Short-stack shoves

It’s a perennial dilemma: you need to push soon, but do you do it now or wait a few more hands?


I was recently playing in a $100 tournament where there were 187 runners left from a field of around 1,200. The last 100 got paid. I had a stack of 3,250 (slightly below average) and blinds were at 400/800. I picked up K-4 on the button. The small blind had 7,500; the big blind had 3,300. It was folded round to me. Should I have shoved in this spot?
Richard, via email

The first thing you have to look at in this situation is your table image. Have you been aggressive and stealing a lot of blinds or has it been a while since you made a move? Obviously if it’s the latter, any raises or all-ins you make are going to carry a greater legitimacy. However, that doesn’t mean you should just blindly shove. Although there are only two other players to get through, both of them have you covered and thus your tournament life is on the line. You also need know how these players have been acting. The last question you need to put to yourself is a crucial one: are you happy to just make it into the money or do you want to have a chance of winning the whole tournament?

For the sake of argument, I’m going to make some general assumptions. Let’s say you’ve not stepped out of line recently, the small blind has just joined the table and the big blind has just doubled up and is a real rock. Let’s also say that the payout structure is pretty steep and you don’t really want to come away with anything but the top three spots. This might seem like a good time to push given that you’re on the button but I would advise against it for three reasons: a) Your hand is very marginal. It’s unsuited and is basically King-high. b) If you get called, you will most probably be a 60/40 underdog to a hand like A-8 or A-10. c) You have no information about the small blind and he may be loose enough to call an all-in raise as he has twice your stack. d) Depending on whether the table is nine or ten- handed, you have at least seven more hands to see and could easily pick up a better hand. So, unless my assumptions are way off, in this case I think the correct decision was to pass.


I was playing in the PokerStars WCOOP recently and the following hand came up. Background: the table was pretty tight and not a lot of hands were going to showdown. Most hands were being won pre-flop or on the flop. The blinds were 50/100 and the average stack was 17,000. I had 26,000 in chips and a player in early position had 19,000 and raised to 400, which was folded to me in middle position with A-5. I re-raised to 1,200. He called. The flop came 6-K-8. He checked and I bet 1,500. He called. Turn was the 3. We both checked. The river was the A. He checked, I bet 1,500 Even with a short stack on the button, K-4 is not a good hand to push with and he raised to 4,400. What would you have done in this situation? Do you think he had a set?
Amanda, Shrewsbury

With the hand playing out as it did, I definitely would have folded on the river. You’ve shown pre-flop strength, you put in the requisite continuation bet and your opponent has not only stuck with you all the way through, but he’s check-raised you on the river. Sure, he could be on massive bluff, but it’s more likely – as you say – that he has a set of sixes or eights (not Kings, as he probably would have re-re-raised pre-flop). At the very least he has something like A-K.

I know you didn’t ask for it, but I thought I’d add some pointers regarding the rest of the hand. I understand there’s an obsession in modern tournaments to try and be flashy, raising and re-raising pre-flop with all sorts of junk. I’m all for making moves, but in this situation I think your re-raise was mistimed and badly implemented. When your opponent raises to four times the big blind in early position, he’s showing strength. When you re-raise to just 1,200, it’s simply another 800 for him to call. Whether you’re just trying to steal the blinds or represent strength, you must make it more like 2,400. The bet on the flop is fine, as is the check on the turn, but the value bet on the river is horrible. I mean, what are you beating that he would call you with? A-2, A-3, A-4? Would he really raise with these in early position pre-flop and chase an Ace all the way to the river? What you really should have done was check and maybe call, but better still pass to a hand that obviously has you beaten.

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