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Open-Raising with a Short Stack in Tournaments Explained

by Curtis Knight |  Published: Oct 10, 2018

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The Upswing Poker Lab is a poker training course taught by Doug Polk, Ryan Fee, and other top poker pros. The Lab is updated regularly with in-depth learning modules, theory videos, and a wealth of information to make you a better poker player.

Many tournament players leak chips when playing short stacked. This puts them at a huge disadvantage to skilled tournament players, who have near perfect short stack games.

Today we’ll discuss adjustments to refine your short stack game.
Our topics will include:

• Adjusting your open-raising strategy with a short stack
• Open-raising with a 30+ BB stack vs an under 30 BB stack
• Developing a three-bet range with a short stack

Let’s get to it!


Adjusting your open-raising strategy with a short stack


An obvious place to start is with a very common mistake, namely, opening too many suited connectors. These hands usually realize their equity on the turn or river, and these later streets are reached less often when short stacked. Consequently, their value drops significantly when short stacked and most of them should be excluded from your open-raising range.


With a 16 big blind (BB) stack on the button, for example, we should be more likely to raise with K-5 offsuit than, say, 7-5 suited or 5-4 suited. This is admittedly counter intuitive, and a complete reversal from how we’d play deep stacked.


The main reason for the change is that as we get shorter we can get our stack all-in for value with weaker hands. Ace-highs, medium pairs, and weak top pairs all go way up in value when we’re short stacked.


K-5 offsuit, for example, might have kicker concerns on a flop of KSpade Suit 7Diamond Suit 2Club Suit when 100 BBs deep, but it can profitably get all-in with only 16 BBs behind.


Additionally, stack preservation is more important when playing short stacked. We need to tighten our opening ranges, and focus on hands that do well with a short stack post-flop: hands with high card strength.


Open-raising with 30 BB+ versus open-raising with less than 30 BB


Here is an example of a range that could be profitably open-raised on the hijack at the beginning of a tournament, with deep stacks and antes:



A reasonable open-raise from the hijack with 30BB+ effective stacks, 31.22 percent of hands. Yellow = Raise, all other colors = Fold


Notice that this range contains many suited connectors. You can run multi-street bluffs and realize more equity when you flop draws at this stack depth, which isn’t possible when playing with a short stack and low stack-to-pot ratio (SPR).


Here’s what a range might look like from the hijack with a short stack:



A reasonable open-raise from the hijackk with less than 30BB effective stacks, 24.6 percent of hands. Yellow = Raise, all other colors = Fold


This range is notably tighter, mostly because it excludes many suited connectors and low pocket pairs. It’s still fairly loose, though, because of the favorable math underlying open-raising generally. As our stack approaches 15 BBs, we have to tighten up.


With 13–15 BBs, we should stick to NASH Equilibrium shove ranges. (These ranges can be found with a quick google search, or use the SnapShove app.) Knowledge of NASH ranges is an invaluable asset for success as a tournament player.


Although the focus of this article is not on shoving ranges, it is important to note that most players are too tight when calling shoves. As a result, we can take advantage by shoving looser than NASH.


How to develop a three-bet range as a short stack


Now that we’ve discussed adjusting your open-raising range when playing short, let’s talk about three-betting.


We always want to be balanced when we three-bet, but this can tricky when short stacked. You might be wondering, “Should we actually have a three-bet/fold range with just 20 BBs?”


Answer: Yes!


The closer we get to 15 BBs, the less we can three-bet. That being said, we want to be able to three-bet/call with some of our stronger holdings at this stack depth rather than just re-shoving our entire range.


Developing a three-bet range when short is similar to developing a raise/fold range. We want to three-bet a very polarized range! And we want to balance our value range with hands that have good blocking potential.


Let’s look at a quick example before wrapping up.


Tournament. Blinds 500-1,000 with a 100. ante 20,000 chip effective stacks.
We are dealt ASpade Suit 9Club Suit on the button. 3 folds. Lojack opens to 2,200. 2 folds.


What do we do? Flatting is out of the question given our hand’s playability and the low stack-to-pot ratio going into the flop, so it will be difficult to realize our equity. Not to mention the possibility that one of the blinds will squeeze.


A-9 offsuit is borderline strong enough to shove for 20 BB against a lojack raise, but there may be an even better option. This hand is perfect for our three-bet/fold range. It blocks many of the lojack’s strongest hands (A-A, A-K, A-Q, A-J) and can still flop top pair or better when called.


Conclusion


As you play more tournaments, start to think more about how your range changes as you get shorter. Remember: the shorter we get the tighter we need to be, but we can still play aggressive in the right spots!


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