Playing a Short Stack in Multi-Table Tournaments

The key to succeeding in tournament play is being able to handle the ups and downs, because it’s not always going to go perfectly. Your chip stack is not always going to shoot upwards, which means you’ll often need to make good decisions when you don’t have a lot of chips.

Many players get frustrated when they have a short stack. They look down and see Ace-rag, King-Queen, King-Jack or some similar hand and they just focus on their own cards instead of seeing the whole picture. That kind of short-sightedness can quickly make a short stack even smaller and put the player on the rail.

Successfully playing a short stack takes a lot of determination. I believe it’s like a mental war when you have the short stack because it isn’t fun when you look around and everyone has all those chips. They’re getting to play fun hands like 9-10 suited and Jack-10 suited and you don’t have enough chips to play those hands, so you’re just sitting there watching while everyone else is playing poker.

I was playing in a $1,500 No-Limit tournament at the World Series of Poker* when I raised under the gun with pocket Kings. It was Day Two of the tournament and it was the first hand I’d played after about 90 minutes of folding. Another player went all-in behind me and it was one of those situations where she didn’t take her time to properly evaluate what had transpired so far. After not playing a single hand, I had raised with 40% of my stack in the earliest pre-flop position, which usually signals a monster. She pushed anyway with KJ and I think if she’d taken her time, she might have made a different decision.

You need to gaming software companies. You can’t let poor results from previous hands affect you. Instead, I think it’s really good to tighten up after losing a pot so that you can regroup. To recover from being short stacked, you really have to take your time and evaluate every situation. Who cares if you’re taking longer than anyone else at the table?

Before the words “all-in” escape your mouth, take a couple of deep breaths, take 20 seconds and take a look at where the raise is coming from, how much it is for, and how much the person has behind. So many times I see people coming over the top of other players and not realizing their opponent is already committed and that their chips are going in the pot. Before you push all of your chips into the middle on a call with a short stack, look at the person you’re playing, re-evaluate your hand, the raise, and what position it’s coming from at the table. You have to remember that as long as you have chips you have a chance to climb from the bottom of the ladder to the chip lead.

That brings up another key point: I don’t care what anyone else has in the tournament because when I start worrying about how many chips other people have, I’m not focused on the task at hand, which is increasing my chip stack. Short stacked or not, I own my chips until I push them into the middle; it’s up to my best judgment to determine the best time to commit them to a pot.

Being on the short stack demands that you make the right decision every time you play a pot because making the wrong one will bust you. Don’t be in such a hurry to shove those chips in. Find the right spot. Don’t get frustrated by a string of poor starting hands. At some point, you might have to take a gamble and push if you can open the pot, but until that time, you control your own destiny. Effectively reading the table and the situation before you act will help you survive and, quite possibly, even win.

*World Series of Poker and WSOP are trademarks of Harrah’s License Company, LLC (“Harrahs”). Harrah’s does not sponsor or endorse, and is not associated or affiliated with Full Tilt Poker or its products, services, promotions or tournaments.

Balancing Poker and Life

I am always trying to find the balance between family and poker, and I know a lot of you struggle with the same issue. For the serious player with a significant other, the poker lifestyle can be a real challenge. Here’s a little advice for making poker work with the rest of your life. I’ve included five tidbits of advice for both the player and his or her partner.

Advice for the Poker Player

1. Don’t punish your partner over your bad play or bad luck. Let it go when you walk away from the table. If you can’t release that bad energy quickly, then let your partner know that you need a little while to cool off. Snapping at your partner isn’t good for anyone.

2. Don’t lie about wins or losses. Remember, you’re incredibly lucky if you found someone who supports your dreams. If the money in play makes your partner nervous, sit down and discuss a business plan that works for both of you. Talk honestly about the pros and cons of serious poker. Don’t even consider going pro until you can cover all of your bills for at least six months in advance.

3. If you make plans with your partner, don’t play that day. If you get stuck or if a sucker sits at your table, you aren’t going to want to leave, and feelings are going to get hurt. Believe me.

4. If you’re traveling the circuit, be courteous and answer your phone. It’s hard enough on a partner when you’re out of town. There’s no need to make them wonder who you’re with or what you’re doing.

5. Remember, there’s life outside of poker. If you can remember a hand you played five years ago, then it’s not too much to ask to remember your partner’s birthday.

Advice for the Player’s Partner

1. If your future champion walks through the door looking a little grey, don’t ask, “Did you win?” Just back off and give them some space. I promise they just need to analyze what happened and, maybe, replay a few hands in their mind. The last thing they want to do is disappoint you by talking about a big loss.

2. Poker players don’t change. If you don’t try to understand a player’s fascination with the game, your relationship is going to see some very tough times. Andy Bloch, for example, has an incredibly supportive girlfriend (soon to be wife). She’s smart and ambitious. Once she started dating Andy, she realized that if the relationship was going to work, she’d have to adapt to his travel schedule. You know what she did? She started a website called PokerWire. For a time, she traveled everywhere with Andy, reported on chip counts, and interviewed players. Now, Jennifer is back in school and Andy has moved to be with her, supporting her choice.

3. Don’t be quick to assume the worst. If your poker pro doesn’t come home until 5AM, you can bet that they were stuck in some game or that a favorite fish walked in the door right as they were about to leave. Most poker players are honorable people. They might bluff an opponent, but they don’t bluff in life. We are weird that way. So, unless they give you a reason to think they were up to no good, give them the benefit of a doubt.

4. A player can’t choose the day or time that a sucker will be at the table. Sometimes, they’ll need to play on Thanksgiving or Christmas – or even on your birthday. If we get a phone call that “Ramin’ Jamin’ John” is in town, there’s nothing that’s gonna stop us… except a car wreck because we were speeding to get to the game.

5. If you want to learn how to play the game, your partner may not be the best teacher. They will have less patience with you than anyone else. Get some books on poker, and start with them. It’s hard to teach someone that has never played, and it’s going to get frustrating for both of you. Play online at the lower limits to practice what you’ve learned.

I hope y’all enjoyed this one and, remember, bad beats make for lousy pillow talk.

Goin’ Pro

“Should I quit my job and play professionally?”

“Should I drop out of school and just play poker full time?”

I get these questions all the time and I always give the same answer: “Unequivocally, absolutely not. No way.”

Clear enough?

If you want to explore being a professional poker player, you have to start out doing it part time. Spend your off hours thinking about poker and studying the game. Read and play and learn.

Before you even think about quitting your job to play full time, you should be making more money at poker than you are in your current employment. Don’t think that one big tournament win provides all the evidence you need that you’re ready to play professionally. You should be showing consistent profit over a period of at least six- months. Only at that point should you even entertain the idea of becoming a full-time pro.

Even then, you should be wary about taking such a step. Poker is a great pastime, and playing it casually is a lot of fun when you love the game. But when you become a pro, you have to play poker five or six days a week. In time, playing cards will start to feel a lot like a job. I happen to love every occasion I get to play, but for many people, it can become a grind.

On the tournament circuit, you can play well and still go months – or even years – without a big cash. In ring games, the hours can be brutal. When you’re a cash-game pro, you want to be playing when the other players are off their game. This means you should start late, when people are getting tired and gambling a little more than they should. So you might play from 11PM through the morning, and sleep most of the afternoon. Keeping these kinds of hours can be difficult for those who want to maintain a more traditional social life.

Another risk is that you may not play enough. It can take a lot of self-discipline to put in enough hours at the table. With no boss on your tail, you might find it tough to put in the hours that you need at the times that are most profitable.

Before you make drastic changes to your life – before you even ask the questions posed at the start of this article – you should know that poker will work for you. You should have long, profitable periods that serve as evidence of your abilities. You should have put in enough hours to know that you can really enjoy the game, even when it becomes the center of your professional life. You should know that you can endure some long, tough, unlucky stretches.

If you’re really sure you’ve got what it takes and poker does become your career, I look forward to meeting you at the table.

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