Tournament Strategy – Recovering From Your Small Chipstack
Every tournament player will need to deal with a small stack at some point – whether caused by losing a big pot or simply a cold run of cards. Strategy for recovering from your small stack depends on many factors including the stage of the tournament and the tendencies of your opponents. This article looks at some key strategy tips to help you recover from a small stack and get back into the tournament again.
We will start by noting that not all small stacks are equal, introducing the concept of ‘fold-equity’ against opponents with various stack sizes. Next the disaster of ‘blinding away’ is looked at and the steps you must take to avoid this. Finally some more advanced moves such as the ‘stop and go’ and the role of ‘dead money’ in the pot are covered.
Losing half of your stack in the very early rounds of a poker tournament can seem like a disaster – but it is not. While the blinds are small then having 30 big blinds instead of 100 (for example) actually still leaves you some flexibility in your play. You will be able to see flops and re-raise opponents when required. If you become small stacked early then time is often on your side, the best strategy here can be to continue playing as if your initial stack was in place and take positive expectation situations as they arise.
During the middle stages of a poker tournament becoming short-stacked is more of a problem. With only 5 to 8 big blinds you are restricted to a single ‘move’ – all-in with any hand you wish to play. The reason for this is that you would be forced to call any re-raise from an opponent when you enter a pot – since you would be receiving huge pot-odds for your call. If you need to call a re-raise anyway then it makes more sense to get the maximum ‘value’ from your remaining chips by pushing all of your chips in first. Ensuring that opponents in the blinds would lose 30% of their stack if they lose the hand will further increase your leverage.
With a short stack at the bubble you will need to make a decision as to whether doubling up will give you a viable chance of moving up the money. For example with just 2 blinds the answer is probably no. With 7 blinds then it is possible to make a comeback – and to damage the stacks of opponents, here positive aggressive play will bring the most money over time.
Blinding away is a disaster for a small stack and must be avoided at all costs. Even with 4 to 5 blinds you still retain some ability to get your opponents to fold. Use this while you still have – pushing 2 random cards will usually give you a 35% or so chance of doubling up even those times you are called. This is far better than losing any remaining fold equity by playing too tight.
When in the blinds and holding a medium to weak hand such as A-8 or 7-7 a situation can arise where you can use the ‘stop-and-go’ to give yourself 2 ways to win the pot. With a raiser ahead and a small stack then re-raising would guarantee a call (due to the pot-odds). Instead you can call the bet and then push the remainder of your stack on any flop. Even if your opponent folds just 20% of the time (after completely missing) then you have given yourself an extra way to stay in the tournament.
Finally, dead money in the pot can create an opportunity to get chips when you have a micro-stack. For example, with 2 blinds left you see 2 limpers ahead and hold a weak hand such as K-10. Here you can push all-in when not in the blinds. The limpers will call and you may possibly benefit from the bigger stacks betting against each other after the flop – even if you only win 35% of the time here, the extra chips from the blinds and limpers will mean you can increase your stack 4 times, giving you a positive expectation situation.
To summarize, recovering from your short stack requires awareness of the stage of the tournament you are in. The key element is fold-equity and to make sure you retain at least some ability to win the pot without a showdown. Push all-in where you would need to call a re-raise as this gets maximum value from your remaining chips. Finally, never give up!
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