Re-Shoving Preflop: Building the Optimal Short Stack Strategy

re-shoving preflop short stack

6 minutes

Last Updated: May 17, 2024

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Today’s article was inspired by a study session I did on my own, reviewing some of my tournaments and focusing on spots with 20 big blinds and less.

During this review, I discovered that I missed a fair number of re-jams and VPIP (calling) opportunities, which led me to believe that others might be struggling with these spots as well.

These situations are often overlooked or at least not analyzed enough, so hopefully, this article will offer some assistance in that department. I’ll cover some theory and provide a few hand examples, with the aim of teaching you how you can do these types of deep dives on your own.

Short Stack Tournament Strategy: The Overview

This article aims to achieve a few main goals, although these are often intertwined, so looking at the same scenario with slightly changed or adjusted parameters can be quite interesting. In this lesson, I’ll be:

  • Looking at various hand examples
  • Check differences between chip EV and risk-premium adjusted strategies
  • Consider mixed stack sizes (i.e., when players at the table have different stacks to start the hand)

Before digging into concrete examples, it’s good to remind ourselves why re-jamming with a short stack is often such an attractive option. There are quite a few reasons, but some that stand out are:

  • Get better hands / high-equity hands to fold
  • Realize our equity and maximize fold equity
  • Deny equity to multiple callers behind
  • Good risk-reward ratio on winning chips preflop, adding to our stack

With all this in mind, it’s important to understand that flat calling is still an option when you are on a short stack, and this option is often underutilized by most players. The fact is, most players get lazy in these spots, not VPIP-ing enough, or doing it too much.

Since we are talking about tournament strategy, the field size and how close we are to the money bubble also influence our decisions.

Generally speaking, our short stack range is largely split between the 3-bet and shoving range. In our 3-bet range, we have the strongest hands that we want to induce with, plus some bluffs.

The shoving range mostly consists of strong broadways and small to middle pairs, which aren’t strong enough to induce with.

However, there is a group of hands just below these, which can still play as calls in these spots. People tend to severely underestimate how much they can call in short stack scenarios, especially on the button and in the blinds, because our equity realization significantly increases as stacks get shorter.

Biggest Short Stack Strategy Mistakes

When it comes to playing with a short stack, there are certain common mistakes that most players tend to make.

One of these is purely mathematical, where the player doesn’t consider the EV of the jam or the call. The second common mistake has to do with hand selection and using small pairs as re-jams too often.

When facing an early position raise, small pairs, even up to 99, aren’t great jams because we stand to fold a lot of smaller pairs, i.e., hands we dominate, and get called by hands that we’re either dominated by or flipping against.

Similar applies to small suited aces during earlier stages of a tournament, where opponents’ calling ranges are wider. When called, these hands are often dominated.

Hands like small suited aces do go up in value in high-pressure ICM spots, though, since calling ranges get tighter, and these hands maintain their equity.

On the flip side of this coin, players often do not shove enough with their broadways. These hands are some of the best re-jamming candidates as they maintain good equity against the calling range.

From Theory to Practice: Hand Examples

Having discussed some of the most important strategic aspects, let’s now look at a few hand examples and see how the math stacks up.

The first hand we’ll look at is  A4 in the small blind with 17 big blinds, facing a lojack 2.1 open from an opponent with 30 big blinds.

Firstly, we’ll examine this spot from a purely chip EV perspective. In this particular scenario, the player is probably opening around 25% of their range. We should be jamming with around 14% and calling with about 11%.

While we should be calling tighter from the small than the big blind position, we are still incentivized to call a fair percentage of the time, getting good pot odds. The truth is, most players don’t call nearly enough here, opting to either jam or just fold.

short stack re-jam strategy

The wider they open, the more fold equity we have, so we have more shoves here than when everyone is playing around 17 big blinds. If everyone at the table was playing with a stack of around 17 big blinds, we would have fewer jams since their opening range would be tighter, reducing our fold equity.

Now, what happens if we add ICM considerations? For example, what if there is about 17.5% of the field left with 15% getting paid, so to the money bubble is approaching. 

Here, A4s is pretty much a pure shove in all instances, even if we change things around a bit, giving other players equal or different stack sizes.

short stack and ICM strategy

The opener will have a much tighter calling range, and our hand has good enough properties (blockers and the ability to flop well) to just go with it.

Navigating Short Stack on the Button

It’s quite interesting to look at some button situations where we don’t have any money in the pot and aren’t getting a discount.

Even on a very short stack, there are many hands that we can call with on the button to see the flop and still get away from our hand if the flop is really unfavorable. 

Of course, after committing a large chunk of our stack, we’ll always have to call off before the flop if one of the blinds decides to squeeze, but this approach gives us some additional flexibility.

If we look at the chart, we can see that hands that want to call with a stack as small as seven big blinds include JTs, QTs, and QJs. With eight big blinds, the button calling range expands even more.

short stack calling range

Summary

As mentioned, this entire lesson came about as a result of my own deep dive as I wanted to work on some short stack spots and put in a focused study session.

Using these general pointers and hand examples, I advise you to go through your own database and look for these types of spots. You’ll probably come across a fair number of situations where you could have done things differently, and the more you dig into it, the better you’ll prepare for future sessions.

As always, adding these seemingly small adjustments to your arsenal can be very significant. These are things that many players miss or simply aren’t aware of, so you’ll stay one step ahead of the competition!

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