What Not to Do With a Short Stack by Erick Lindgren

When you’re on the extreme short stack in a tournament, there isn’t always a “right” decision to make. You’ll find yourself in a lot of marginal spots, such as holding an A-9 off-suit in early position or maybe holding a small pair when someone in front of you has already raised. With those hands, it’s never clear whether the better move is to shove and cross your fingers or just fold and wait for a better spot.

There are, however, some very “wrong” decisions to make when you’re on the extreme short stack, and I saw one of them on display in a tournament I played on Full Tilt Poker a short time ago.

We were at the final table of a tournament with six players remaining, the blinds were 50K/100K with a 10K ante and I was the chip leader with more than 8,000,000 in chips. The average stack was about 3,000,000, and the player directly to my right was the shortest stack by far with 811,000.

When you have eight big blinds, which in this case wasn’t even enough chips for four revolutions around the table, the logic is simple: You only enter a pot voluntarily if you have cards that you’re willing to go all the way with pre-flop.

On this hand, the short stack entered the pot for a raise to 250,000 under the gun. The fact that he didn’t just move all in suggested he was being a little bit tricky. He could have had a monster, or he could have just been trying to make it look like he had a monster. A lot of players will make that play with a hand like J-10 suited, hoping other players might call but not re-raise, allowing them to see a flop. But it’s not a play I endorse. When you’re down to eight big blinds, you should be playing all-in-or-fold poker.

In any case, I picked up a strong hand, A-Q off-suit. I just went ahead and moved in my stack, figuring if someone behind me has a bigger hand, so be it, but I wanted to isolate and try to eliminate the short stack.

And this was when my opponent made an even worse play than raising small under the gun: He folded to my re-raise.

There was 1,270,000 in the pot and it would have cost him 561,000 to call. Folding was simply the wrong play. He should have called with any two cards. He had already committed too much money to the pot to fold his hand. If he was getting cute with a medium suited connector, then he was only about a 60-40 underdog. If he was playing a weak ace, then technically he wasn’t getting the right odds to call, but he would need to know for a fact that he’s dominated in order to correctly lay his hand down.

And it’s important to note that I was the big stack and I’d been very active. He didn’t necessarily have to give me credit for a premium hand.

By folding, my opponent left himself with only 561,000 in chips, less than six big blinds, and the big blind was going to be on him the next hand. He was going to be forced to take a stand, but he would be doing so for a lot less money than would have been the case on the previous hand. Instead of trying his luck against me for a pot of more than 1.8-million, a double-up on the next hand would only increase his stack to 1.2-million.

The lesson is simple: When you’re extremely short-stacked, raising and then folding pre-flop shouldn’t be an option. Either a hand is good enough to play for all of your chips, or you throw it into the muck. The worst thing you can do is attempt something in between those two extremes.

Erick Lindgren