I was recently told about a hand from the final table of a live $300 buy-in tournament that illustrates a few key mistakes that many players make when playing short stacked. With blinds at 5,000/10,000 with a 10,000 big blind ante, everyone folded to the small blind who started with 150,000. He was the shortest stack at the final table, but there were a few other players with between 17 and 25 big blinds. The blind was a loose, aggressive player with 50 big blinds.
The small blind looked down atand decided to limp.
I strongly dislike this play. J-3 is a junky hand and despite the excellent pot odds (5,000 to win 30,000), it is not strong enough to play. From out of position with a 15 big blind stack, you can be somewhat confident the big blind will apply aggression a decent amount of the time, forcing J-3 to immediately fold. Even if you get to see a cheap flop, you will usually flop nothing or a junky made hand that will have a difficult time confidently playing for all the money. Also, there is merit in simply conserving a 16 big blind stack, opting to wait for a better spot to invest your chips.
The big blind checked.
I am fine with this check, but if you think the small blind will raise with most of his strong hands, his limping range may be susceptible to being pushed around. I would strongly consider making it 30,000 with T-2o with the intention of folding if the small blind goes all-in.
The flop came. The small blind bet 20,000 out of his 140,000 remaining stack.
I again, strongly dislike this play. Especially on K-x-x flops in limped pots, you will find the big blind either has a pair or flush draw that is never folding or Queen-high or a worse unpaired hand, which will almost always fold to any bet. This is because most Ace-high hands would raise or go all-in preflop. For that reason, if you decide to bet the flop with J-3 as a low equity bluff, you should make a small bet, 10,000 into the 30,000 pot. If you think your opponent will call a 10,000 bet every time, perhaps add on a touch more, making it 13,000 or so.
The big blind pushed all-in, forcing the J-3 to fold.
I am fine with the all-in. There are plenty of hands you want to protect against (for example,has 30% equity) and when you happen to be beat, you have five outs to improve.
While this may seem like an innocuous hand, in my opinion, the small blind lost 25,000 more than he should have in this pot. Even if he limped and then bet 13,000, he would have lost 7,000 less. It is vitally important that you study and master short-stacked poker if you want to have any chance of success in tournaments. Sometimes you simply have to make a disciplined fold.
I thoroughly discuss short-stacked strategies in my 500-page book Mastering Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em. Check it out and never make this mistake again.