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Managing the Short Stack
Mark Vos
July 24, 2006

A couple of weeks back, I won the $2,000 No-Limit Hold 'em event at the World Series of Poker. It's a great honor to have the bracelet. The $800,000 that I got for first place is, of course, awesome. For most of the tournament, I was short stacked. But, I think I played my short stack well and, for this tip, I thought I'd share some thoughts I have on short-stack play.

The key to my short-stack survival was that I was able to steal enough pots to stay alive. There was only one play I could use; move in, and hope everyone folded. It worked out for me, despite the fact I was card dead most of the day.

There were a couple of reasons my steals were effective. First was that I was careful not to let my stack fall below seven or eight big blinds. In No-Limit tournaments, it's very important to do your stealing when you have at least eight to 10 big blinds. If the average stack is between 20 and 25 big blinds, which is common in the later stages of tournaments, and you move all-in for eight or more big blinds, only very strong hands are going to call you. Your opponents won't want to risk becoming a short stack by losing a confrontation, so there's a tremendous amount of fold equity.

If your stack drops to the point where you only have five or six big blinds, you're far more likely to get called. So you need to be very aware of the size of your stack and the location of the button. If you're sitting on eight big blinds and you're in middle position, you should look for a chance to push in and steal before you move through the blinds.

While you're on the short stack, you also want to have a tight image. You want everyone to think you're patiently waiting for a strong hand. If you give off this impression, you are going to get a lot of respect, which should increase the likelihood that your opponents will fold when you move in.

When I'm on the short stack, I don't mind moving in from early position, even when I'm under-the-gun. I did this frequently in the WSOP tournament I won, even when I was holding rags. It worked out well. I had a tight image, so an early position move looked very strong. Unless someone picked up a hand like pocket Queens or Kings, I was likely to pick up the all-important blinds and antes.

When you're on a short stack, you need to stay alive while you wait for decent cards. The key is to find situations where your opponents are likely to fold. If you keep your stack over eight big blinds, create a tight image, and move in from a variety of positions, you have a good chance of stealing enough pots to stay alive in the tournament. Hopefully, things will go your way and you'll pick up some hands so that you can build your stack up and take out the tournament!  

Mark Vos
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