Players are inevitably going to be faced with a short stack at some point in just about every tournament they play. Learning how to cope when you don't have a lot of chips is a necessary skill to master. Playing effectively with a handful of chips requires a series of adjustments to your strategy, depending on how short your stack really is.
The first step is to identify when you are actually short stacked. This does not mean that you have the least chips of the players at your table. Short stack is defined by the number of big blinds your stack represents. For an online tourney that features 5,000 starting chips and an opening BB of 20, each player has 250 BBs to start with. You can lose half your stack on the opening hand and still have 125 BBs. You would probably have the smallest stack at your table, but you are definitely not short stacked.
For the purposes of this article, we'll consider three categories of short stacks, each of which will require adjustments to your normal play. The three categories are: big stack envy (between 20-30 BBs), vertically challenged stack (between 10-20 BBs), and short stack complex (fewer than 10 BBs). Each of these phases requires a different kind of strategy to survive.
Also check out Big Stack MTT strategy guide for how to finish them off when you're doing well.
When your chip stack dips into Big Stack Envy territory (20-30 BBs), it's time to make some subtle adjustments to your game. The most important step is to reduce your opening range by eliminating speculative hands from your arsenal. You can't afford to chase straights or flushes, because those generally take at least two, and sometimes all three streets to hit, which means two and sometimes three more rounds of betting after the flop. Considering that bets generally tend to get higher with each successive street, you could wind up spewing 35-50% of your stack taking a chance on a hand that will most likely not connect. So get rid of those mid-range suited connectors (J-10 or lower) and concentrate on pockets that have a better chance of giving you a strong hand when you connect with the flop, such as two Broadway cards, an Ace with at least a 10 kicker, or big pocket pairs (Jacks or higher).
At this stage it is okay to set mines with middle pocket pairs (6s through 10s) but only if you are in late position and can reasonably expect to see the flop for cheap (3 BB or less).
You also want to forget bluffing until you build your stack size back up. A bluff is a series of bets, not just one large, random bet. At this stage, you don't have enough of a stack to set up a proper bluff (pre-flop raise, C-bet and even larger turn and/or river bet). And if your stack has gotten this small, you may be one of the shorter stacks at the table, so you're really not going to scare away everybody with a bluff.
It's also time to reconsider your posture when it comes to defending your big blind. If you've got less than 30 BBs left, don't waste any more chips calling with junk from the big blind, no matter what the pot odds might indicate.
Say you are faced with the following scenario:
So many experts will say you should call because it's only 2 more BBs to get a chance at a 13-14 BB pot.
The price is right, they'll scream.
But is it really worth risking 10 percent of your stack playing J-6 off in a four-way pot when you are out of position after the flop? When you're sufficiently deep-stacked, it makes a little more sense to take a shot at seeing a miracle flop come up, but if you are dealt junk in the BB and are facing a raise, don't be a hero.
Because blinds are constantly going up it is important not to fritter away a lot of your dwindling stack on speculative hands, failed bluffs, or defending blinds. Leave the gambles to the big stacks. Your job is to make them pay when they chase a straight or flush so you can get out of Big Stack Envy.
In most tournaments there will come a point where you are short stacked and need to decide when to make a move. That doesn't mean you should just throw your chips in the pot without forethought! Instead, know why you're moving all in. Do you want calls or do you want folds? Make the best decision you can and don't second guess it. This video shows you that putting all of your chips into the center of the table doesn't have to be such a daunting move.
Once you reach this stage (10 BBs or less), your only options are fold or shove pre-flop. If you are at the upper end of this range, you can be a little selective and try to wait for a monster (AQ or better, JJs or better). If you are at the bottom end (5 BBs or less), you are basically looking for the first opportunity to shove all-in - any pocket pair, any ace, any Broadway pocket - and hope for the best.
Learning to play with a short stack is much more important for tournament players than cash players. In cash games, the blinds are constant and players can reload if they choose. In tournaments, blinds are constantly increasing, and you can't simply add to your stack whenever you want.
When playing with a short-stack, you have to be really patient and look for big hands. In these ranges, you are in danger of being taken all-in on any given hand, so do you really want to go out of a tournament with pocket 4s or playing 8-9 suited? Or would you prefer to go out guns blazing with an A-K suited or pocket Jacks?
Every tournament poker player has a story about how they were down to their last few blinds and came back to win a tournament. It can be done, and mastering the short-stack techniques listed above can help you get a comeback story worth sharing.
Wait for late position unopened pot, 4 or less players to act behind you ship it with any 2 cards if you have less than 10 bigs. Pick up the blinds & antes if they fold. Short stack hands to shove with 20 or less big blinds?— Ruth Hall (HallTxholdem)