Playing with a Short Stack in the Early Stages of a Poker Tournament

Poker StoryI’ve said it before, in poker you experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

You know its great to win a tournament being the chip leader (its great to win a tournament any time!) but the feeling you get when you win a tournament after you were the short stack and you’ve come from behind is unmatched.

We’ve all heard the saying “all you need is a chip and a chair.”  While I’ve never been down to a single chip, I’ve been fairly close and have come back to win the tournament.

What that has taught me and the point I’m trying to put forth is even if you are the short stack and the situation looks bleak, never ever give up!  Don’t just go all in on the next hand with any 2 cards and be done with it.

Never, Ever Give Up !

Just because you got sucked out on and are now the short stack and, maybe a little on tilt, don’t give up, ever! It takes tremendous discipline to calm yourself after a suck out (especially a bad one) and think about the next hand but it is something you have to do.

To me many things in life worth having are worth working for and it is that process that makes it all worth while. When you finally reach that goal you feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction because you’ve worked for it and now you have it!

Becoming a good/great poker player is no different.  The process you go through to get to that goal see’s you experience very low valley’s and the highest peak’s.

I think, as a poker player I will always be learning, always be setting new goals and always be climbing that hill but there will always be points along the way where you feel you have taken your game to the next level and reached a milestone.

Coming back from the Short Stack to win

Recently I was in a small two table 20 player freeze out tournament. Early in the match I had my aces beaten by a player who got 4 diamonds for a flush. I was now the short stack but it was early so I knew that I had some time and didn’t have to go all in with any 2 cards on the next hand.

I’ll admit I was steaming a bit but I forced myself to put it behind me and concentrate on the task at hand. Well, I did and slowly but surely playing my strategy, I chipped up by picking my spots and getting very aggressive when the opportunity was there.

It got down to the final 4 players (one of which was me) and 1 player had a huge chip lead.  I had just over 4,000 in chips, and was in 2nd place. The chip leader had about 16,000 and the other two had about 4,000 and 2,000.

The chip leader took out the 3rd place player and I took out the short stack.  The chip leader had just under 20k and I had close to 5k.  The blinds were still not that bad (it had been a quick tournament and I think they were 200/400) so I had to double up but I didn’t have to panic and just push all in on the next hand.

To make a long story short I waited for any ace or reasonable hand to push and on the 4th hand heads up I got an ace with an 8 kicker. I went all in and he called with Q 5.  I doubled up and within 5 more hands I had won the tournament!

Now, I was at home and it was around 11pm and when I won I let out a big “YEEESSS!” with several fist pumps! After being such a short stack it was emotional to complete the come back. I was on such a high that it took me another few hours to settle down and get to sleep that night.

There have been a couple of times where I had lost a big pot early and have come back to win.  There have been more times where I did not and yes, many of those times were because I lost control of my emotions and lost my focus. Lately, and by that I mean about the past 8-10 months or so I have been much better at not loosing my focus when I have lost a big pot early or have been sucked out on.

For me improving my game will always be an ongoing process.  It’s a process where I will reach some plateau’s, enjoy the success and start climbing for the next one.  Never giving up in a tournament is part of that ongoing process.  It’s something you must practice.  Its something that when you finally win a tournament where you have come from last place to win it all, well, it’s certainly one of the highest of high’s in poker.

Write a Poker Story Bestseller

In a sense all poker players are story tellers, and they don’t even know it. We tell a story every time we play a tournament. Sometimes it is a short story. Sometimes it can become a pocket novel or grow into a full length book with many different chapters.

For a small percentage of us it can be that rare classic tale with the happy ending that makes the best sellers list! We can pick up this book and read it over and over and enjoy it every time we read it!

While watching TV the other night I noticed on one of the movie channels that they were having a ‘Rocky’ week. Each night they would show a different Rocky movie and they started with, of course, the first one just called Rocky.

I don’t think there are many who don’t know but Rocky is the classic story of a down on his luck prize fighter who picks himself up off the mat and wins the heavyweight boxing title (although this didn’t happen in the first film, he eventually won it). To me he does this not only in boxing but in his life and how he lives it.

It reminded me of a 50 seat SitnGo I was playing in a while back. I’ll always remember it because I made a note of it in my statistics book that I keep. I keep track on a monthly basis how many tournaments I play and how many cashes I get. There is a star beside this one.

I thought early on that this may be one of those short stories as I found myself all in on the 5th hand of the match. My 3 kings were up against As 4s on a flop of 7s-4h-Kd. Crazily the maniac hit runner runner spade on the turn and river and I was now very much the short stack with 48 players remaining.

I sunk back in my chair with a big groan. I’m sure many of you know the feeling. It was like I had just been blind sided by a right cross from the champ! Or even Rocky himself!

After I folded a hand or two I began to get my senses back and thought, well, I have 150 in chips, it’s early and the blinds are still low. Maybe, just maybe …

The turning point in my story came about five hands later when I got A-K and survived an all in with a player who had pocket 4’s. I flopped a King and doubled up.

For some reason at that moment I thought of Jack Straus. I had been watching a show on WSOP main event winners and they told the story of Jack Straus and how he was the reason we have the phrase ‘a chip and a chair’.

Again for those who don’t know, he went all in early in the 1982 main event and lost. When he got up from the table he noticed a single $500 chip under a napkin. He was able to continue to play that chip because he hadn’t said “all in” when he bet. He simply shoved, what he thought, were all of his chips in the middle. Well the rest is history as they say. He went on to win the tournament and become the 1982 main event champion. A wonderful story!

Getting back to my story, after that first double up I thought if I can just remain patient and make some good decisions I can still do well. The next few chapters of my story are not that exciting. I played no big pots, stole a few blinds and won a few medium pots, gradually building my stack back up to a respectable level.

Nearing the climax of my story I made it to the top 5 (which meant I had made the money) but I was the short stack. I was excited to get to the money but wanted more now that I was there! Sound familiar anyone? It was a quick route to heads up as the chip leader took out 2 players and I was all in with another. My A-Q dominated my opponents A-8 and 5 bricks later I was in 2nd position in chips while it took just one more hand for my opponent to be eliminated by the chip leader.

I was now down to heads up with a 4-1 chip disadvantage. I didn’t know it yet but the climax of my story was at hand. I had J-9 and just called, the chip leader just checked and the flop came down 10 8 2. We both checked and a 7 hit the turn. The chip leader goes all in and I quickly call seeing him turn over 9 6 for a smaller straight!

That was indeed the turning point as he seemed gun shy after that, and noticing that, I cranked up the aggressive play. It took just 6 more hands to win the tournament. I fell to my knee’s with Rocky and Jack at my side and (as I always do when I win) let out a big ‘yyyeeesss’!

Ah yes, mine was the classic tale. I didn’t play another tournament for a couple days just so I could stay in that ‘feel good’ zone I had entered right after my great victory.

So… What’s your Story?

Every poker player has a story to tell. If you are patient and disciplined enough who knows, you may one day have a best seller!

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