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Short-Stack Play

Playing a short stack properly is a lost art. Rarely do you see someone write about short-stack strategy; I know that I don’t write about many hands in this column involving small pots. However, while I was playing in a $3,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em event at the Jack Binion World Poker Open , I decided to write a column on the sequence of hands that I played, and equally important, the hands that I didn’t play.


With the blinds at $25-$50, I found myself in the big blind with the Adiamonds 5diamonds. John Esposito — who is playing some very first-rate poker these days — made it $200 to go from two positions away from the button. Don Atkins called from the small blind.


What should I do? Should I move all in for my last $225 or fold? Why should I invest my last $225 in a situation in which I was guaranteed that both of my opponents would call and then check it down (check until the end in order to try to eliminate me), unless one of them hit the flop in a big way? On the other hand, if I did win the pot, I would have $675. If the small blind hadn’t called, I would have had to go with this hand, but when he called, I immediately had a bad feeling.


Although Esposito could have had anything in this spot (especially since he had a ton of chips), I believed at the very least that Don had me in bad shape; he just seemed strong to me. So, I folded. It turns out that John had A-7 and Don had 10-10. The rest of the story is that Don won a nice pot when the final board was K-10-4-7-A.


On the very next hand, in the small blind, I had 10-5. One person called, and I matched the big blind by calling $25 more. With a flop of A-K-2, we all checked. Then, a king hit, and it was followed by another round of checks. Finally, a 7 hit the board, and I bet out $75 on a pure bluff into the $150 pot. Both of my opponents folded, and I had $275 in chips. This small, well- tim ed bluff took me from $125 (sitting in front of me) to $275.


On the next hand, I was on the button and two players called in front of me. I looked down at 4-4 and had another decision to make. I could move all in or call; I wasn’t going to fold. If I moved all in, I assumed that I would get called by both limpers, and they would probably check it all the way. What were the chances of the fours winning the pot? If one of my opponents had a bigger pair, I was approximately a 4.5-to-1 underdog. If they both had overcards, like K-J and A-10, I was more than a 2-to-1 underdog.


Finally, I decided to just call and then make a decision on the flop for my last $225. Of course, I was hoping to flop three fours! When the flop came down A-Q-9 and one of the limpers bet out, it was an easy fold for me to make.


The next hand I picked up was A-8. Newly elected European Hall of Fame member Surinder Sunar called from first position, another player called, and now I had another decision to make: poker really is a thinking man’s game! I decided to fold. It was that or move all in for $225 and hope to have my hand hold up after Surinder and the other player checked all the way. An experienced player like Surinder would certainly check it down, especially with a chance to take me out. Another reason that I folded was that Surinder has been known to smooth-call with some pretty strong hands, and he was in first position (the ideal place to smooth-call with a strong hand, hoping for a raise from an opponent). Also, players don’t usually call with a weak hand from first position.


In any case, a couple of poker pkv games online hands later, the dealer mistakenly dealt my second holecard (the 3hearts) faceup; thus, it was replaced with another card. This turned my unplayable Qdiamonds 3hearts into a playable Khearts Qdiamonds. So, I went from folding my hand to raising, making it $150 to go. One player called me. After a flop of 10-8-8 , I checked and my opponent bet my last $75, which I quickly called. I called because K-Q might have been the best hand, but even if my opponent had me beat — for example, with a small pair — I had to call $75 to try to win the $450 pot. My opponent had A-6, and when the board blanked out, I was eliminated.


Too many players today simply give up when they’re short-stacked. They go with low-percentage hands like my Adiamonds 5diamonds, my 4-4, or my A-8, instead of patiently waiting for a strong hand. Many times, my extra patience, combined with working my chips (a well- tim ed bluff or two), has enabled me to win poker tournaments when I had a severe short stack. My new book Bad Beats and Lucky Draws has a few memorable hands in it in which I “ran a toothpick into a lumberyard,” “went from the outhouse to the penthouse,” and won a tournament from out of nowhere. So, don’t give up and gamble rashly just because you a severe short stack. Wait it out, and never, ever surrender!