None of us like to be short stacked in a tournament, but the reality is that we will be in that predicament frequently. Many of us know how to play a short stack in a No Limit Holdem tournament, but many don't take the time to consider what to do in a Limit event. In this article, I will go over some spots you want to look for when playing in a H.O.R.S.E. tournament to try and double up.
There are many opinions of what constitutes a short stack, but for the sake of this article, consider a short stack as one that has seven big bets or fewer. While many would consider a stack of 10 to 15 big bets as a short stack, in the later limits, a stack of 10 big bets or more can represent a good chunk of chips and is somewhat scary to take on.
In Holdem, most of us are going to want the obvious big hands such as big pairs, A-K or A-Q. Whatever hand you pick, you want to come in raising to try and force it down to one opponent. If you are first in the pot, look to expand your holdings with any suited ace, A-7 and up, K-Q, K-J and any pair. When you are getting somewhat short, you obviously want to tangle heads-up. If you are in desperation mode, which is about 3 to 4 big bets, just about any ace will do as well as a face card with a 10, and even a couple of suited cards. If you are faced with a raise, you want to lean towards the stronger hands.
If you are short in the Omaha round, expect to have some people call you down and try to gamble with you. As a result, you obviously want to come in with hands that give you the best scoop odds. Any A-2 with anything reasonable is going to be cause to come in, and if you can be the first to raise, so much the better. A-3 and two reasonable cards are not a bad choice either. Any other low combination hand is going to really need to catch lucky. You can also lean towards high only hands, especially if you are in a multi-way pot. A-A-K-Q, K-K-Q-J, Q-Q-J-10, and even wraps are not horrible choices to try and go to war with here. Don't blind totally out trying to catch an A-2 or A-3.
Razz is the game where strong play can win you some pots and double ups. You are looking for just about any three card eight-low starters or better. However, if you are starting with a strong nine against someone that you think is stealing, there are worse hands to go to war with. Also, look for opportunities to steal. If you have an ace or the low card showing, put the pressure on them with a completion. Depending on your opponent, look for spots where you can limp in with a low card and then steal the pot when they catch bad. This type of steal is going to be a bit more believable due to your short stack. If you appear to be in the lead according to your board, put the pressure on with a bet. Razz is a good game to pick up pots.
Stud high can be a sweatbox if you are short. You obviously will love when you pick up a rolled up set or a big pair. However, in some spots you may have to go to war with smaller pairs, a three card flush, or a three card straight. Personally, I prefer to take my chances with a pair and hope to improve over having to catch half of my remaining cards to make a hand. Look for opportunities to steal in this spot as well, especially if you are the high card. One move that many players will not make is completing from the bring-in. If you decide to go to war and are the bring-in, complete the bet. You are likely only going to be called by a strong hand since you have showed strength. The exception is if you are in desperation mode, in which you will likely be called by most any reasonable hand.
When in Stud-8 with a short stack, start looking for any reasonable scoop starter. Three low flush or straight cards, or a strong low starter with an ace is ideal. Also, expand you holdings a bit to include some of the stronger Stud high starters. Unless you are in desperation mode, try and shy away from one way low hands without an ace as you are going to probably wind up heads-up in the hand. Of course, if you have a strong one way starter in a multi-way pot, go for it. While scooping is the main goal, splitting a pot here isn't all bad as at worst you get a few antes to allow you to try and catch another strong hand.
Playing a proper strategy will allow you to at worst pick up some chips and at best allow a double up or better. In 2008, I watched Eric Seidel play a short stack masterfully in the $10,000 Stud World Championship at the WSOP. Unlike a couple of players that just tried to "get lucky," he picked his spots and was able to stay in the event longer and move up the ladder. While he didn't win the event, he did show how proper strategy can keep you alive in a tournament.
The above is some very base guidelines for playing a short stack and is obviously not the "final answer" in playing a short stack. The makeup of your table, your image, the limits, and other factors will impact what strategy you choose. While you won't make a comeback with every short stack, playing a proper strategy will allow you to make your fair share of comebacks. Good luck to you at the tables.
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