Playing the shortstack

Short-stack play can be tough but rewarding, as Shelley Rubenstein found at the WSOP

At a final table recently, a well-known pro complimented me on what he referred to as accomplished short-stack play. Flattering though it was, it got me thinking as to how good a player you really are if you’ve earned a reputation for being a short-stack specialist, especially if it’s because you’ve gambled all your chips away.

Sometimes though, circumstances dictate that one has to adapt, not only for survival but also, conversely, for success. At the start of the 2007 WSOP there’d been many complaints about queue sizes for tournament registration. These had supposedly been dealt with, but when I rolled up five minutes before the cards were in the air to register for a $1,500 No- Limit Hold’em event, I was aghast to see that the queue was still of Damascene proportions.

Still, buy-ins were possible during the first hour of play and, as this was the only opportunity I had to play in a WSOP event for the year, I considered the entry fee a worthwhile write-off. What I hadn’t realised at this point was that as an alternate, it could take a while until I joined the game. Some three hours later, just before I’d lost the will to live and level four was due to kick in, I was finally shuffled into the chaos of the Amazon Room.

As I settled down into my seat, an announcement was made that at 3,151 runners, this tournament had broken the record for biggest field outside of the Main Event. While everyone else was whooping and hollering, I was less ecstatic. With 3000 chips and the blinds at 100/200 with a 25 running ante, I had less than 15 big blinds left – for $1,500!

Coming in with what was now a depleted stack meant that I couldn’t afford the luxury of sitting back and taking the time to assess the table. I played a couple of hands, which by my normal LAG standards were tight, but when I didn’t hit in the way I needed to, I had to let go. Just playing two hands halved my stack and I had to make a quick decision.

There were two options. One was to play any two cards, hoping they were live or bad enough to suck out on a proper hand. Alternatively, I could duck, dive, weave and bob, fighting the battle of my poker life. At the very least I could use the experience to improve my game. I decided to battle.

Survival time

As I steadily got into my groove, our table broke up. This invoked panic among my short-stacked compadres as we were dispersed among the mocking monster stacks. However, I was delighted to discover myself at the best table I’d ever played at.

The big stack was no Hold’em genius – he just played monsters and got paid off! I taunted him by repeatedly stealing his big blind, to which he seemed oblivious. The key at this point came down to the correct bet size. I still had a decent amount of big blinds to push people off a hand. If I did get callers to my raises, then I could either use scare cards to my advantage or pass if I thought they’d hit big.

If I had a half-decent hand and was in position, I’d raise. If someone raised before me, unless I had a premium hand, I gave it up, careful not to look desperate or greedy. I got away with murder, pushing people off plenty of decent hands. It helped that I rarely had to show a hand, thereby upholding the bewildering belief (to me anyway) that I had the goods every time.

I rarely dropped below six or seven big blinds, which meant opponents had to think twice about doubling me up. On the whole, they had more reason to fold, which aided my cause. I remained short-stacked throughout, taking full advantage of this during the bubble period. As everyone tightened up, I did some nifty chippocketing, raising just enough to push a marginal hand off but not enough to jeopardise my chances of cashing. Returning the next day, it was time to revert to the crude all-in move.

After a few sweet double-ups, a serial raiser pumped it up on my big blind. I knew he’d be raising with anything, so after looking down at A-Q I moved all-in and was delighted to see him flip over Q-6. A double-up here would give me a shot at going seriously deep, but the young Scandinavian spiked a Six, ousting me in 155th place, earning $4,301 and much poker wisdom for my troubles.

Pin It

Comments are closed.