Small Stack Isolation

I was getting closer to the money in an online Multi-Table No Limit Texas Hold’em poker tournament, which was appealing, but had no impact on the decisions I would make moving forward. Why? Because the reward for winning 1st place far outweighs achieving any other finish. For this reason, I recommend going for 1st place in tournaments and not adjusting your strategy when approaching the money. I’ve found this mindset to be helpful in that critical decisions made clearly and with winning it all in mind are better.


After the button moved and blinds had increased to 300/600/60, I found myself with a stack size of approximately 31 big blinds (600*31) and sitting 3 to the left of the big blind (I’m Player 407 above). Generally speaking, my playable hand range should get smaller as I approach 25 big blinds, and widen as I accumulate more chips. With no raises in front of me, I should open raise with any two cards greater than 7, any ace, suited connectors greater than 6-5, any pocket pair, 9-7 suited, and 10-7 suited. I find that this range portrays an aggressive but honest table image, which gives me an edge. Before my first two pocket cards were dealt at the new blind level, I took a moment to study the other 8 stack sizes circling the table. I observed some general information, like Player 270 has a 50+ big blind stack and is on my left. Sometimes players with larger stacks become aggressive and 3-bet (re-raise) with a wider range of hands. While it’s certainly possible that Player 270 will 3-bet me if I open raise, I can easily fold the hand and have 29 big blinds moving forward. Top pros support 20 big blinds as a marker for NOT raise/folding, so if I had 20 big blinds here, I would open fold. I also found it notable that Player 393 has a short, but still dangerous stack if put in the correct situation. For example, if I open raise and Player 270 3-bets, Player 393 is likely to more than double up if dealt a premium hand like Q-Q, K-K, A-A, or A-K. What was most interesting was Player 128 in the big blind with merely a chip and a chair.


I’m dealt Ad-10h and the action folds to me. Over the years, I’ve learned to not get too up or down about hands (at any stage). We can avoid falling “on tilt” by executing on hands instead of getting overly emotional. Many times the worst decisions are made directly after a bad beat is taken. A-10 is certainly playable considering my 30+ big blind stack size, so I elect to minimum raise to 1200. I’ve gotten in the habit of always doubling the big blind when I open a hand. Min raising is an effective way to clear some of the other players from the hand to create isolation, project to the other players that I potentially have a premium hand, and also risk the minimum if you receive a 3-bet and need to fold. It also gives control over the hand as we will see in this example. To me, there is no other option in this spot.

The raise was effective in that Players 270, 43, 393,and 47 all folded their hands, leaving me with the best position should this hand enter a flop situation.  This means that I’ll get to observe what the other players do before needing to make a decision of my own. Player 237 decides to call out of the small blind and the action is on the low stack of Player 128.  When Player 237 calls, my first thought is to check her stack size. Will she go all in if I make a continuation bet? Then I like to use a more general rule, “Players can have any two cards at any time.” This rule helps me focus on what I’m doing and allows me to sit down with players of any experience level. Lastly, I’m guaranteed to get more information on the hand (flop is coming, Player 237 is first to act), so I do not need to overthink what Player 237 might have right now.


After thinking for about 20 seconds, Player 128 decides to move all-in.  Player 128’s stack was so low that Player 237 and I have no raise options and are priced in to call the tiny 3-bet.


The flop comes Kh-2h-8c and the action is checked to me. While this appears to be a tricky situation with Player 237 in the hand and Player 128 all-in, a small bet will not only tell me if Player 237 has a hand, but also has the potential to create isolation with Player 128. A potential hiccup here would be if Player 237 does have a pair, flush draw, or something better. However, there is such a low cost because our continuation bet will be small (about ¼ the pot size).  If we are unsuccessful, then our stack size will still be over 25 big blinds and we can look for a good spot in the upcoming hands. I bet $1,762 with ace high in hopes to remove Player 237 from the hand and put myself mathematically ahead of the desperate, short-stacked big blind.


In this case, my plan worked very well. The small bet was enough to get a fold from Player 237, and Player 128 was holding a dominated hand. Remember that with an appropriate stack size, the reward of isolating an opponent’s small stack in a post flop situation far outweighs the risk.  It was nice to see a very small bet remove Player 237 from the hand and also be ahead of Player 128’s all-in. It reminded me to stick to the script and not try to be too creative in my decision making. In order to fully grasp this advanced scenario, it’s important to understand pre-flop hand ranges, how to minimum raise, continuation bets, and post flop isolation.


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