Maestro of the Shortstack

Wednesday, June 9th, 2004, 1:06 pm

If you read Lion Tales, Richard Brodie’s blog recounting his adventures on the World Poker Tour and beyond, you know that he refers to his significant other as “Shortstack”, I think due to her diminuative stature and not her inability to deal with large volumes of pancakes. Lately I’ve been thinking of stealing her nickname for myself, as I have been positively Houdiniesqe lately while playing with a paltry pile of chips.

I managed to hang on during the Iggy Invitational while holding such a stack and take second place. But it’s been during some recent Party SNG action that I’ve proved myself an absolute MASTER of handling such stressful situations. In my own mind, anyway.

I haven’t been playing much lately, but when I have I’ve been playing $10 SNGs pretty much exclusively. I had a bit a bad run, finishing 10th and then 9th in consecutive tourneys, once when the trip queens I flopped were already beaten by a flopped straight, another when my pocket kings got run down, eventually, by a J-10 offsuit all-in call. Screaming at the heavens I buckled down the next night resolved to get in the money.

This I accomplished with ease, making the final three with about $3000. I knocked out the guy in 3rd place, and me and my foe went back and forth a few hands, he winning one nice pot that put us almost even. I was dealt K-8 in the big blind and checked when he called. The flop came K-8-6, with the last two cards clubs. I bet, he raised, and I made a boo boo. I just called. I should’ve gone all in with top two pair, since I doubted he would only call with a pocket pair. When a third club came on the turn he made a nice bet that I called, and when a blank fell on the river I had to call his all-in bet. I’d never won a $10 SNG before, and while other players reading this might scoff at such piddling sums, to me victory was a big deal.

One that would have to wait. Of course he had the flush, and I was down to $260. Maybe he would’ve called had I gone all-in on the flop, who knows? What I did know was that I only had $260 to his $7740, and that it was all over but the cryin’.

But the blinds were 100-200, and when he folded in the small blind the next hand I was up to $360. Of course I went all-in the next hand, and he folded. The next hand I was dealt A-5, and my ace held up against his jack. Suddenly I was in business. My opponent, realizing that I was off the mat, got aggressive again and smacked me with an all-in reraise of his own that quashed a bluff. That hurt, but I was dealth QQ two hands later and when I made the same raise he came over the top again, only this time I was ready for him. Now we were almost even, and he really tightened up. I managed to get a tiny chip lead over him, and was dealt pocket 9s. He made the usual raise, I went in for all my chips, and he called. With J-9. I had him dominated, no jack showed, and I had won my first $10 tourney after crawling out of the grave.

Psyched I was. I played another SNG and took 3rd, and I just completed another one where, again, I took 3rd, after once again exhibiting my shortstack prowess. One guy had about $5000 in chips, another around $1200, and me and a fourth had the remaining $800. I had $500, he had $300, but more importantly I had position on him. The blinds hit him before me, so that gave me one extra precious hand to wait for him to go belly up. Thing is, it took about 5 orbits for it to happen. The low guy went all-in under the gun, I folded, the other guy folded, and the huge stack, needing to only put in another $100, folded as well. I couldn’t believe it. Gamble, dammit! Although that might have given the short guy enough chips to outlast me, but at this point I needed him all-in so he could get pushed out.

Then an orbit later we were in the blinds and he didn’t go all-in. He just called, and I checked with 7-3. I got no help on the flop and he went all-in. What to do? If I’d held the hammer, sure, I call, but no way with 7-3. I had to fold, and hated to do it.

The short guy finally got his due when he went all-in with K-7 and ran into A-K. I was down to $300, enough to post the blinds one more time, so I was thrilled to be in the money. And even more thrilled to double up not once, but twice in the next two hands. Suddenly I was in 2nd chip position, and I felt I had a read on the guy to my left. He’d been whacking me with big re-raises, and I’d just caught him once with QQ and doubled through. I wanted to turn the tables and boss him now, since he wouldn’t want to go out third. I was dealt K-10 and made a tidy raise. He went all-in, and since I was again down to $600 I called. This time he had the QQ, and I was toast.

But the most extreme example of my shortstack play came a few weeks ago. This one guy went on a ridiculous tear, he had AA twice and knocked players out, made quads when another guy had a full house, and got leprechaun-quality lucky when he hit runner-runner spades to flush out a guy who’d flopped a straight. With 5 players left he had about $6500 in chips, leaving we sorry four with about $300-$400 apiece.

With only 3 places paying, what transpired next was what I called “judo poker”. No-limit is allegedly all about aggression, but since each of us only had one bad move left to us an opponent’s aggression could well be used against him. With the blinds at $50-100 each of us had to either double up or get blinded off quickly, but with our stacks so low you just KNEW the bully with all the chips would call. So you had some very unusual plays. Like a guy with $200 paying his $100 big blind, having the big stack put him all-in…and folding. Because even though he might only have $50 after paying his small blind, that was enough time for two other players to go belly-up.

This is exactly what I did on one occasion. I folded my blinds twice, until I was down to $175, and was rewarded by watching one of my fellow vultures get knocked out when the big guy flopped a pair and beat his ace-high. And then I got lucky, was dealt JJ and went all-in and this time survived the confrontation. With a whole $400 in front of my I was perfectly willing to fold, fold, fold, because the other players would be blinded out before me. That’s what happened to one player, putting me in the money, and then the big guy crushed the remaining dude and put me into second place.

It was absolutely nerve-racking, sitting there with one big and one small blind in front of you and wondering if Q-5 was good enough to go all-in with. And it was also patently absurd, four guys doing their best NOT to play a hand. But if it got me in the money, I was happy with it.

So my shortstack play is in fine fettle. Problem is, when you have a shortstack that typicaly means you’ve made a litany of errors along the way to put you in such dire straits. Congratulating yourself for good shortstack play is giving yourself a left-handed pat on the back. I hope someday to get some experience working with a big stack of chips in front of me. Wonder what that’s like?

Going away for the weekend, so no posts for awhile. No poker, not the online sort anyway. But at long, long, LONG last, I’m gonna get to use the chips I won in a real game. A report on what will doubtless be a drunken amateur hour of horrible calls and even worse beats will be forthcoming.

UPDATE: Played another SNG watching the WPT event tonight, and about 5 hands in I lose just about all my chips when I flop a jack holding AJ and find to my dismay the other guy limped in with AA. Why you limp in with aces in early position with the blinds only 10 and 15 I dunno, but there you are. I was down to $160 and neck-deep in the doo-doo.

So what happened? I started weaving that shortstack magic. First I double up with, what I must say, was a killer beat. I had As9s, the other guy had AcQc. I’m in trouble. A spade on the flop, another on the turn…and another on the river gives me the pot.

I gobbled up a few more pots and got to $600 when I went all in with my favorite hand, pocket tens. I was up against AQ, and this time the flop comes Q-K-K. Oy. A blank on the turn, and then there was one of those pregnant pauses for the river card to appear, and, you guessed it, a ten. I gotta run to PokerTracker and see what kinda odds I was up against there.

The odds were only slightly better when I went all in with A-5 suited against A-2 and had the bastard flop a deuce. We went to the river, and I got my five. Unreal. By this time I had about $1500 in chips and was down to the final four. I had the low guy under the cosh when I had AQ to his A2, but he paired both on the flop and leapfrogged me. But I grabbed the blinds a few times, and found KQ on the button. What to do, what to do…I went all-in and had the short guy call me with K8. He got no help, and I was in the money.

I got nailed myself on the river after that, giving me about $1000 and the other 2 guys almost $3500 apiece, and I started to type a comment egging them to mix it up. No need. A raise, re-raise, re-raise all-in, and call before I could type anything. One guy had KQ, the other A-8. Dunno if I’d go all-in with either hand, but they did, and when the A-8 guy won I didn’t even realize that he’d knocked the other dude out. Happy about it I was.

And then I made a total bonehead play. I got almost to even-up, and called with QJ. The flop came 7-3-3, and I should’ve made my move then, if ever. I didn’t, a king on the flop, and Mr. Genius here bluffed all-in. Smooth, Geno. He had the king and bounced me.

So, once again, I’m in the money after being nearly down to the felt. It was especially satisfying because some of the other players were trash talking me after I lost that first early hand. None were around to collect any money, and as they say, the best revenge is living well. With the crazy luck I had that game, I must be doing something right.

UPDATE UPDATE: Or, maybe I’m not living so well after all. Play another SNG, first hand I’m on the button and limp in with like 7 other players with Qd10d. The flop comes 9-10-Q, one diamond. Guy bets $40, another calls, I raise it up to $175, first guy calls. Ace of diamonds on the turn, he bets, I call. Junk on the river, he bets about $100, I gotta put him all in. He turns over A-9 and I’m toast on the very first hand. If I don’t quite understand why the guy would call a $175 raise with bottom pair if there was a straight threatening, that just shows why I went all-in. So I just pissed away half the profit I made on the last tournament. I think my last few SNGs I’ve finished 10, 9, 2, 1, 3, 3, 2, 10. In the words of Jean-Paul Sartre, merde.

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One Response to “Maestro of the Shortstack”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I also wonder what wielding power from the backside of big stack would be like – lol. I came back from death’s door in 2 SnGs myself, and, yes – I got there by making a litany of mistakes – but, coming back and being able to win one and place in the other gave me the dose of confidence I needed to affirm that I do know how to play this crazy game at a more or less competent level – so don’t sell yourself short……stack 🙂


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