Being the short stack is never fun. Everyone tries to pick on you and when you’re four handed everyone has their fingers crossed that you’ll go broke so they can cash in. While your overall mindset should be outright victory, when you’re short stacked your first priority is to make the money.
One of the keys to four handed play, and SNG play in general is avoiding confrontations where your tournament life is at risk. Sure if you’ve got a big pair or an ace with a good kicker you have to take you chances. But, if you’re constantly in 50/50 or 60/40 situations with all of your chips on the line, you’re going to go broke sooner or later. Usually, once the blinds get big, and especially when you’re running low on chips you’re much better off picking up whatever you can before the flop. If at all possible you want to be one raising, rather than the one calling. By raising you have two ways to win: everyone folds or you get called and make the best hand. If you’re the one calling your only way to win is by showing down the best hand.
One of the best ways to pick up some easy chips is to attack the next shortest stack. The player one chip position ahead of you isn’t going to want to gamble. They’re hoping somebody else will take you out so they don’t have to risk anything. Raising when the next shortest stack is in the big blind is a great way to pick up chips without a confrontation.
On the other hand, raising when the big stack is in the big blind can be dangerous. Of course, if you pick up a strong hand you should go with it, but in marginal situations you should avoid attacking the big stack. Not only is the big stack the most likely to come after you (and potentially knock you out) with a marginal hand, but even if you double up you haven’t made much progress. You have more chips, but you still need to lose one more player to make the money. If you double up through the next shortest stack, however you’ll often have the added bonus of seriously damaging or virtually eliminating one of your opponents.
One mistake many players make when they’re running low on chips is waiting too long to make a move. Sometimes you have to get your chips in there, not because you have good cards, but because the situation is right. A simple example should help to explain this point. Imagine you are playing four handed with blinds of 200/400, you are first to act and you have 1500 chips. Both blinds have 2500 chips and the big stack on the button has 7000 chips. Clearly you are in an all in or fold situation. So what kind of hand do you need to move in with here? The answer is almost anything. This gets back to the point of trying to avoid confrontation. If you move in now there’s a good chance that everyone will fold and you’ll pick up 600 chips.
Furthermore, those chips aren’t just added to your stack out of thin air. They are coming from the stacks of your opponents. Now, instead of the race for third being 1500 to 2500 to 2500, it’s 2100 to 2100 to 2300. You’ve gone from a clear last to effectively a three way tie for second. Let’s say you raise and you do get called. You’re not dead yet. If you don’t run into an over pair to both of your cards you’ll have at least a 25% chance to win the pot and in most cases it will be much better than that. The key here is that when the action is heads up and one of the players in all in, the difference between great unpaired hands and terrible unpaired hands isn’t as substantial as most players think. I’m sure many regular players would be surprised to learn that in an all in situation, 72 off suit will beat AK suited 31% of the time!
Getting back to the example, if you look at the alternative to raising the play in question looks even stronger. Let’s say you fold and next hand you’re in the big blind with 400 of your 1500 already in the pot. If someone raises now you’re the one doing the calling and the only way you can win is by showing down the best hand. If you fold, now you’re down to 1100 with 200 in the small blind and the big stack in the big blind. From that point on you can just about forget about wining a pot without getting called.
Certainly if another player has around one big blind or less and will be forced all in during the next two or three hands you want to give them a chance to go broke. But, make sure you’re not waiting too long to move in when you’re running low on chips. If you do go broke, remember that you weren’t in good shape to begin with and don’t kick your self for making a good move that just didn’t work out this time around.
Another mistake many players make is when they lose a pot and find themselves very short stacked they give up. They just send in whatever chips they have left of the very next hand no matter what it is when in fact they should be trying to hang on for a few more hands. When it’s four handed anything can happen. If two of your opponents each get a big pair or a big ace, chances are their money is going in no matter how few chips you have. Give them as many chances as you can to eliminate one another. Furthermore, if you’re short stacked to the point you have less than one big blind (and usually when you have 2X the big blind or less) you’re better off waiting to go all in on the big blind unless you pick up a strong hand. The logic here is that not only will it give your opponents one more hand to potentially go broke, but if you win you’ll often have enough to make it through the small blind and survive a few more hands. Whereas if you get your chips in before you’re in the big blind you’ll have to win the pot and then immediately make it through the blinds
For example, let’s say you find yourself first to act before the flop with 250 chips and blinds of 200/400. If you move in now and win on the next hand you’ll find yourself with about half of your chips in the big blind (the most you can end up with after winning the previous hand is 1,000 and you’re more likely to have 750) and you’ll be obliged to call with almost anything. But if you wait until you’re in the big blind to go all in and you win you’ll have enough chips to fold in the small blind if you pick up weak cards and then look at two more free hands. Every extra hand you can survive is precious. You never know when you’ll find a big pair or someone else will go broke. With that said, don’t start dumping monster hands just because you’re waiting to go all-in in the big blind. If you get a great hand go with it.
While you never want to be the short stack, playing well when you’re running low on chips is an integral part of winning sit-n-go strategy. Do whatever you can to attack the next shortest stack. If you have enough chips to potentially steal the blinds, don’t wait too long to get them in there and if you’re almost dead don’t give up! If you play it right, with a little luck you can turn the tables and go from short stack to big stack!
See Part 2 of this Shorthanded SNG Article.