The key to succeeding in poker tournament play is being able to handle the ups and downs, because it's not always going to go perfectly. Your poker chip stack is not always going to shoot upwards, which means you'll often need to make good decisions when you don't have a lot of poker chips.
Many poker players get frustrated when they have a short stack. They look down and see Ace-rag, King-Queen, King-Jack or some similar hand and they just focus on their own cards instead of seeing the whole picture. That kind of short sighted-ness can quickly make a short stack even smaller and put the player on the rail.
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Successfully playing a short stack takes a lot of determination. I believe it's like a mental war when you have the short stack because it isn't fun when you look around and everyone has all those chips. They're getting to play fun hands like 9-10 suited and Jack-10 suited and you don't have enough chips to play those hands, so you're just sitting there watching while everyone else is playing poker.
I was playing in a $1,500 No-Limit tournament at the World Series of Poker when I raised under the gun with pocket Kings. It was Day Two of the tournament and it was the first hand I'd played after about 90 minutes of folding. Another player went all-in behind me and it was one of those situations where she didn't take her time to properly evaluate what had transpired so far. After not playing a single hand, I had raised with 40% of my stack in the earliest pre-flop position, which usually signals a monster. She pushed anyway with KJ and I think if she'd taken her time, she might have made a different decision.
You need to have patience when you're short stacked. You can't let poor results from previous hands affect you. Instead, I think it's really good to tighten up after losing a pot so that you can regroup. To recover from being short stacked, you really have to take your time and evaluate every situation. Who cares if you're taking longer than anyone else at the table?
Before the words “all-in” escape your mouth, take a couple of deep breaths, take 20 seconds and take a look at where the raise is coming from, how much it is for, and how much the person has behind. So many times I see people coming over the top of other players and not realizing their opponent is already committed and that their chips are going in the pot. Before you push all of your chips into the middle on a call with a short stack, look at the person you're playing, re-evaluate your hand, the raise, and what position it's coming from at the table. You have to remember that as long as you have chips you have a chance to climb from the bottom of the ladder to the chip lead.
That brings up another key point: I don't care what anyone else has in the tournament because when I start worrying about how many chips other people have, I'm not focused on the task at hand, which is increasing my chip stack. Short stacked or not, I own my chips until I push them into the middle; it's up to my best judgment to determine the best time to commit them to a pot.
Being on the short stack demands that you make the right decision every time you play a pot because making the wrong one will bust you. Don't be in such a hurry to shove those chips in. Find the right spot. Don't get frustrated by a string of poor starting hands. At some point, you might have to take a gamble and push if you can open the pot, but until that time, you control your own destiny. Effectively reading the table and the situation before you act will help you survive and, quite possibly, even win.
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