this hand with me because he thought I would care about his “bad beat” story. While Hero is certainly going broke once he turns a straight, he should not have been involved with this hand to start with. When playing shallow stacked, you must be keenly aware of how your pot odds dictate your preflop play. While small preflop errors usually won’t cost you too much, this time, it resulted in Hero losing his entire stack. Also, his opponent may have folded on the flop if he check-raised all-in. Hero should file this one under “bad play” instead of “bad beat.” ♠

Jonathan LittleJonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $6 million in tournament winnings. Each week, he posts an educational blog and podcast at JonathanLittlePoker.com, where you can get a FREE poker training video that details five things you must master if you want to win at tournament poker. You can also sign up for his FREE Excelling at No Limit Hold’em webinars at HoldemBook.com/signup.