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Session Review #14: Easy Decisions

I used to think no-limit hold'em was about making tough decisions for lots of money. I do believe this becomes quite true as you make your way to the higher stake tables and your edge over other players grows smaller and smaller. At the micro-stakes and small-stakes tables, I believe that the NLHE games are quite beatable as long as you're able to think a hand through from start to finish and do your best to achieve your desired result.

Although I've started to play some more medium-stack (100 BB) poker at the $100 NLHE tables, I still enjoy the structure imposed on my game by playing short-stacked. Many of the decisions that are difficult with a 100 BB stack are much easier with a 50 BB stack. In fact, I'd say many of the decisions that I make at a table are pretty standard and automatic.

I make my money by forcing my opponents to make mistakes:

  • Players with big stacks think that they can push me off a hand simply because they have a giant stack and I have a small stack. While this "bully" mentality works well in tournaments, it's a terrible way to approach a cash game. I tend to commit myself to most pots that I play. This makes me virtually unbluffable if I've picked up any piece of the flop assuming that I didn't simply push all-in pre-flop under the right circumstances. In effect, I use my small stack to bully the bigger-stacked players.

  • When I sit with a short-stack, other players view me as a fish or a player on the verge of busting out of a site. Why else would someone sit down at a table without full clip? Every time I raise or re-raise, there are always players licking their chops thinking that I'm making a desperation play; of course, that's not true. And sure, sometimes I bluff and sometimes I get caught with terrible cards, but it further reinforces my image at the table. And any big bluff on my part will rarely cost me more than half a buy-in!
Let's take a look at some hands that show how playing the short-stack can simplify a hand.

PokerStars, $0.50/$1 NL Hold'em Cash Game, 6 Players
LeggoPoker.com - Hand History Converter

MP: $97.50
Hero (CO): $48
BTN: $131.30
SB: $75
BB: $251.15
Villain (UTG): $23.70

Villain posts $1
Pre-Flop: J A dealt to Hero (CO)
Villain checks, MP folds, Hero raises to $5, 3 folds, Villain calls $4

(There's a big difference between buying in for 50 BB and buying in for 23 BB. And I'll admit that when I see someone buy-in for $23.70, I can't help but think that they're almost busto at the site in question. I also believe that any player who'll post from UTG is typically a weak player: this is especially true when said player only has $23.70 to bring to the table.

Although you could argue for raising almost any hand from the button, I tend to prefer raising with a hand that has showdown value in this spot. I was expecting to pick up the blinds without a fight but the Villain was feeling frisky. With $11 in the pot pre-flop, the stack-to-pot (SPR) ratio for this hand is less than 2. What did this mean? I would push on the flop no matter what fell.)

Flop: ($11.50) 5 T K (2 Players)
Villain bets $14, Hero raises to $43 and is All-In, Villain calls $4.70 and is All-In

(Why would the Villain bet $14 in this spot and leave $5 behind? Was he strong or weak? Truth is - I didn't care. The pot was big and there was very little money behind. Luckily, I'd picked up a flush draw; regardless, this was an automatic push. Villain insta-called.)

Turn: ($48.90) T (2 Players - 1 is All-In)

River: ($48.90) 5 (2 Players - 1 is All-In)

Results: $48.90 Pot ($2.40 Rake)
Hero mucked J A and LOST (-$23.70 NET)
Villain showed 7 K (two pair, Kings and Tens) and WON $46.50 (+$22.80 NET)

Although I was hoping to get some of my money back from the Villain in a later hand, he was soon busted by another player at the table.

Titan Poker 0.50/1.00, hand converted by the iPoker Converter at Talking-Poker

saw flop | saw showdown

Button ($102.90)
SB Hero ($50.00)
BB ($213.47)
UTG Villain ($109.50)
UTG+1 ($109.92)

Preflop: Hero is in the SB with K A
Villain raises to 4.00, 2 folds, Hero raises to 12.00, 1 fold, Villain raises to 55.00, Hero moves all-in for 37.50.

(Villain had been doing his best to run over the table. Once I picked up Big Slick in the small blind, I figured a quick re-raise would take down the pot pre-flop. When the Villain re-raised me all-in, I made an easy call for all my chips. I put the Villain on a range of AA - 22, AK - AJ, and possibly some overplayed weaker hands. I find when a player is running over a table, his or her playing standards tend to loosen up and aggression levels rise in order to increase the player's fold equity on any given hand.)

Flop (110.00) 6 2 6

Turn (110.00) 2

River (110.00) 8

Hero shows K A
Villain shows J J

Villain wins 110.00 with Two pair, Jack's and Six's with a Eight for a kicker

I love the way AK plays with a short-stack. There's no better feeling than pushing all your chips in and knowing that you'll probably need to hit the flop, turn or river to take down a big pot. It's nice to gamble sometimes.

PokerStars, $0.50/$1 NL Hold'em Cash Game, 6 Players
LeggoPoker.com - Hand History Converter

BB: $98.50
UTG: $107.75
MP: $151.80
CO: $454.20
Villain (BTN): $98
Hero (SB): $47.50

Pre-Flop: A Q dealt to Hero (SB)
UTG calls $1, MP calls $1, CO folds, Villain calls $1, Hero raises to $8, 3 folds, Villain calls $7

(Don't you hate it when you limp into a family pot and one of the pricks in the blinds decides to make a large raise and try to steal the pot? Well, in this hand, I was that prick. The Villain on the button was quite happy to call my obvious bluff. I was quite happy that I bet more than enough to guarantee myself a favourable SPR and effectively negate the Villain's positional advantage in the hand. With an SPR of less than 2, I planned to commit to any pot that gave me a pair, a flush draw, or two overcards.)

Flop: ($19) 2 7 6 (2 Players)
Hero bets $10, Villain raises to $60, Hero calls $29.50 and is All-In

(A flush draw and two overcards is a monster hand in a heads-up pot, especially when the pot is already quite large. I hate to slowplay so I bet out. I would have been happy to have taken down the pot without a fight; likewise, I would have been quite pleased had my opponent flat-called. When the Villain raised, I was ecstatic and pushed my chips into the pot like a good little push-monkey.)

Turn: ($98) J (2 Players - 1 is All-In)

River: ($98) T (2 Players - 1 is All-In)

(As Fuel55 would say - GIN!!!)

Results: $98 Pot ($3 Rake)
Villain mucked 8 9 and LOST (-$47.50 NET)
Hero showed A Q (a flush, Ace high) and WON $95 (+$47.50 NET)

(Speaking of monster hands, the Villain hit the floppy pretty good as well. Luckily I had the flush covered.)

In this next hand, I use my short-stack to avoid making any post-flop decisions against a tricky and aggressive player.

PokerStars, $0.50/$1 NL Hold'em Cash Game, 6 Players
LeggoPoker.com - Hand History Converter

Hero (BTN): $48.50
SB: $102
Villain (BB): $80.40
UTG: $88.95
MP: $203.95
CO: $152.10

Pre-Flop: J J dealt to Hero (BTN)
UTG calls $1, 2 folds, Hero raises to $5, SB folds, Villain raises to $14, UTG folds, Hero raises to $48.50 and is All-In, Villain calls $34.50

(The Villain in this hand had raised every pot that he played, whether first-in or not. I knew he was tricky and very aggressive and wanted to avoid making any tricky decisions post-flop. A call would pretty well commit me to the pot and a fold was simply out of the question. I made rather fast all-in push from the button and was ready to race when the Villain made the quick call from the big blind.)

Flop: ($98.50) 3 5 A (2 Players - 1 is All-In)

Turn: ($98.50) 9 (2 Players - 1 is All-In)

River: ($98.50) Q (2 Players - 1 is All-In)

(I really hoped that the Villain hadn't made the pre-flop call with AQ or KQ...)

Results: $98.50 Pot ($3 Rake)
Hero showed J J (a pair of Jacks) and WON $95.50 (+$47 NET)
Villain showed T T (a pair of Tens) and LOST (-$48.50 NET)


I love hands like that last one. I think most everyone gets a certain amount of satisfaction from winning a big pot off a player who's been bullying the table to good effect.

Now compare the previous hands to this next one. In the next hand, I decide to tangle with a tricky player by putting myself in an awkward spot out-of-position in a large pot.

PokerStars, $0.50/$1 NL Hold'em Cash Game, 6 Players
LeggoPoker.com - Hand History Converter

Villain (BTN): $98.50
SB: $243.60
BB: $176.40
UTG: $154.50
Hero (MP): $58.20
CO: $100.10

Pre-Flop: T T dealt to Hero (MP)
UTG folds, Hero raises to $4, CO folds, Villain raises to $14, 2 folds, Hero raises to $30, Villain calls $16

(The Villain had made it a habit to 3-bet in position against habitual pre-flop raisers. Rather than simply push pre-flop, I decided to 4-bet the Villain in the hopes of convincing him that I had a real hand. Unfortunately the Villain called the bet and left me in a bad spot. Given the Villain's possible range in this spot, I had enough equity in the hand to warrant a pre-flop push. Instead, I tried to get tricky and screwed myself over. With an SPR of less than 0.5, there was no way that I could fold my hand.)

Flop: ($61.50) K 4 J (2 Players)
Hero checks, Villain checks

(I hated this flop. Any number of hands in the Villain's range had me beat. But I should have pushed: the pot size was too large and my stack too small to justify anything other than an auto-push followed by prayer.)

Turn: ($61.50) A (2 Players)
Hero checks, Villain checks

(Terrible turn card. Although I'd contemplated pushing the turn after the Villain checked the flop, I chickened out yet again.)

River: ($61.50) 6 (2 Players)
Hero checks, Villain checks

(Did I really think that the Villain had slow-played a pair this whole time? A push on the river might have gotten the Villain to fold a pair of Jacks in this spot, although getting 3:1 on a river call is pretty tempting.)

Results: $61.50 Pot ($3 Rake)
Villain mucked 8 7 and LOST (-$30 NET)
Hero showed T T (a pair of Tens) and WON $58.50 (+$28.50 NET)

I won that last hand despite playing it pretty weak. The Villain's hand really surprised me: why call a 4-bet pre-flop with a 87s if you're not planning on following it up with a steal attempt? Maybe he realized that I was pot-committed and would have called any bet on his part. Then again, if he knew that would be the case, why call the extra $16 before the flop? The Villain took a terrible gamble against a short-stacked player and it ended up costing him. I shouldn't pat myself on the back too hard either: I played the hand as weakly as possible after the flop.

The point of this session review was just to outline some of the advantages of playing short-stacked. While it can be pretty dull playing the short-stack, there are enough pre-flop gambles and flop pushes to keep things a little exciting. And you'd be surprised at how much fun it can be playing the role of the short-stacked bully at the table.

Have a good one!

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