[Mini-Guide]Open shoving profitably while shortstacked in MTTs!

    • conall88
      Joined: 02.01.2009 Posts: 1,715
      Credits go to Blankblanco for the explanation, and to jcm4ccc for the chart.

      As multi-table tournament players, I'm sure we've all found ourselves shortstacked in some very borderline pre-flop situations where we weren't sure what to do. Should we push all-in now or fold and wait? How do we know? These push-or-fold situations are clearly more straight-forward than more complicated endeavors like post-flop play, but they still confound the best of us now and then.

      Well, when in doubt, why not use the power of math? You don't actually have to do the math part. I'm providing a very comprehensive chart made by some brilliant individual. It outlines when you're recommended to push all-in with a shortstack with certain cards based on your position. Aside from just giving you the chart (the link is a few paragraphs below), I'm also going to discuss it some, because understanding why certain parts of it make sense is arguably more important than just having it to reference and look at.

      The chart is based on three central concepts: M, first-in vigorish, and +cEV.

      M is a concept discussed in Harrington on Hold 'Em Volume 2. Your M is essentially the number of orbits you can survive around the table before you're blinded off completely and have no more chips. To calculate your M, add up the small and big blinds, and all the antes (the ante multiplied by the number of players at the table). It's essentially the total number of chips in the pot before the first player has acted on his or her hand.

      First-in vigorish is another concept mentioned in HoH2. The guidelines of the chart stipulate that you have first-in vigorish; that is, that everyone has folded to you and you are first to act. Clearly you want this because of the fold equity it affords you. You'd much rather be the one pushing all your chips in with AJo than calling them off to a player who shoved before you. When players have entered the hand before you, you must make your own mental revisions to the chart's recommendations. Consider that, while there are now more chips in the pot to be won, you are more likely to be called if you shove.

      +cEV simply means that it gives you a positive expected value in tournament chips. That is, if you were to make the same push in the same situation an infinite number of times, on average you would have more chips afterwards if you pushed all-in than you would if you merely folded the hand. Now, I realize we're talking about a tournament, so +cEV is not necessarily the end-all be-all. Survival is paramount as well, right? Well, yes, but you must also consider that accumulating more chips in the present can greatly increase your chances of survival in the future. Add to this the top-heavy nature of tournament payouts in general, and pressing any sort of edges you can find becomes that much more important. You want to win 1st, not 48th! When you find yourself in a desperate situation with very little leverage, the type of situations we're discussing, I'd argue that making +cEV decisions is very much the way to go. The last thing you want to do is get so low that you're forced to put all your chips at risk when your expected value is actually negative. That's like giving away chips (or money).

      So that's what this chart is all about :

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      Read the first page carefully to understand how to interpret and use it properly. It explains pretty well.

      As mentioned, the chart is almost entirely mathematically based. Does this mean that, if we follow the chart, we can always make the correct decision as to whether to fold or push with our low M? Not exactly. Therein lies the beauty of poker. As mathematic as it is, there still aren't absolute answers, because it depends on you having somewhat accurate reads on the opponents left to act behind you-- that is, whether you judge, as a whole, their calling range to be closest to "tight", "average", or "loose" (see chart). Of course, there will be times when you've only recently been moved to a table with new players and you have no reads. Even without reads, you can make some educated guesses about calling ranges based on stack sizes (and other things such as bubble-play, which I'm not going to discuss for fear of making this post longer than Gone With the Wind).

      Dan Harrington also talks about this in HoH2: the more average-sized stacks will often have tighter calling ranges than either the very big stacks or the short stacks. The big stacks may see themselves as having chips to burn and willing to take gambles in order to build even further, if calling an all-in will not damage them too badly. The short stacks may be pressing and looking for any chance to get their chips in with a decent hand and double up or go home. If you really don't have anything pointing you solidly in either direction, I'd recommend just assuming the calling ranges you're dealing with are "average".

      The interesting effect of your opponent's calling ranges is that some very different types of hands are much better for pushing at a loose table than at a tight table, and vice versa.

      Take a hand like A9o where you're UTG+1, at a particularly tight table. You shouldn't push this at a tight table unless you're really desperate (an M of under 3). Why? Because here, it's so often the case that you'll either take the blinds or get called and be dominated by a stronger ace. What we'd like is to take the blinds but also have a hand that, if called, does relatively well against our opponent's calling ranges. The dilemma, of course, is that once our M gets below certain points, we can't afford to wait for such luxuries. The key is getting a feel for where these certain points are.

      Conversely, at a table with loose calling requirements, A9o becomes a much greater pushing hand because of how often we will be the ones in the dominating position, if called. Many of the weaker aces that would have folded at a tight table now become calling hands for our looser opponents. At a loose table we can actually profitably push A9o from UTG+1 with an M as high as 10; complete desperation is not required.

      Now let's look at a hand that does much better pushing all-in against a tight table than a loose table. Take something like 87s. This is a very different type of hand, for a few reasons. Whereas having our all-in with A9 called could prove to put us in dominating situations sometimes, with 87s this will virtually never be the case. Generally, the best case scenario would be a pair 66 or smaller calling us, giving us a 50% chance to win. Otherwise we will almost always be behind. This is really a hand we just want to take the blinds with. We never really want to be called. Thus it makes perfect sense that 87s would do poorly against a loose table, a table that calls more. This is especially because a loose table is more capable of calling a shortstack's all-in with a hand like A8 or A7 that actually dominates. At a tight table, when we are called, it will usually be by two big cards which we don't fare poorly against at all. 87s is an impressive 42% to win against an offsuit AK! Of course, when we're called by a pair 77 or larger, we're in bad shape, but we can just chalk that up to poor luck.

      Because of the danger of running into these larger pairs, we virtually never want to open push a small suited connector or otherwise small cards in early position. It only becomes profitable when we're opening in late position and unlikely to be called. Also note that, while suitedness certainly helps a bit, this all basically applies to offsuit connectors as well. We're not going to be called and then hit a winning flush often enough for it to make a gigantic difference.
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