Playing a shortstack in a sng:

In most tournaments you'll be forced into a position of having to play a shortstack. Playing a shortstack in a MTT (multi-table tournament)

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is slightly different than playing a shortstack in a sit'n go. In a sng you can consider yourself shortstacked when you have about 7 times the big blind (7xBB) left in your stack, whereas in an MTT you are shortstacked when you have about 10 big blinds left in your stack (10xBB).

I mention this because too many players panic when they get short on chips and will eliminate themselves in sng's through a desperate all-in with inappropriate hands for the circumstances. Either they'll go all-in, or call an all-in, or even reraise all-in with weak hands, hands as weak as Ace/rag, KQ, KJ and trash pairs. Occasionally this may be right to do, but not always.

The key is to be patient and let the hand you need come to you. If you're patient enough a premium or near premium hand will come along. The hand you're looking for as a shortstack depends on a number of things, all of varying importance:

- the number of players remaining
- whether or not the pot has been opened or raised and by whom
- your seat position at the table relative to the button and vs. limpers, raisers
- when the next blind increase will occur
- how shortstacked you are
- whether or not you believe in luck, in which case none of those reasons matter, so "FITIMALLIN"

When a hand you'd consider using as your "double up" hand appears, think about what's happening around you before you act.

How strong is the hand?
How many players do you need to run this hand through, and what do their chip stacks look like?
Are you using it to steal the blinds or do you want someone to call?
Is there a raiser? Are there limpers?
And if you push all-in against the raiser, does he have a mandatory call?

After you've decided this is the hand you'll use, there are two ways you can play it. But first, consider the situation where there's a raiser and you are next to act. If someone ahead of you raises, then you'll have to think about that players' starting hand standards for raising. If he's any good he'll have already looked down the line of players' stack sizes on his left and will have seen who's shortstacked and will be raising knowing he may face a significant reraise from a shortstack or from another player. If he hasn't done this then he's not a very good player. But let's assume he has. So ask yourself, "What would he do if I pushed all-in? Does he care? Does he have a mandatory call due to pot odds? If so, am I the likely favourite, or perhaps is this going to be a race?"
Some of the answers to this question can come from this players' tendencies, but since you can never know for sure what he might have, you can ask yourself, "If I pushed all-in with this hand, and he called, and we did this several thousand times, would I be winning or losing after those thousand trials?" (see gap concept below) If the answer is, "No," then you should fold and wait, and be better off in the long run of going all-in with any two cards on the very next hand (as long as no one had entered the pot once it gets to you).

You might be wondering: How can I know if my hand is better than a raisers' hand? Obviously you can't know for certain, but an excellent way to decide, to put any doubt in your mind as to whether or not your hand is ahead or behind against a raiser preflop, and to act appropriately and with some degree of confidence that you're making the right decision, is to use the 'gap concept'. The gap concept is an idea from poker author, David Sklansky, and states that you need to hold a stronger hand to call a preflop raise than to have made the raise yourself (in the absence of that players' raise) from the seat you're sitting in. Therein lies the gap. The gap is the strength of your hand compared to the strength of your oppenents' hand that was used to make the raise, from whatever position he is sitting, and with what kind of stack, and with what kind of style. You might think, "Well, that tells me a lot about nothing because I still don't know if my hand is better than the raisers'."

The answer is in starting hand requirements for certain seat positions, styles and stack sizes. For example, all good holdem players know that at a full table (>6 players) there are only a small handful of playable cards from early position. All other hands are mathematical losers – and this is due, simply, to the distribution of cards in a deck. For example, you can't play KQ from early position and win in the long run. KQ is a big loser from early position, as is A/10. Therefore, if you have KQ in middle position and there's raise from early position, you have an easy fold. "Why?"

1) the early position raiser has KQ beat (even if he actually doesn't this time, he does anyway, so it doesn't matter), because he is unlikely to be raising with anything except a premium hand and KQ isn't a premium hand at a full table, and therefore you would be entering the pot behind, and probably dominated, and are therefore a big underdog, and…

2) you are seated in middle position and there's plenty of players yet to act, so you don't know if this pot will be multi-way or if someone behind you will reraise, wherein you would have to fold, losing your call of the raise, or worse had you reraised all-in and someone behind you has aces, kings, queens AK, AQ, etc., and we haven't even gotten back to the original raiser yet..

You can never know for certain if your hand is behind, of course, however an understanding of starting hand requirements from various seat positions under the various poker playing conditions will clear up any confusion as to whether or not you are making the correct decision. To be successful you need to know the strength of the starting hands from each position (early, middle, late position) at full and short tables and how each starting hand stands up against raises and reraises preflop against each postion, under the various table conditions, and with consideration to the raisers' likely starting hand requirements for that position, and how his (or their) stack size(s) are influencing their actions.

If you don't have a premium hand and the pot has been raised ahead of you and you are a shortstack and need to double up and are holding A5, for instance (or any ace/rag for that matter) - where most players would go all-in here- you run a huge risk of being "dominated". Hand domination usually occurs when a card in your hand, the ace in this case, is shared by another player but his 'x' card has your 'x' card outkicked, such as AK vs your A5. Instead of calling or reraising all-in with your Ax you'd be better off folding and waiting until the next hand and going all-in with any two random cards, even as weak as 7,2, as long as no one had yet entered the pot. The number of hands that he is raising with that beat your Ax are much greater than the number of hands that Ax beats under these conditions. The dominating hands the raiser could be holding include: all Ax hands >A5, and all pocket pairs >5's. Your A5 is only a small favourite against Ax where x is <5 (and this hand, your A5 vs his A4, would likely result in a split pot anyway), and, you're still an underdog to all pairs <5's, and are only a slight favourite against all other hands, such as KQ. The problem for your A5 here is that there are more hands that beat yours than yours beat, and therefore, against raisers under most table conditions, you will lose and he will win.

That is hand domination.

Now that you have an idea of what the gap concept is, and what hand domination means and how these two ideas should influence your decision making as a shortstack, it's time to throw your chips in the middle and get back into the tournament, so how should you do it?

When you get the hand you want to use as your "double up" hand you should play it in one of two ways, by either throwing half your stack into the pot preflop (with the intention of throwing the other half of your stack in on the flop no matter what flops), or, going all-in preflop. You don't want to limp and you very rarely would want to make a standard NL preflop raise. As a shortstack you want to disguise the strength of your hand because you may have a really strong hand, or, you may be playing a marginal hand and just be content winning the blinds. As the first player into the pot you are stealing that opportunity away from anyone else who might have had the same idea. Therein lies the difference between raising and calling. By raising you have two ways to win:

1) they fold
2) they call and you win anyway

By calling you only have one way to win and that's by winning the showdown.

So by wielding whatever size stack you have left as a shortstack, you can make extraordinarily large preflop raises with very strong or weak hands, such as AA/KK or 78s or 22 and other players will not know whether or not to call or reraise because they know, that since you're shortstacked, your range of hands for making these moves into pots is quite large. However, if they call and lose, you will double up and make a considerable dent in their stack and then use the chips won in the showdown against them in later hands, so they can't just call you with anything.

So by raising aggressively you hide the strength of your hand. Conversely, by making typical preflop raises with traditionally strong hands, such as AA, you are giving away information about your hand, since a typical raise of 3xBB when you might only have 10BB's left in your stack is a very peculiar-looking raise from your opponents' point of view. It smells like aces, and it is aces. He'll need a super-strong hand to call this type of raise. But if, instead, you had aces and went all-in, then he might be calling with most pairs and hands as weak as A8, KQ, and maybe even J,10, depending on the opponent.

So when you are shortstacked, consider the gap concept, hand domination, and when you're ready to act, always raise aggressively no matter what you hold in order to disguise your hand. This is your best chance to stay alive in the tournament.