How to play short-stacked in a Texas Hold’em tournament
Unless you’re really lucky, expect to be short-stacked at some point every time you sit down for a Texas Hold’em tournament.
This means that learning how to play when short-stacked is going to be a necessary skill to possess.
Being short-stacked doesn’t mean that you need to give up and there are things you can do to help turn your game around.
The first thing to do is stay calm and remember that now is when you need to pull every bit of patience and discipline out of your arsenal. You’re going to have to play tighter than ever and wait for that perfect opportunity to strike that allows you to double up and get back into the game.
When you find your stack starting to get smaller, assess the situation and gather a few facts that will allow you to create a picture of how to proceed. You need to determine the size of your stack against others at the table, the size of your stack against the blinds, the size of the stack against the average stack and how many hands you have the opportunity to see before bleeding to death or being so low in chips that someone will have to call.
You’re short-stacked if you have only 10 to 20 big blinds left. If you get down to 10 or less, you only have two options – folding or going all-in. Don’t expect to try to pull any tricks and don’t consider calling. You’re already against the wall and, unless you have a truly superior hand, you’re not going anywhere – if you have that hand, you should be going all-in.
Once you climb back up and have more than 20 big blinds in your stack, you’re in a position to take a little risk. You’re still not out of the hole yet, but you at least have a little bit of leeway in your play. Again, though, you’re still not in a position to take serious risks. Continue to play tight and let your patience work for you.
As you find yourself stretched thin, don’t speculate, be the first to get into the pot and always commit while you have enough chips. Don’t think about playing small pocket pairs on the off chance you might pick up a set and mid-range suited connectors are still a long shot.
Even if you were to get lucky, your small stack means that you won’t pick up any decent pot. You can’t afford to take a chance at calling only to not pick up the flop you had expected. Any hand you play short-stacked has to be a hand worth going all the way for, or you’re going to the rail.
If you’re really at an end, you’re going to have to commit to a hand – any hand – while you still have enough fight left to convince an opponent to fold. This is known as fold equity and, in many cases, can be your best friend when you’re on the edge of busting.
If you only have a few chips left, the showdown is the only place you can win. Playing with a short stack doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re playing with no chips at all.
If you’re going to go all-in as the short stack, make sure you’re going to be the first into the pot and that you have excellent cards. In doing so, you are forcing your opponents to think twice, but are ready in case someone calls.
If you have 10 big blinds still in front of you, you can still be a threat to your opponents and they will still need to have a good hand if they want to call. However, if you’re not first in, your hand must be awesome because it’s almost guaranteed that a showdown will go to the river before someone wins.