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How to play short stacked in MTTs

One of the more important skills you need to have if you play MTTs, is how to play short stacked. At some point or the other, you will end up finding yourself with a short stack in an MTT. It becomes imperative then to know how to navigate & maximise your MTT life with a short stack. You need to have the patience to wait for the right opportunities to extend your tournament life.

Here are a few key points to consider when short stacked

A. Keep it simple

Any options to make creative plays are not available with a short stack. Hence, any or most of the action with a short stack will happen pre-flop. Sticking to a simple strategy when short stacked is the optimal way to go. Keeping it simple, will make your decisions straightforward and you won’t find yourself in weird spots like facing a big bet on the river with showdown value.

B. Do not Limp

It may be tempting to just limp in with a hand and hope to catch some part of the flop cheaply. In the long run, this strategy will always lose and you’ll end up losing more than winning. With 10 blinds or lower, your decision is to fold or go all-in. If you have a strong starting hand, don’t hesitate to raise or go all-in depending on your strategy. 

C. Don’t wait too long

It’s obvious you’d want to go all-in when you’re short stacked with a strong hand like a premium pair. You could get lucky and get dealt a premium pocket pair when you’re short stacked, but more often than not this is not the case.

Build a push-fold range which includes almost all pocket-pairs, AK, AQ, AJ, AT, and some weaker hands like Ax, KQ, KJ, KT, K9, Q10+, JT. Alter your push/fold range, depending on how many players are left to act after you. If you keep waiting for premium hands, you’ll eventually bleed out and in turn lose a lot of fold equity.

D. Short stacks are costly

This is simple Math. When you have a short stack, each call or bet is a huge fraction of your stack. For instance, a 2.5 bb bet/call is worth 25% of your stack if you have 10 blinds! If you play too many drawing hands with a short stack, your stack will deplete much too quickly. This in turn will again as before cause your fold equity to drop. Getting it all-in is your best move with a short stack. 

E. Understand and analyse the situation

In a tournament, you will find yourself with a shrinking stack at one point or another. At these points, remember to take stock of the situation and analyse the players around. I.e. 

Their stacks, playing style, number of hands you can see before your fold equity drops to insignificant levels. Anything between 10-15 blinds would be considered a short stack and hence you must always be aware when you are getting close to this mark. Remember your short stack strategy and change gears accordingly.

F. Aggression is key

It’s almost always a better idea to be the aggressor in poker. Betting or jamming into an opponent gives you a chance at winning the pot before showdown. whereas, if you just call an opponent’s raise, you’d have to win at showdown. With a short stack if you have a strong hand, don’t wait. Your only plays are Fold or go All-in.

G. Stack protection not a concern

Contrary to a deep stack strategy, where you would want to protect your stack as much as you can, short stack play doesn’t involve stack protection at all. Once you find yourself in a good spot, you must be willing and eager to get all your chips in the middle. This increases your chances of doubling up and in turn brings you back “in the tournament”.  A good spot would mean you are the first in the pot. You need to put the decision to call or fold on your opponents as opposed to you being the caller. 

Finally, always remember to be decisive and aggressive. You are playing the tournament to win. Apply pressure on your opponents while you still can.