short stack poker

How to Maneuver a Tournament Short Stack

Monitoring your stack size is one of the most crucial elements of the tournament poker play and beginners often don’t pay it enough attention.

Most tournaments start off with 100 BB stacks or higher, but the blinds will continue raising with our stack in relation shrinking. Large 100 BB stacks allow players to employ a wide range of intricate strategies, however as your stack falls, especially below 20 BBs, so do your options.

Let’s have a look at some of the common situations when your stack approaches 20 BB and how to play them:

Entering First In

What kind of hands we open first in will always depend on a range of factors including position, the way the table is playing and our stack size. When our stack is at 20 BB, however, we will usually want to play a fairly strong range from most positions when first in.

Often times I see players open hands like 87ss or suited aces from early position at, but when faced with a re-raise they are left with no real options.

Even when facing a single call, you will likely have to risk some more of your limited chips post flop to win the hand and if unsuccessful can leave you near-crippled.

Going for light steals with this kind of stack can still be good if in late position or if the players behind you and in blinds are tight. You can also widen your open range if everyone behind is sitting with more middling 30-35 BB stacks since they can not easily shove over your open, but be careful if they are willing to 3bet you small.

On the other hand, opening light into too many small stacks behind you or in the blinds will not be smart on the other hand as they will tend to shove a much wider range.

In many short stack situations you will only want to open hands that you would welcome action with, namely 99+ and AQ+(maybe slightly wider), where you will comfortably be calling off your stack against a shove, hoping to flip or better.

Remember, a very important part of why we don’t want to lose chips on light opens at this stage is because we want to preserve our fold equity for when we want to shove over an open ourselves.

Note: If you want to win at poker, you need a solid preflop strategy. This free Preflop Guide includes 8 easy-to-read charts and crucial tips that will help you play like a pro before the flop. Get it now!

Shoving Over Opens

3betting all in over an open is the most powerful play you can make when your stack is in the 17-25 BB range. Your opponents will often be fairly oblivious to the stacks behind them or they will simply see you are the only re-shove stack behind them allowing them to open light. This is your opportunity to significantly increase your stack whether you have a premium hand or not.

Your larger stacked opponents will still be playing a deep stack oriented game, opening light and giving themselves room for postflop maneuvers. We can take advantage of this as the short stack by employing a well thought out reshove strategy.

Barry Greenstein utilized a similar strategy on High Stakes Poker.

Depending on how aggressive the opener has been and how many players there are to act after you, there are spots where it can be profitable to literally re-shove 100% of your hands, but such situations are not THAT common.

Situations where it is profitable to shove a 30-40% range on the other hand are very common, especially in the situations where the villain is opening the button, cutoff or the small blind.

In these spots, their raise will most often be a steal and if you shove your stack in, they will have no choice but to muck a large percentage of their range.

For a quick example let’s say your opponent opens from the button and it folds to you in the big blind holding A5ss and sitting on an 18 BB stack.

The mistake a lot of players make here is just calling the extra blind, hoping for a good flop out of position. The better play in this spot is to shove all in.

If we get the fold we win our opponent’s raise(2-2.5x BBs), our big blind(1x BB), the small blind and the antes(1.5x BB). This means we could be winning up to 5 BB without ever seeing a flop.

If we assume our opponent is opening a fairly tight 38%(pictured below) from the button and will have to fold everything but the top 17%, we will win this pot with a resteal about 56% increasing our stack by over 25%.

opening range

If our opponent happens to have a hand to call our shove with, our hand’s equity to double up against his calling range is still a solid 40%.


Moral of the story: Be vigilant about tracking the size of your stack and stacks behind you and use all that information to your advantage. Use your 20 BB stack as a re-shoving weapon and you will see your stack grow back up to a healthy one fast.

Do too much calling and min-raising and you will see it shrink, costing you fold equity and the opportunity to grow your stack.

Note: If you want to win at poker, you need a solid preflop strategy. This free Preflop Guide includes 8 easy-to-read charts and crucial tips that will help you play like a pro before the flop. Get it now!


Related Posts

Home > How to Maneuver a Tournament Short Stack
Home > How to Maneuver a Tournament Short Stack
About the Author
Team Upswing

Team Upswing

Check out for more poker content

Put Your Skills to the Test with Quick Poker Quizzes!