Short Stack Play

Now that we have established and analyzed what options are afforded to us in every poker hand let’s get into playing the actual game. The first situations we should analyze in No Limit Hold ‘Em are short stack situations because the short stacks have such limited options. Position becomes less of an issue. If you move all-in preflop there is no positional disadvantage for the rest of the streets.

When chess masters are taught how to play as children they do not start with all the chess pieces. They run situations such as king versus king and pawn. The equivalent of that in No Limit Hold ‘Em is short stacks. The simpler situations start with the limited stacks and their possibilities. The more chips you have the more decisions you will have during a hand, and the more complex the game becomes.

There are a variety of push/fold charts online that one could reference. I encourage you to take a look at what is out there. These charts show what hands you can move all-in with even if your opponent is playing perfectly. In many situations you can turn your hand over and your opponent still can’t create a profit because your opponent just doesn’t have a good hand a lot of the time. To get a feel for what you should move all-in with the best way seems to be to read these charts, watch videos of players you respect (to see if and when they deviate from the math), and then refer to the charts frequently while you’re playing.

Once you get a baseline idea of when to move all-in and when to fold you will likely come to many situations where you don’t know what to do. This is when purposeful practice really comes into play. We need to test the various spots we are confused about and derive our basic game from it. Let’s examine how we can figure out how to find out whether we should move all-in, call an all-in, or move all-in with the various pieces of poker software out there.

A Short Stack Example

Let’s imagine a scenario. You are in the cutoff with 18BB. You have J-8s. The button has 32BB. The small blind has 5BB. The player who is forced to put forth the big blind has 30 of them in his stack. What should we do here? Remember, we’re starting with basics. Short stacks. All-in or fold. Call an all-in or fold. We’ll start from there and expand. Would you move all-in here or fold?

In the old days players would have a hand history discussion to get better. Unfortunately, these would boil into “I feel like this isn’t a good play” or “I feel it is a good play.” Generally, the most successful player would say what they would do, and then he would proceed to act as if his word were gospel. If everybody followed this character, and it turned out he was a mediocre player running well, the whole group was in trouble.

Now programs such as ICMIZER have taken out the guesswork. Computer models in this vein run the situation hundreds of thousands of times in all the scenarios you could face, and tell you whether your play on average will show a profit or not. It is hard to understate how incredibly powerful this is. It is possible Doyle Brunson has not played a million hands in his life. With computer programs we can simulate a lifetime of Doyle Brunson’s… if he only ever examined one situation. He also would have taken immaculate notes, and would have the ability to see every hand his opponents folded and called with.

These machines are not exact, as they rely on human inputs, and we are of course flawed creatures. For an all-in on ICMIZER, this is how you use the software.

First, you need to have the hand history. This is a text-based description of everything that happened during the hand. It keeps track of the stacks, the position of the players, and their actions. Most poker software has a way to convert these types of files. Poker players often keep millions of hands that they were involved in so they can use the database to explore their play further.

To retrieve the hand history you need to do one of several things. You can request the hand history in an email from the poker site. They will likely send you the entire tournament’s hand history. This can be cumbersome, because then you need to scan for the specific hand and time stamp. The more convenient way to get a hand history is to have your poker client automatically save it. You can look in the options tab of many poker rooms and find hand history options. Select “Save files” and remember the folder you’re sending them to. Sometimes there is an automatic deletion feature. Make sure that is off.

You can use a hand history analysis tool such as Hold’em Manager to deconstruct hand histories. This will present your hand histories in a much more attractive hand replay and give you the relevant statistics. When you find your particular hand in Hold’em Manager, by toggling to tournament play and thumbing through recent tournaments played (they’re sorted by date), you can then extract the hand. Right-click the hand. You should see the menu shown in Figure 8.

Select “Save to hard drive” if you need the actual file for your piece of poker software. In some, like ICMIZER, you just need to copy and paste the relevant data. In that case, select “Copy.” Now when you get to ICMIZER, you will see that there is an option to paste your hand history (Figure 9).

Select “Paste hand history” and your hand will be pasted into the program. You then see a pop-up with a visual representation of the hand (Figure 10). Don’t worry. It looks more complicated than it is.

First, turn your attention to circle in the upper-left part of the image. This is where you choose the type of calculation to make. There are differing types of calculations one can make in tournament poker depending on how one interprets the tournament. For now we’re just going to be examining chip EV, which is a measurement that assumes every chip is worth the same amount. This works perfectly if you’re playing a cash game or a heads-up SNG, because then there are no payout structures to affect the payouts.

This branch of mathematics, where altered values are grafted onto chips based on their tournament pull, is referred to as independent chip modeling (ICM). We will talk about it again soon. Right now we use chip EV, which I refer to privately as shorthand. It’s not perfect, but when we’re studying our game it can be a fast reference point. When you’re far away from the money bubble or final table often your chips are worth the same as the next guy’s.

There’s little ICM because at that point the tournament resembles a cash game: everybody bought in for the same amount and has their initial stack of chips, and since you’re so far out all the chips are essentially worth the same.

The other form of shorthand I use is called Nash EV, which is modeled after Nash equilibrium. Many people who try to explain Nash EV mention game theory and the branch of mathematics John Nash practically created. Really, what you need to know is that Nash EV assumes every player can either move all-in or fold. It also assumes everyone is playing perfectly, mathematically adjusting exactly according to what everyone else’s range should be.

Generally, if you can shove under Nash equilibrium precepts in a chip EV situation, you can shove in a generic tournament spot, because if anything people do not call enough versus jams. You will be surprised once you see the software how often mathematically you’re supposed to be calling all-ins with K-4 suited or whatnot. Giving up these small edges doesn’t necessarily spell death for the player, but it does make the all-in play from the initial pusher more profitable.

Assuming it is a mediocre hand it’s regularly better to pick up the blinds and antes uncontested than race off your equity with an inferior holding.

So with Nash equilibrium, which we can select by hitting the button in the lower lefthand circle, we find our jamming range. Hover your mouse over the percentage it allots you after the Nash EV is calculated, and you will receive your range.

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