Knowing how to play with 30BB or less is crucial for winning tournaments. You might not find yourself in this spot all that often in cash games, but you will commonly find yourself short-stacked on your journey to the final table. On this week’s podcast, accomplished tournament player and coach Jordan Young sits down with Christian Soto to discuss playing with 30BB or less in MTTs.

Featuring: Soto, Young

This week, we’re trying a little something different. Enjoy this word-for-word transcript of the podcast, and let us know what you think in the comments!

Jordan: Hey guys! This is Jordan for Red Chip Poker. I am here with Christian and we are going to dive into some MTT topics. Hope you guys enjoy. So let’s get into it.

Christian: So, let’s get into a little bit more of the hardcore strategies for the listeners that are really wanting to do this. So, we will start off with the bigger stack for the people that are may be transitioning from cash or anything like that. This is probably were they are gonna feel most comfortable, like 40 big blinds and up. So when you are at 40 big blinds and up in a tournament, what are you looking to do? What is your general strategy there?

Jordan: Usually with 40 big blinds, if you’re even somewhat deeper into the later stages of the tournament 40 big blinds is going to be a lot of chips.

Christian: Right.

Jordan: It goes back to just stealing from people. I’m looking to steal a lot, I’m looking to play a bunch of pots. By stealing I don’t always mean like three betting or just raising all the time either, which is kind of how I have always been playing a few years ago.

The game’s sort of changing now a little bit where people aren’t quite as willing to get in pre-flop wars. They’re not making as many mistakes like flatting three bets out of position and stuff so it’s a lot of 4-betting or folding by them if you’re betting. So you just have to be really aware of frequencies in that regard.

I’m just looking to be annoying when I have 40 big blinds.

Christian: Right.

Jordan: Maybe it’s just like flatting more, you know, I think it has to do a lot with flatting more-

Christian: Right, flatting more and placing pressure on similar stacks. Because they obviously don’t want to play a massive pot with you either, they’re looking to accomplish goals that are like stealing easily, three betting, 30 big blind stacks and stuff like that. So if you could just be annoying to the big stacks it becomes a problem.

Jordan: Yeah.

Christian: Okay, all right. I think that’s good. So talk to me a little bit like before we go into shorter stacks. When you’re playing live and you have a 40 big blind stack, you don’t have the HUD, you don’t have these things, how do you know who to attack? Is it just like you get a feel for how they look, how they play? How do you do that? Also a follow up question would be: Do you avoid other pros in these spots and just attack the weak for awhile?

Jordan: I think the biggest difference live … I mean like you said, you don’t have a hud and stuff but you’re playing one table so there’s no excuse to not be paying attention. There’s no excuse to not know what’s going on at your table. So you know what’s going on and you just kind of have to have played enough where you can get a flow of how the table’s playing. You just kind of get a feel for who to attack.

Was it you asked about, am I avoiding pros? Or-

Christian: No. In part, like in MTT’s you’re trying to kind of make the ride as easy as possible to survive. So does that mean sometimes you avoid or pass up on a spot versus a tougher player and just continue to pick the easy spots versus the weak players.

Maybe you don’t do that, maybe you do. I just want to see what you think.

Jordan: I think you have to kind of have a balance there-

Christian: Yeah.

Jordan: Because when you’re at a table and there’s two other pros and you have six guys that are just in Las Vegas just to play the world series, obviously it’s going to be advantageous to you to just play pots against the other six guys. But you also don’t want to lost control of the table.

I’m gonna say that every table I play at, I’m the table captain, but I’m much more comfortable doing that than sitting back like some guys are able to do. I mean, some variance comes along with that and, I mean a lot can come with it, but I’ve always just struggled to get a really good feel for the game. Or get a really good feel for the table unless all of the pots were going through me.

And that doesn’t mean I’m playing every hand but-

Christian: No.

Jordan: I want everyone at the table to have the perception that I could be playing this hand and I know that goes for everybody but-

Christian: Right.

Jordan: A lot of guys that are at the table, yeah he could be playing this hand if he gets good cards but I want everyone to know that I could be playing this hand regardless of what I’ve been dealt. I guess that’s where some of the balance comes in. You can’t just avoid the other pros at the table because you’re going to lose control of the table if you do that, but I’m also going to pass on a spot versus somebody that I feel is a really good player if I think it’s a good spot but I think it’s not the best.

Christian: Obvious.

Jordan: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Christian: Obvious spot that you might recognize-

Jordan: No see, I think an obvious spot is a good spot because it’s obvious. It’s obvious to you, but it’s also obvious to them, and they know that you know it’s obvious, so it makes a better spot.

Christian:Yeah, yeah.

Jordan: Obviously it can turn into a leveling game but I mean I think that’s what makes it so great.

Christian: Right. It’s almost similar like on the river when it’s like, this is such a good bluff spot that he’s gonna assume you’re not gonna take it because it’s such a good bluff spot-

Jordan: Yeah, exactly.

Christian: That you’ll … Yeah, that it’s like, he can’t be bluffing here because he knows this is a typical bluff spot so I’m gonna call you’re lot.

Jordan: Yeah, so it’s … This is the best bluff spot ever, why would he ever bluff here?

Christian: Exactly.

Jordan: He wouldn’t bluff here, would he? Well, that’s why you bluff there.

Christian:Exactly, yeah. It turns into a pretty crazy leveling war.

Let’s move down to 30 big blinds. So, now at 30 big blinds I feel like this is the big blind depth that most people struggle with. You don’t have a lot of chips but you don’t have a little bit of chips.

Jordan: Yeah, I think this is the most important in a sense that the next pot, or possibly the next two pots you play determine … If you have 40 big blinds and you’re one of the bigger stacks or if you’ve lost those pots and the next couple pots you play are for you’re tournament.


Jordan: Like if you lost those pots and now you have 20 or you have a high teen number of blinds, whereas you could have 40 to 45. So these pots are really important. So I think with 30 you have to just be looking for a really good spot. You have to be looking for a better spot than you had to be looking for when you had 40 blinds.

I know that sounds obvious, but this next hand is so key that you win that it has to work. I think it’s a good stack depth to not open light but look for a good 3-bet spot, because it appears that the next hand you play, if you’re 3-betting and you know you’re putting in five blinds or whatever, you’re not putting in five blinds and folding.

Like you’ve been waiting for a good spot, maybe you went from 30 down to 27 or 28 bigs, you put five blinds in to three bet somebody, they don’t ever think you’re folding. I mean, maybe you’re not, obviously you need to balance that, but you’re not going to have a good hand more often than you are so you’re sitting and you’re waiting for that good spot where somebody’s been opening too much and you give then the perception that you’re three betting and you’re going with your hand.

If you can do it well then it’s key. You’re picking up five blinds and you’re back up to 32 or 33 as opposed to, you know, say you folded down to 27 and you could fold off six to ten more before you actually get a good hand. So I think it’s the best stack depth to three bet light.

Christian: What are you looking for in that situation where you’re looking to 3-bet light? Are you looking for a player that opens a lot and now you have some sort of a blocker and maybe you choose a three bet there. Is that kind of how it goes?

Jordan: I definitely would like to have a blocker and I pretty much always will. I’m not gonna go and pre-bet six, seven off just because I think it’s a good spot. Like, the spot just has to be so amazing to do that.

I think you can just look for a guy that is opening too much. Probably one of the 40 or 50 big like stacks that they’re playing a bunch of hands, they’re trying to accumulate and you’ve established a reasonable image at this point hopefully.

Honestly if you’re playing a ton of hands and then you go down to 25, 30 bigs and you fold for an orbit, orbit and half straight, you’re image builds very quickly-

Christian: Yeah.

Jordan: And that even adds more to the value of it looks like you’re not folding when you three bet them because you sat here and just folded for 15 hands where, you know.

Christian: Right.

Jordan: Little do they know.

Christian: Exactly. I think that’s really good. So let’s go down to 20 big blinds now. So, now we are nearing the danger zone but, you know, people say 20 big blinds is heaps in a tournament. So-

Jordan: It is if you’re playing it right.

Christian:Right, so how do you approach this stack though? So especially guys that are coming from live, they haven’t played this stack that much. People that are online, that play on line, they play the 20 big blind stack thousands of times. But let’s say a live player that has no idea how to play a 20 big blind stack and is just winging it, what would you say to them?

Jordan: Well I think when you get down to 20 big blinds, even like probably 17 to 20, the next hand you play is more or less going to be for your stack. Whether it’s you’re opening and you’re going with it if you get three bet or you’re looking for someone to shove on.

I think those are the two best things to do with 20 big blinds. To try and be patient, wait for a hand that, if you’re going to open don’t fold probably. Unless there’s obviously significant action behind you then there’s obviously always going to be circumstances where you don’t follow that rule I guess.

So, opening a 20 big blind stack, going with it but more or less just to like one other person’s action you’re not folding.

Christian: Right.

Jordan: A lot of it is dependent on positions but it can be difficult. That’s going to be the hand that’s going to be the most difficult when opening off that hand, or off of that stack-

Christian: Right.

Jordan: Just because how often is someone three betting and getting in worse. It’s not all that often but-

Christian: Right.

Jordan: Yeah so I guess that’s going to be kind of player dependent and table dependent. Anything other than that I’m just not folding when I open off that stack.

Christian: Right, I mean, so let’s say when we are choosing to re-shove with our 20 big blinds stack. How I play is like, LP opens, which means a late position opens somewhere from the high jack and we have some relatively decent hands. Maybe AT suited, maybe a queen suited, maybe pocket twos, something like that.

Okay, so how about when you are the big blind with 20 big blinds and the same stack, let’s say comes from the button, late position opens from the button. Are you more inclined to call now, given that you’re getting a price or you’re more inclined to just shove and take what likely is the best hand and just take the blinds?

Jordan: I think with ace 10, you are very likely to be called by worse so with that hand … Honestly, ace 10 doesn’t flop all that well. It just doesn’t flop that great.

Christian: Right.

Jordan: Unless you flop top pair or second pair, what else you trying to flop, a flushed row? I mean, yeah you gotta to be stupid with ace 10 first though.

Christian: Yeah.

Jordan: So, with AT I’m much more likely to shove than with say, kind jack off or like queen jack or king queen, king queen’s such a strong hand though. But honestly though, I think taking flops with those hands, I would say more so if the cut off opened than the button. Because, I mean there is a lot of value in just ripping and picking up four big blinds or, you know, you’re increasing your stack by 20 percent which is a big deal but with those painted Broadway hands, there probably is more value in just taking flops as long as you’re willing to check shove the king jack when you get the queen nine four flop.

I mean, if you flop a gutter with an over card, I mean you flopped the nuts if you have 20 big blinds.

Christian: Right, right, so we’re just looking to just mostly check shove, pick up the seabed and if we get called we have decent equity.

Jordan: Yeah.

Christian: On what to call.

Jordan: Yeah, exactly.

Christian: Okay.

Jordan: I think that by just defending what the queen jack and the king jack too, if it’s not somebody that is opening a ton you don’t even want to get called … You don’t want to shove and get called because the worst you’re gonna see is like ace eight, ace seven.

Christian: Yeah.

Jordan: I don’t want to get it in versus that. It’s just like there’s a lot of variance there and my hand’s going to flop way better than his if, plus I’m picking up his c-bet too, and that just adds even more value to it.

Christian: Exactly. So kind of decreases your variance in that way, just taking flops.

Jordan: Yeah.

Christian: With these kind of hands, especially from the big blind because you’re getting such a good price.

Jordan: I mean, from the small blind with any of the hands that I just described, I’m gonna just be all in.

Christian: Okay, perfect.