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How to Play Short Stack Poker

We ain’t talking about a short stack of flapjacks.

Once we start getting towards the later stages of a poker tournament, especially at the final table, it’s not uncommon for most players to have an average stack size of between 10 and 15 big blinds. The optimal strategy for a stack of this size is different than when we’re deep, such as at the beginning of the tournament.

Many people call this “poker bingo” because they think it comes down to more luck. Either you win the all-in, you lose it, or you fold. However, this simply isn’t true. Good poker players know that there are always more options.

Here are some things to think about based on your position in the hand.

Photo credit: UpSwing Poker

Out of Position

Especially if you were the pre-flop caller, we almost always want to start the flop by checking. What happens next will depend on a few factors, especially our hand strength and the texture of the board.

If we have a strong made hand or a draw on a coordinated board, we should look to check-raise all-in if they make a bet. If we win the pot, then it’s over—good job. If they call, then we’re either ahead or we have plenty of equity. Either way, it’s a win-win situation.

On the other hand, if we have a strong made hand or draw on an uncoordinated board, we either want to check-call or check-raise small. In this case we’re less likely to get called by worse hands.

Remember, it’s always ok to lose your stack if you give yourself a good chance to win big. It’s better to play to win rather than playing not to lose.

In Position

Let’s say you raised pre-flop from the button. If you have a strong made hand or draw on a coordinated board, you want to bet around 50% pot or so. This means you won’t risk your whole stack at once but you also give yourself the opportunity to go in with a strong hand if you do get called or raised.

If the board is uncoordinated, it’s a good move to continuation bet with pretty much your whole range. In this case, we only need to make a small bet of around 30%. Many people won’t want to call you with a short stack because they’re afraid of getting knocked out of the tournament.

Sometimes it gets dicey. You need to get comfortable with these tight situations. If you only ever go all-in or fold as a short stack then you might as well light your chips on fire.


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