Tournament Strategy, Part 1: Short-Stack Strategy

These days, many of your online multi-table tournaments start you off with a small stack.  It’s important to play solid in the early stages because of the dynamics of the short stack poker tournament.  And by solid I mean tight.  As much as you might want to get creative you typically don’t get enough chips to try and out play your opponents in an online poker tournament.

Granted if you play well, or go on a big rush and amass a stack you’ll be able to have a little more lattitude in your play.  However, in the earliest stages you won’t be able to go too deep into many hands before you have to put your stack at risk.

In the Main Event of the World Series of Poker you get 20,000 in chips.  The first level is 25-50.  You want to take some risks, play some low suited connectors, try and turn a small pocket pair into a set, you got all the time in the world to take those chances.  Short stack you don’t. 

One popular tactic for people who play online poker tournaments is to turn pocket pairs into sets and try to felt an opponent.  It’s not necessary the smartest strategy.  Here’s why:  Odds on hitting your set are about 7 to 1.  Let’s say your opponent has a higher pocket pair.  Typically, you are a 4 to 1 underdog.  You can also win the hand with straights or flushes, so you don’t just have to hit your set to win but…  Unfortunately, if you miss the flop, an overpair isn’t likely going to make it cheap for you to see the turn or river.  Thus, the easiest strategy is to hit a set on the flop.  

A good rule of thumb is your stack must be greater than 10 times the preflop raise you have to call and your opponent has to have you covered.  To be worthwhile long run you need to win more than the odds that are laid against you.  Also, you have to change it a little bit, because sometimes you hit your stack and still lose.

Thus, if you play poker tournaments be very careful about playing small pocket pairs.  The decision to do so is relative to your stack size and your opponents.  Early on, you’ll find it’s rare that you get the odds to go after a guy you put on a big pair.  If you can’t win more than 10 times what you call, I’d advise waiting for another spot.

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