AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 15.01.2021 · last updated 15.01.2021

One of the many attractions of online poker is how so many situations can be entertaining edge-of-the-seat moments where there’s a fine line between winning and losing.

One such example that is well worth becoming acquainted with is the so-called Push/fold strategy. In a nutshell, this applies to when we find ourselves in the latter stages of a tournament, for example, with a short chip stack – typically 10 Big Blinds or less – and our pre-flop decision making effectively boils down to whether we fold or push in our remaining chips. In other words, our having a short stack precludes playing ‘normally’ and instead we’re forced to adopt an all-or-nothing policy.

Not surprisingly, such a scenario can be rather nerve-wracking, given our tournament life is on the line whenever we make such a move. However, this is a crucial element of poker that highlights how cut-throat the game can be, and it’s important we understand the factors we should take into consideration in order to arrive at the most practical decision, and thus maximise our chances. Remember that the old poker adage ‘A chip and a chair’ is a cliché for a reason (as most are…) – it’s by no means unusual in a tournament to have barely enough chips to cover a couple of orbits of Blinds and Antes, and literally minutes later be the proud owner of a formidable stack. So don’t forget that there’s much more to Push/Fold than mere survival or keep your head above water.

Let’s look at a practical example. We’re pretty deep into a tournament, the blinds are at 100/200 and our stack is 1,900. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that our entire stack amounts to only 9BB, which puts it firmly in the category of being a short stack. Nor does it take a poker genius to come to the conclusion that we’ve reached a somewhat critical situation in that we’re no longer in a position to mess around with the kind of standard play afforded us by a standard-sized stack.

A key point here is that we’re going to be quite happy to pick up the blinds because 300 chips – even better if we can pull off two or three steals – is going to make a welcome addition to our currently meager stack. If we’re on the Button and it’s folded round to us, and we have, for instance, KJs, the Small Blind hasn’t voluntarily put a chip in the middle for ages and the BB has 2,700 chips, how much should we bet? If we try 600 and the SB folds, this leaves just 400 from the BB – an easily affordable amount to see the Flop with a very wide starting hand range, at which point they can then decide whether to continue or to keep the rest of their powder dry. Meanwhile, if we miss the Flop, we’re in the dark as to what to do next, and have only 1,300 chips left. This is exactly the kind of spot we want to avoid. However, were we to simply push all our chips over the virtual bet line pre-flop rather than make a bet that usually would be fine but in this case, is neither here nor there, then the BB would be hard-pressed to call off a good 70% of their stack without a decent hand, the result being we’re far more likely to pick up a modest but nevertheless useful pot. And, in so doing, increasing our stack gives us that little bit more firepower (fold equity) with which to launch another strike at the blinds.

Note that, while it’s fine keeping the wolves at bay by picking up the Blinds here and there, doubling up would be even better, and this is another reason why pushing tends to be the only alternative to folding in this kind of situation. Of course, although it would be a mistake to be too selective – better to push with an amount of chips that doubles up to a workable stack than fold away to peanuts in the hope of hitting a premium hand – there’s no need to go all-in with anything as soon as we hit the danger zone. But the idea is to avoid limping, calling, or even 3-betting small pre-flop, and not be afraid to push. If the result is elimination, then so be it. Better to go out having given ourselves a good chance of either improving our stack or doubling up, than folding or frittering away our stack.

Have fun!


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