Playing the Short Stack

published on 07/28/06 at 9:23 am

In a perfect world, you would win the first hand of the tournament and never look back. You would always be among the chip leaders the whole way and cruise into the final table. Now we all know the world is not perfect and sometimes you find yourself with a lot less than average stack or a “short stack”. Most players today don’t know how to play a short stack. I see way too many people just put their chips in with any old hand and essentially give up. I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage “a chip & a chair.” Well that’s a true story. In 1982, Jack Strauss was down to his last chip in the World Series of Poker’s Main Event. He didn’t give up and he came back to become a World Champion.

Here are some helpful hints to remember if you look down and find a short stack.

  1. No limping allowed. Go all-in, you’re not trying to see flops, your first goal is to win the blinds and antes uncontested. Scratch and claw your stack back to respectability.
  2. Table presence is very important. They are a lot less likely to call you if they’re afraid of doubling you up.
  3. Be first to enter the pot. If someone else raises in front of you, throw it away unless you have a premium hand. Remember your goal is to win the blinds and antes uncontested. If someone has entered the pot already it’s much more likely they will call your all-in, you just don’t have enough chips to make them fold or they might even have a very big hand.
  4. You’re looking to push with “hot & cold hands” meaning you may have the best hand pre-flop and/or will win if you’re heads up and you pair one of your cards on the flop. (ex. K-9, K-J, A-10). When you’re short stacked, take those suited connecters like 4-5 of hearts and throw them in the muck.
  5. Avoid the big stacks and other short stacks unless you have a premium hand. If you move-in on a big stack, they are more likely to call you. You can’t hurt them or they may want to show the table that they have the chips and can’t be messed with especially by some small stack like you. Also avoid other short stacks. They may not know Rule # 3 and call you with any marginal hand. They, unlike you may be ready to give up and are more likely to call. (Unless you’re on the bubble, then attack the short stacks, because they will probably throw away most hands in hope of making the money…most people don’t give up on the bubble). Attack the middle stacks (that’s where you will have the most success) You can do the most damage to the middle stacks. Therefore, they are less likely to call you without a premium hand.
  6. Don’t ever let the button pass you up or the blinds eat you up. Always move all-in on the button, let the small & big blind decide if you have a hand or not. (however remember the big stack/shorts stack theory, if they’re on the blinds.) And never ever let your stack go down so low that the blinds are getting the right odds to call you. Never let your chips go below 3-4 times the big blind. (ex. If the big blind is $1,000 and all you have is $2,300, there isn’t a hand that is unplayable in the big blind).
  7. If you are lucky enough to get pocket aces or kings, use the same strategy and move all-in. No reason to limp and let a J-3 see a flop for free and hit 2 pair on you. Push them in and hope for a call.

And keep in mind when I won the 2004 Caribbean Poker Classic, I went into the second day ranked 112 out of 114 players left. I never panicked, never gave up and slowly worked my way back into contention and went on to win the tournament. I came back from a short stack and so could you…GOOD LUCK!

Any questions or comments feel free to email me.

Vincent “Vinny Nap” Napolitano is a professional poker player who has won the 2004 Caribbean Poker Classic, finished 5th at the 2004 Monte Carlo Millions, and a respectable 39th in the 2005 No Limit Hold’em ($5,000) WSOP. Vincent is Poker Syndicate’s official spokesperson.

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7 Responses to “Playing the Short Stack”

  1. DOC

    Aug 22nd, 2006

    why K9 over 78 suited? or is this just when heads up with a short stack?

  2. Peter Iacontino

    Aug 22nd, 2006

    This article was very informative.I enjoyed very much.Just an idea for some upcomming articles: Something for players just getting started.Also something on live no limit games..Keep up the good work. Yours Truly, peteypool

  3. The Hoof

    Aug 23rd, 2006

    Vincent “Vinny Nap”Napolitano is my favorite pro player on the tour.Any advice he gives,I’ll be sure to follow.Keep up the good work Vin,and remember,the cream always rises to the top.

  4. Vinny Nap

    Aug 23rd, 2006

    Doc, (are you Dr. JG???)

    K-9 runs well “hot n cold” heads up against a random hand……….. The only had that really dominates you is AA, KK (which dominate all hands) and you don’t want to see KQ, KJ or KT.
    That’s 5 hands that put you in a bad spot.
    (A ? is ahead but your not that far behind)Everything else you beat or race. And most people will call you with QJ, QT, JT and your ahead. Small suited connectors don’t run well against many hands….. 7-8 suited is only good when you are in a multi-way pot or if you get in cheap against a big hand. And the implied odds (both of you have more money behind) are there if you hit a monster.

    Vinny Nap

  5. Vinny Nap

    Aug 23rd, 2006

    Petey Pools,

    Thanks Petey!!!

  6. Vinny Nap

    Aug 23rd, 2006

    To The Hoof,

    Thanks Buddy!!!
    And Don’t ever forget……….
    2nd Place is the First LOSER!!!

    Vinny Nap

  7. Jim

    Nov 21st, 2006

    Hey i’m currently in a tournament from the last 12 i’m now head’s up with a 2:1 shortstack. I have about 2200 and the blind are 200 and 300. My opponent has about 4000 but he’s highly unpredictable. Would you advise going all in a lot against him?

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