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Playing The Short Stack In Poker Tournaments

If you play tournaments, whether single table SNGs or big field MTTs, you’re going to be in a short stack situation pretty often. Learning how to play well from that position can make a big difference to your overall win rate, so here’s some advice on playing a short stack in early, middle and late stages of a game…

Early Stages

It can be really disheartening to lose a lot of chips early in a tournament, but even if you lose more than half of your chips in the first couple of rounds, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a short stack. Short, means relative to the blinds so in a game where everyone starts with 1,500 chips you can lose 1,000 chips in the first hand and still have plenty to play with. If the blinds are 10/20 then with a stack of 500 you still have 25 big blinds, which is enough to play a solid game. If you’re closer to 10 big blinds then start looking for opportunities to get all-in.

Middle Stages

If you’re on the short stack in the middle of a tournament, you’ll need to be patient and wait for the right spot to make a move. You can’t wait too long though, of you’ll be blinded away. Look for spots where the players in the blinds are tight, and try to steal. If you can build back up to around 20 big blinds you’ll have more fold equity and be back in the game.

Late Stages

Towards the end of the game, playing a short stack well depends on whether or not you’re in the money. If you are in the money you’ll effectively earn more as each player busts out, so it might pay to be ultra tight and try to fold your way up the ranks. If you’re not, then you will want to be looking for spots to steal and try to build up your stack. Again, attack the blinds when they are playing tight, and try to get all-in with big cards in the hope of doubling up.

Remember, that most of the time you want to be the one shoving. You don’t want to be calling all-in bets unless you have a high pocket pair, or your stack is so short that you have no fold equity left.

Finally, don’t give up too easily. You might feel like there’s little point in playing once you stack dwindles away, but remember the old adage of a “chip and a chair”. A significant portion of your win-rate will come from being short stacked and fighting back, so learn to play the short stacked situation well and you’ll reap the benefits.

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