4 Mistakes Every Beginner Makes With 15 Big Blinds or Less (Shortstack Strategy)


If you’ve ever played a poker tournament before, you’ve definitely seen one or more of these shortstack mistakes.. In fact, you’ve probably made quite a few of them yourself.

The later we get in a tournament, the more we tend to have the temptation to “play it safe” and preserve our stack, especially when we only have a few big blinds left.

The irony is, often we want to be way more aggressive with going all-in with just a few chips left.

Now, obviously if ICM is a major factor (like on the money bubble), you’ll want to exercise more caution. But taking these mistakes into account and putting some effort into studying them will have a massive effect on your own game, and allow you to capitalize on the mistakes of others.

Let’s dive into the 4 biggest mistakes players make when playing shortstacked.

1. Shoving Way Too Tight From Later Positions

When you have a shortstack of 10bb or less, you’re supposed to do a lot more shoving than you might think.

Now again, ICM does have an effect on this and you’ll want to be aware of money bubble situations.

But once you’re in the money, your goal isn’t to survive one position longer, your goal is to win the tournament. To do this, you have to be willing to risk your tournament life in order to put pressure on your opponents and chip up.

Use a program like Holdem Resource Calculator or ICMIZER and take a look at what the solvers are doing with 10bb or less from the Cutoff and Button.. Are you shoving this wide?

Or, take a look at our 10bb default shoving range from the Button (available in the Tournament Masterclass).

As you can see, even hands like K8o, 86s, and Q4s are borderline shoves. Now, you of course have to factor in the players in the blinds as well as ICM implications. For example, you won’t want to shove 54s on the bubble with 10bb, or if your opponents in the blinds are calling stations. However, most opponents will play overly passive when facing your aggressive jams, and you’ll be able to accumulate a lot of chips.

2. Shoving Too Loose With 15bb+

A bit contradictory to the first point, but just as players tend to shove too tightly with a 10bb or less stack, they tend to shove too loosely with a 15bb+ stack.

Although it can still make sense to shove with some hands at this stack depth, you have more maneuverability and can afford to include some limps and raises, not just committing your tournament life so easily.

Think about it, if you happen to take a marginal or slightly -EV spot by limping or raising, it’s not as big of a mistake as if you’d gone all in and were gambling for your tournament life.

Once you reach 15-20bb, the game becomes more about limping, raising and maneuvering, and less about just shoving all your chips in the middle like you’d do with a 5bb-10bb stack.

Tournaments are the softest format of poker out there, and thus with any amount of study your edge is likely big enough to pass on marginal jams from 15bb+, and instead focus on outplaying and exploiting your opponents postflop.

3. Calling Too Tight Blind Versus Blind

While against passive recreational players it can make sense to tighten up your calling range in the big blind when shortstacked, regulars and decent players will be upping the aggression in this spot (just like you should!).

You have to be ready and willing to defend more aggressively against these raises, especially if you get a hint that they might be trying to push you around.

As an example of how wide you should be playing in the big blind, take a look at our 20bb flatting and 3-betting range for big blind, facing a small blind open.

As you can see in the example to the left, against a 2x raise at 20bb we play EVERY single hand. Recognizing these spots will make you a lot of money – are you defending 32o to a 2x open when shortstacked?

Use programs like ICMIZER or HRC (or enroll in the Tournament Masterclass) and study these spots more in-depth. Your game will improve dramatically within just a week of practice!

4. Not Recognizing “Any 2” Spots From The Small Blind

Against a recreational player in the big blind (and even against regulars in some situations), you’ll find that sometimes you have situations where you should shove any 2 cards from the small blind. This means that 100% of the time, your chips should be going in the middle.

Often, this is due to ICM pressure.

If you have a situation where you can put the pressure on a shorter stack in the big blind, shoving “any 2” might be the correct move. You can use programs like ICMIZER to drill these spots very effectively and gain an understanding of when to apply this.

Other times, you’ll have an “any 2” spot when the big blind is a recreational player who is massively overfolding. Like you saw with mistake #3, you’re often supposed to defend a ton of hands in the big blind. Even if it’s not a situation where big blind should defend 100% of hands, it’s likely that they’re supposed to continue with 40%-50% of hands, even if you shove all in.

Take advantage of players who are over-folding to your jams by shoving all in with up to 100% of your hands. You’ll print money and increase your stack to give you more maneuverability, just by taking advantage of passive players in the big blind.