Chip and a Chair: Never Over Until you are Felted

It’s never fun playing short stack poker, but if you are patient and wait for the right spot, you’ll get back in the game. (Image:

Chip and a chair: cliche but so true. I used to play $60-$125 tournaments frequently at my local casino in Iowa and did not fare too well for quite some time. I loved playing tournaments but was not too skilled at it.

Somewhere around 2009, I finally realized that a “chip and a chair” isn’t just some B.S. thrown around by uncreative people. As soon as I did, I began having more success in tournaments.

If you’re still in a tournament…you’re still in it. I don’t care how many (few?) chips you have, how big the blinds are, and how many chips the biggest stack has, you still can win this thing. The odds may be stacked against you, but the same was said about the 1969 “Miracle” Mets, a baseball team that won the World Series against all odds.

I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to just throw your last remaining chips in the pot with any two cards in any situation when there may be an opportunity to wait for a better spot. I used to get so frustrated if I lost a big pot and was left with a small stack that I didn’t even care anymore. I would just shove my chips in without looking at my cards and usually ended up busting as a result.

But here’s something I’ve learned. You can make a comeback no matter how small your stack is. Sometimes all it takes is one or two double-ups and you’re back in the ball game.

Let’s say you just suffered a sick bad beat and are down to 5,000 chips with the blinds at 500-1000. Obviously, this isn’t an ideal situation given you only have five big blinds. And, just as frustrating, even if you double-up, you’ll still only have 10 big blinds, which still leaves you in a shove-fold situation.

But what if you double-up a second time? You’ll then have 20 big blinds, which means you have some dancing chips. That’s all it takes to go from on the verge of being felted to having a decent stack. Two hands and you go from almost nothing to something. So why just throw in the towel and give up?

Good Things Come to Those Who are Patient

Here’s a prime example of my point. Recently, in a $125 buy-in tournament at Aria in Las Vegas, I was down to just 5,000 chips with 600-1200 blinds (200 antes). Basically, I was in desperation mode. I had about 30,000 and lost 25,000 in one hand with pocket aces. The very next hand, on the button, I had 2-7 and thought about putting it all in, knowing the big blind would definitely call with any two cards because he had a monster stack.

I decided to fold and wait for a better opportunity. A few hands later, I picked up A-Q and shoved and got called by a weaker hand. My hand held up and I was back over 10,000. Once the big blind came around, I got a small pocket pair and won a race, doubling my stack to just over 20,000. All of a sudden, I had some momentum and some chips.

Less than 10 minutes later, I was back to the same stack I had before losing with pocket aces. I continued to slowly build my stack and, before I knew it, I had over 60,000 chips with 1000-2000 blinds. I won that tournament, taking home around $1,800. My patience and discipline paid off.

Sure, I realize that the odds were stacked against me given I was down to less than five big blinds at one point. But my point is it can happen. Had I shoved with 2-7, I probably lose the hand, the rest of my chips and have $1,800 less to my name. You have nothing to lose by being patient and waiting for your spot to make a move. So you might as well hang in there.

The Right Time to Shove

When is it the right time to make a move? That all depends on your chips stack, position, your hole cards, and the blinds. In Texas hold’em, your shove range should expand when you are short stacked. What I mean by that is you should shove with more hands with a small stack than a bigger stack because you’re in desperation mode. But that doesn’t mean to shove with any two cards in any spot.

If you’re in early position and have at least a few big blinds left, you don’t have to shove. But if you pick up a decent hand such as K-J or even Q-J, it’s time to gamble.

My general rule of thumb is if I have any pocket pair and 10 big blinds or less, I’m going all-in no matter what. Then I hope and pray. Unfortunately, the poker Gods don’t seem to answer my prayers very often. Perhaps I’m not praying hard enough.

If the hand is folded to your small stack in late position, you can open up your range even further to weak aces, Q-10, and even suited connectors such as 7-8. You have more fold equity in late position because there are fewer players behind you to get past. And with a weak ace, you could get called by a hand that is weaker.

Whatever you do, just stay patient. Don’t allow yourself to get blinded out. But don’t feel the need to shove all-in no matter what just because you’re upset about a bad beat that left you short stacked. Things can turn around quickly, so hang in there.

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