When players in poker tournaments are reduced to a short stack – generally a stack of 15 big blinds or below, although the exact definition does vary based on tournament structures and other factors – they tend to let a certain fatalism set in. With just a few chips remaining, what hope do they possibly have of winning the tournament?
As anyone who likes to play poker, especially tournaments, knows, the answer is a good deal of hope. The short stack may look harmless, but there are a few ways you can wield your stack to exert maximum leverage on your opponents.
One of the most powerful weapons you have is the stop and go play. Instead of getting your stack all in preflop, when the odds might force your opponent to call with even their most marginal holdings, the stop and go play calls for you to put the remainder of your stack in on the flop. The stop and go is generally executed out of the blinds and requires you to have about a pot-sized bet remaining in your stack after you make the call.
Let’s look at an example to better understand the play. You’re in the BB and have 11 blinds left after posting. The tables folds to the cutoff, who has about 30 BB and has been quite aggressive preflop. The cutoff raises to 3BB and the button and small blind fold. You hold a hand like J7s – not a hand that you want to re-raise with and be called, but a reasonable hand that can connect. The blinds will be going up soon, meaning you need to take a stand. If you re-raise now, the cutoff will have to call 9 BB against a pot of 15.5 BBs – pretty good odds, and they will call with almost all of their hands. However, if you just call and then shove on most flops, your opponent might have trouble calling with a lot of their holdings.
Hopefully you understand the power of the stop and go – add it to your arsenal and you might not feel so morose next time you have a short stack.