Micro Stack Play

Working with a short stack is standard for tournament players. You play a hand poorly, are dealt a bad beat or aren’t dealt anything at all, and before you know it you have no chips left. Short handed play is just another day at the office for us.

However, what’s not so standard is playing with a micro stack. I definite a micro stack as having 5 big blinds or less.

The problem with being this short is that you have no fold equity left. Players with a small-medium sized stack can afford to call/lose, while everyone is priced in, especially if you consider the blinds and antes.

So you find yourself in a position where you need to shove, but are almost always going to be called. Then you have to cross your fingers and hope that your 50-60% hold up.

But before you throw your hands up in disgust, say screw it and shove any old hand, there are some tactics that I want to share with you. These tactics will help you to create (the illusion of) fold equity so that maybe you can avoid flipping. Maybe, just maybe, you can take the pot down uncontested.

4 Tactics to Make the Most of Your Micro Stack

1. Limp and shove the flop. With this play what you’re going to do is limp in before the flop and then shove the flop.

This tactic will work best if you’re the first to enter the pot and are the first to act post flop. You don’t want to be involved in a multi-way pot, and if someone acts before you do on the flop, you won’t have any fold equity. Anything you do will be called.

This play works well because you (sometimes) will have enough chips for a 1/3 to 1/2 the pot size bet. Also, players miss the flop 2/3 of the time, which we’re banking on.

You should try to play connected, suited or high cards if possible, so that you have some equity (or can flop some). I also suggest avoiding this play against regulars, as they’ll call you light on the flop, even with ace or king high.

2. Shove non-dominated hands. Ok, so this tactic is in case you’re called. What you want to do is shove non-dominated hands. For example, you want to shove hands like T9, 98, 87 and even 54. I prefer shoving these hands over hands like K7 or A3.

The reason why I prefer the former hands is because if someone does call your shove, it’s going to be with a range of hands that consist of face cards and aces. Very few players are going to isolate you with QJ or JT, but the hands they do call with like KQ, KJ, etc crush these.

This tactic does depend on position. The earlier the position, the more this tactic is important as you have more players to go through. However, the later your position the less this tactic matters.

3. Target other short stacks. Another way to create fold equity is to target other short stacks. Since they have something to lose, too, they’re not going to call you nearly as light. Especially if they can out wait you (to cash).

This play will work best if you target stacks in the 8-15 big blind range, are on or near the bubble and they’re relatively tight – they don’t think J9s is a good call with 12 big blinds.

4. Raise half your stack. With this tactic what you do is raise half your stack pre flop, then shove all in on the flop.

This tactic works because not everyone pays attention to stack sizes, especially multi-tabling regulars. All they see is that you made a raise. So what can happen is they fold to your raise, only seeing your raise and not the fact that you left 2-3 big blinds behind.

In case you are called you might have enough chips to shove the flop and induce a fold.

I recommend being the first to enter the pot, as well as the first to act on the flop, if at all possible. You (probably) won’t have fold equity otherwise. Having some sort of ace or king high hand, or a non-dominated hand would be preferred.

How to Avoid Getting So Short in the First Place

The tips above are for players that occasionally find themselves too short to utilize your standard push/fold strategies. However, I know from playing and coaching that some players find themselves with 5 big blinds or less more often than they should. Here are some tips to help prevent that.

  • Use Sit n Go Wizard. This tool imports your hand histories and tells you in what spots you should shove and what hands, according to stack sizes, positions and player tendencies. You shouldn’t take the tool at face value though – play with the settings (stack sizes, position, etc) to see how your options change.
  • Shove, even when it feels weird. I know what it’s like to be told to shove J7o. Even when you’re desperate, it feels weird shoving such a weak hand. But you need to do it. Get over that feeling as soon as possible.
  • Shove blind versus blind. A leak that I had to overcome is shoving 100% of hands in the blinds. Especially against regular players. The truth of the matter is that few players will ever call you with a wide enough range to make shoving 100% of hands unprofitable.
  • Learn how to build a stack. We have articles that teach you tips on how to build a stack. This includes stealing the blinds, re-stealing, isolating short stacks and playing weak opponents post flop. If you learn how to build a stack you won’t find yourself so short, so often.
  • Pay attention to the time. One way to cut your stack in half is to think you have enough chips to go through the blinds, choose to sit on your hands, only for the blinds to go up right before you hit the big blind. In doing so you go from having 8-12 big blinds to having maybe 6-8. If it looks like the blinds are going up than consider shoving a wider range of hands than usual to compensate.

Standard stuff, but lots of guys don’t do this stuff. Follow these tips and you’ll find that you’re not as short as often, allowing you to maximize your fold equity and the edge you have over your opponents to the fullest. You won’t have to resort to my tips above, either.