Poker MythBusters: Myth 1: You Can Only Shove or Fold When Short Stacked

In tournament poker, you are going to be playing a high percentage of the time short stacked (under 20 big blinds). Many players believe that when they are short stacked, that their only move is to shove (go all in) or fold, believing that it simplifies decision-making and maximizes fold equity. 

However, it’s a POKER MYTH to believe that shoving or folding is the only strategy available or even the optimal strategy in all situations.


“This is a common myth because players don’t know how to play other stacks – a lack of knowledge of how to make other plays forces them to make plays that they know. And everyone knows how to shove or fold” – Chance Kornuth 


Here is why this POKER MYTH is incorrect:


If you consistently follow a shove or fold strategy when short-stacked, observant opponents will pick up on this pattern. They can adjust their play to exploit this predictability, either by calling your shoves more liberally or by putting pressure on you when they suspect you might fold.


Loss of Value

By limiting yourself to just two actions, you might miss opportunities for more nuanced play. For instance, there might be situations where a standard raise or a min-raise can achieve the same objective as a shove but with less risk. You might also miss chances to limp in position and see a cheap flop with speculative hands or to trap overly aggressive opponents.


Stack Size Relativity

While you might be short-stacked relative to the average, you may still have enough chips to employ a broader range of strategies, especially if the effective stacks (the smaller stack size between you and your opponent) allow for post-flop play.


Post-Flop Opportunities

If you believe shove or fold is the only option, you might miss out on opportunities to outplay opponents post-flop. This is especially true if you believe that you have a skill advantage over your table. Even with a short stack, if you can see a flop inexpensively and then capitalize on an opponent’s mistakes, it can be a more profitable approach than simply pushing all-in pre-flop.


Table Dynamics and Opponent Profiles

“Shove or fold” disregards the dynamic nature of poker and the varying profiles of opponents. Some opponents might be prone to calling shoves too liberally, while others might fold too often. By adjusting your strategy based on the specific opponents and situations, rather than sticking rigidly to “shove or fold,” you can maximize your expected value.


Tournament Life and ICM Considerations

There might be situations, especially close to the money bubble or final table pay jumps, where it’s more beneficial from an ICM perspective to use a strategy other than “shove or fold.”


“Later in tournaments, you are incentivized to win hands without going to showdown and shoving puts you unnecessarily at risk. For example, if you have a 16-20 big blind stack, you can 3 bet a min raise to 5 big blinds – it’s especially a viable strategy against a very aggressive player.”

-Chance Kornuth


Blind Structure

In tournaments with a slow blind structure, even if you’re short-stacked, there may still be plenty of play left. Conversely, in a turbo structure, the blinds increase rapidly, and a “shove or fold” strategy may be more applicable. Recognizing which situation you’re in is crucial.


Wrapping it up

While “shove or fold” is an essential strategy to understand and can be the correct approach in many short-stack situations, it’s crucial to recognize its limitations and not apply it dogmatically. 

A well-rounded player should be flexible and have additional plays in their arsenal such as limping, raising and light 3 betting with a generally tight range. They will also adapt their strategy based stack sizes, opponent tendencies, tournament stage, and table dynamics.