The atmosphere is tense and the blood is pumping. Your opponent has made a big bet and you've decided to call, pushing more than half your chips in to the pot. The game plays out and alas, you didn’t have the winning hand. Fortunately, the game isn't over yet. You're down, but not out, and are now left at the table with the smallest stack. You can play possibly 10 or more big blinds, so how do you make your way back to a sizeable stack?
Every poker player has experienced this at some point in their career and we're sure you'll likely go through to it as well, if you haven't already. In such situations, here's what you can do:
Buy Back In
Manoeuvring with a short stack is never easy and instead of wasting what's left of your money, it's better to buy back in and have at least 40+ big blinds to play for. This is especially true if you have less than 15 big blinds worth of chips and everyone else has deep pockets.
But what if you have around 20bb (big blinds) or are playing in a tournament where you can't buy back in till you bust? Well, there are still some strategies you can employ.
Play Tight Yet Aggressive Pre-flop
While it's always good to avoid unnecessarily limping into the pot, with short stacks you have absolutely no choice but to play very tight. The best approach is to play only premium hands like pockets Aces to pocket 10s, and high-value face cards (especially suited), which can be played from any position.
When playing in a late position, speculative hands such as suited connectors, pocket pairs lower than 6, suited aces such as Ace-Six, Ace-Seven should also be played aggressively, but should be discarded pre-flop when playing in an early position.
This leads us to our second point.
Use Position to Your Advantage
As discussed above, playing from a later position allows you to open the range of cards you can play pre-flop (although all hands should still be high-value).
Since you're likely to be folding pre-flop when out of position, use that time to determine the mood at the table. Are players playing loose and limping into the pot? Is the table tight with very few hands being played?
If table play is loose and you get a good hand in position, its best to bet and raise small to get more players and money into the pot. If they've been playing weaker hands, you can get them to pay the price for playing too speculatively.
Against tighter play, you can make small bets to bluff opponents and steal the blinds. This is especially useful when many players in the hand have folded before you. There is no point trying to make big bets when short-stacked, because players are not going to be scared to call you if they have a good hand.
If you want to bet big, then it's best to go all-in.
Going all-in is the short stack's secret weapon. If you have a good hand and the opponent is playing loose, you get to double up quickly. If play is tight and you have 20 big blinds, then opponents will still be somewhat hesitant to call you. If a raise has been called pre-flop and you're in position, then you can squeeze players by going all-in.
In tournaments, shoving with a value-hand when in position is many times the best play to make.
The important thing however, is to know when to shove. Trying to bluff by shoving all-in and expecting players to fold is a very risky strategy and is not the mind-set you should have. Rather, you should make opponents pay for playing speculative hands against you pre-flop. Post-flop, you can shove when on the draw.