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Short-Stacked and Praying

by Todd Arnold |  Published: Mar 01, 2006

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Look at that pathetic little pile of chips, most of which are the lowest denomination on the table. You have stack envy for everyone else. How did you get so low? Did you take a bad beat? Well, whatever happened or didn't happen, one thing is for sure: You are in trouble. You need to get in shape quick or you are going home. But wait! Relax, don't get desperate. Never give up! For this column, we'll use the following situation. Blinds are $1,000-$2,000, average stack is $78,000, there are 20 people left in the tourney, and you are on the button with $19,000.



There are a few things to pay attention to when playing the short stack. Your reads on the players at your table and their mindset, what they expect you to feel like and do, stack sizes, and hand selection are keys to short-stacked play. You also need to decide what action you want with certain hands in certain situations. Do you want to be called and have a race or do you just want the blinds and antes, as they represent 15 to 20 percent of your stack? Also, where are the stacks? Do you have equity to fold those to your left or not? Is the big stack on your right and does he keep pressuring you? And so on.



OK, first, what do your opponents think of your situation? Do they think you are desperate or on tilt from a recent loss? Or have you been short all along and they think you are just the most patient player on the planet? Either way, use your image to your benefit. For example, if they think you are desperate or tilted, choose stronger starting hands. If you pick up a very good drawing hand like A-K or A-Q, then push and push quickly. With your desperate image, you will likely get called by large stacks with A-J, K-Q, or less. Whereas, you don't always want a call with A-K or A-Q, short-stacked you truthfully need a call and to win the race. Conversely, if your image is tight and patient, then use your position to pick up blinds more so than if you have a desperate image. When in late position and the action is on you, push with all of your equity with any reasonable hand. You can loosen your starting requirements based on your image. Maybe a K-J or a suited ace-rag is ample here. Pick up blinds and antes to stay alive until a premium hand comes along. One constant is to always be the one pushing and not calling.



But, what if you are not getting any good cards regardless of your image? You are getting blinded down and definitely need to make a move. If you get low enough, the big blind will most certainly call for pot odds. Hand selection is now very important and I suggest picking a connecting hand like 8-9, 6-7, 6-8, 5-7, 7-9, and so on … especially if suited as well, rather than an A-X or K-X type of hand. The likelihood of being called by the larger stacks behind you and their having an ace or king, thus dominating your hand, is high. You want two live cards with more possibilities than just pairing up. And good luck in your race.



Here's one thing to pay attention to that most do not. Observe your table, as you always should. Pay close attention to what the big stacks are doing. Is he a good big stack player? Is he mindful, or does he feel it's his job to take out all the short stacks. A good big-stack player is selectively aggressive. He will not tangle with other big stacks and also will not tangle with the shortest stack unless he has a premium hand. Knowing that the short stack is likely to gamble with him, he should not double him up. For example, you are in the big blind now with K-10 or A-2, or something like that, and the biggest stack raises five times from middle position. He is a good big stack player according to your observation. The correct play is to fold that big blind. Maybe that only leaves you with two and a half or three times the blind but you still have eight more hands to see before the blind hits you again. You'll be surprised how fast you can get in shape if you catch a couple of hands. Conversely, if this guy is raising constantly and blindly pressuring and not playing his stack very well, then I would probably call with those hands from the big blind and take my race there.

Follow your reads even though you are somewhat pot-committed.



Be reasonably patient. Many players get too desperate too soon. I see too many people lose a big pot, leaving them short-stacked, and then they just push in the rest or call with any old hand from the button when they have more hands to see. Don't be afraid to go through the blinds leaving yourself very short if that means you have eight more hands to see where you will certainly get a call. Heck, you want that call, or two, especially if you finally pick up a nice hand.



• Use your equity against the stacks behind you if your image merits it.

• Use position whenever possible.

• Select correct hands based on image and opponent.

• Read your opponents well, especially the big stack's play.

• Avoid calling if possible.

• Be reasonably patient.

• Get lucky!



To avoid all this pain, stop getting short-stacked!

Todd Arnold is the trainer and co-creator of www.realpokertraining.com. Visit the site or e-mail Todd at twarnold@realpokertraining.com.