One skill that any tournament player needs to master is short stack strategy. As the blinds continue to go up level after level, you’ll often find yourself with less and less big blinds (BBs). Knowing how to navigate situations where you’re sitting below 25BB will help you to win more tournaments.
A common misconception surrounding playing a short stack is that you always need to fold or go-all in: nothing in between. However, playing this so-called ‘push/fold’ strategy actually leaves a ton of chips on the table and decreases your chances of success.
Instead of playing such a binary strategy, it’s better to take a more nuanced approach that includes a consideration of some of poker’s complexities. In this article, we’re going to talk about how position affects short-stacked decision making.
On the Button
The dealer button is the best position at the table because you have the most information, as you always get to act last. The game theory optimal strategy when short-stacked on the button is to min-raise all your best hands while shoving with the upper-middle part of your range.
For instance, you’ll min-raise your pairs and broadway hands because they flop well, and you can usually get calls from the blinds. However, with hands that rely more on fold equity, then get aggressive and shove it in. Though this doesn’t mean that you
should push it in with anything. Pick your spots wisely.
The important thing to keep in mind here is that including a min-raising range widens the total amount of hands that you can play. If you only shove, then you cap your range at only the best hands. Playing more hands should let you win more chips if you do so with an edge.
Under the Gun
When you’re first to act (under the gun or UTG), you actually never want to shove with a short stack. There’s still so many people to act behind that it’s pretty risky to put your entire stack on the line so early. Instead, try min-raising about 18% of your hands.
You can then divide that range into two buckets. You’ll call off the best ones if you get jammed on, while you can fold the bottom half. This gives you some tournament stack protection while simultaneously setting you up to double up with your best hands.
In the Blinds
The blinds are some of the hardest positions to play. You’ve already put chips into the pot, but you’re guaranteed to be out of position post-flop. To make it even more complex, we should actually adjust our strategy depending on who we’re playing against.
If we’re facing a raise from UTG, we’ll just call with hands that flop reasonably well while
jamming with the top of our range. So, we’ll shove broadway hands and pairs while calling with hands like suited connectors.
If we’re against the button, on the other hand, we almost never want to call because their range is so much weaker, giving us more fold equity. Instead, we’ll jam all our aces, all pairs, all broadways, and some big suited connectors.
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