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Poker Tournaments & SNG's

Playing Micro Stack in a Poker Tournament - Part 2

9,376 Views on 14/2/15
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In part one of this articlepokerimage I stressed the need to persevere in tournaments, and highlighted that you probably have more tournament equity than you think, even when reduced to a micro stack of around five big blinds. In this article I want to take it one step further, and look how to get the most out of your stack.

I'm not going to beat about the bush, rocking a micro stack is not the most attractive part of playing a poker tournament; they dwarf your arsenal, and people often liken having one with being on on life-support. It's not all bad news though, not only are micro stacks often underestimated, they are super easy to play.

Hopefully it should go without saying that in almost all cases, our only real options with a stack this shallow are to shove or fold (we can also check from the big blind sometimes too). This is not only because each chip is extra precious, but also because it's the easiest way to balance your range and maximize any fold equity you can muster.

Raising from a micro stack with a hand like Aces or Kings might seem like a logical way to squeeze out some essential value, but this would be super transparent to even the most clueless of opponents and unfortunately you would only get action if you coolered someone. 

Besides, pokerimage we don't need to worry about losing action when we shove with 5 big blinds because our stack is so small that we would be offering awesome pot odds to our opponents and can't expect to have much fold equity in most spots anyway. Additionally, other players will understand our dire situation and know that we will be shoving a wider range than we would be with a stack of say 15 big blinds.

In a nutshell, the precariousness of our situation means that we will be moving all-in frequently, and because we can't increase the number of premium hands we are dealt, this high frequency weakens our overall range. This, coupled with perceived 'cheapness' of the call, means that our shoves will get called so often that we don't need to worry about missing value with our monsters. There aren't many benefits of having a micro stack, but this is definitely one of them! 

So, if raising from a micro stack looks so strong, why can't we do it with weak hands and represent a monster? Well, this is simply because it's too risky. Not only will we be pot committed against any further action anyway, the short effective stacks flaw it as an approach because they means that we'd be getting to showdown often, and it would quickly become obvious that we were capable of raising light from micros stacks, especially if we were always shoving our monsters.

We also run the risk of inattentive players failing to notice that we have a micro stack and calling our raise, especially from the blinds, presenting us with additional problems post flop. Tzu's The Art of War might stress the importance of acting strong when you are weak, and vice-versa, but in poker balance is often more important because it makes you less exploitable, and shoving or folding your entire range is the best way to play with a micro stack because it enables you to represent the widest and most balanced range possible. 

Because we can't rely on fold equity to win many pots, we must instead rely on our hand equity alone meaning that we should try our best to move all in with hands that play well all in, or at least have some absolute strength.

A hand like 67o might seem like a good candidate to get it in with, but the truth of the mater is that seven high doesnโ€™t win a lot of showdowns, and if you are getting called 100% the time (which is the case when you have no fold equity), you want a hand that does well against a range of any two cards. Look at the following match-ups:

67o vs any two cards (opponent never folds)


Q2s vs any two cards (opponent never folds)


As you can see, Q2s is a much better shoving candidate than a hand like 67o, despite 67 giving the illusion of having more potential. I'm not going to labour this too much because it's not rocket science, not by any stretch of the imagination, but if you have no fold equity, I think it's better to risk an ante or two until you have a hand that has at least some chance of winning without improving, after all, why would anyone want to move all in knowing their guaranteed to be an underdog? 

I know I've said a few times so far that a micro stack of four or five big blinds has little to no fold equity, and as a rule of thumb, we are not trying to get away with optimistic blind-steals by shoving our micro stack. Nonetheless, there are some spots where you can find some fold equity with your micro stack, so keep an eye out for situations where you might be able to exert some pressure.

Those of you who are familiar with the gap concept will understand that shoving is more powerful than calling because you can win by making your opponent fold โ€“ pretty basic stuff, but worth mentioning nonetheless. I'd like to take it a step further and suggest that the difficulty of calling an all-in is amplified proportionately with the percentage of your stack that the call will jeopardise.

This means that you will be able to yield more fold equity shoving your five big blinds against a big blind who has eight or nine BBS and can't afford take the hit as liberally. 

If however, we are unlucky enough to find our stack crippled to sub four big blinds, well then we should fully accept that our shove is almost always getting getting called and it becomes even more important that we shove with hands that have a reasonable chance of winning at showdown.

Micro stacks often have way more value that you would expect and having one is not synonymous with being out of the tournament. With any chips at all you will have a mathematical right to first place some percentage of the time which means you can turn it around.

If you want to maximize your profits playing poker, you must do your best to take a beat on the chin, dust yourself off, and make the best decisions you can with your micro sack; by all means get it in, but try to make sure that you're doing it for the right reasons, and not simply giving up too soon.


Dan O'Callaghan

Primarily an MTT grinder, Dan began playing poker over curry and Kopperberg whilst at university about 4 years ago.   He exists as several aliases but is best know as 'danshreddies'. His biggest score came earlier in the year when ... Read More


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