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Crunch Time: Short Stacked Tournament Strategy

Crunch Time: Short Stacked Tournament Strategy

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Some poker players (like Mike Matusow) have claimed to be the masters of the short-stack. What that basically means is that they tend to respond well to the pressures of short-stacked action, and they’re great Push/Fold players.

Push/Fold comes into effect when a player’s options are reduced to these simple decisions because his stack-size no longer allows him to try anything fancy. He will have to settle for staying out of the way of the other players, or for staking his tournament life on the hand. Push/Fold poker is extremely simple: the player who’s in the position of having to resort to this strategy will simply have to move all-in at the right times, while keeping his chips out of harm’s way the rest of the time. By doing this, he’ll achieve the following things: he will use his remaining chips to effectively pick up blinds and antes – dead money that others are willing to leave in the middle. He will minimize his losses because he simply will not limp along in a hand only to fold on one of the late streets. He will also make his double-ups truly count.


Where exactly can one apply Push/Fold strategy? Anywhere, where short-stacked situations arise (which mostly means MTTs or SNGs, the late stages of which basically beg for this type of approach).

When should one resort to this –seemingly rather desperate – strategy? When he/she has less than 10 Big Blinds worth of chips left. The reasons behind why the Push/Fold approach is the best in such situations are dissected in detail in Dan Harrington’s zone system, which is still the bible of tournament poker.


In order to understand the Push/Fold, one needs to know what its primary goal is: shoving everything into the middle always implies an extreme show of strength, the obvious goal of which is to make everyone fold and to pick up the dead money left in the middle. That’s your primary goal as a Push/Fold player too and you should shape your approach according to that. You should never- for instance – attempt to go for the value, shoving all-in with several players already having pushed chips into the middle. The best approach is to isolate and attack a single target whenever possible. Doubling up sure sounds great, but attempting to steal your way to a larger stack makes a lot more mathematical sense, simply because through this approach, you’ll be taking full advantage of the fold equity.


In order to secure fold equity, one should therefore make sure that he/she is the first one to push all-in in the pot. Obviously, position plays an important role in this instance as well: the later one acts, the clearer the picture is in regards to who is likely to fold/call. Of course, if one happens to pick up a monster of a hand, pushing the fold equity is no longer called for: such hands should indeed be played for value.

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