I had the opportunity to play some poker tournaments at the famed Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas earlier today. At one point, in a $160 buy-in tournament, we were down to four players, with the top three players slated to collect a portion of a $2,000 prize pool ($950 for 1st, $600 for 2nd, and $450 for 3rd). I went all in with AKo, was called by 33, and the threes held. Unfortunately, that left me on the bubble with just a single 1K chip. A total of 280K chips were in play, while blinds were 2K-4K with a 4K big blind ante (which the player in the big blind is responsible for paying in addition to his own blind).
This was a classic “chip and a chair” moment. I had only a quarter of a big blind left in my stack… and the next hand, I was in the big blind. It folded to the small blind, who completed as a formality, and I look down at my favorite hand in NLHE. My bullets held up, and my stack had now grown… to half a big blind.
The next hand, I had 98s in the small blind. The button called, I was forced all in by my blind, and the big blind checked. The button and big blind checked down, we flipped over our cards, and my 8 that had paired the board gave me the best hand. Between the preflop calls and the big blind ante, I was sitting at 2 big blinds!
The following hand folded to me on the button. I go all-in with A4o and get called by the big blind. My ace paired the flop and held up with the rest of the runout, continuing to help build my stack.
Over the next few orbits, I relentlessly jammed when I had halfway decent cards, and folded when I had air. This strategy helped me build a stack that was third-largest at the table, and allowed me to start opening to a normal 2.5BB size when I had a decent hand. Further, even though this was a real money tournament in a casino, I felt confident enough to occasionally show my hands when it folded to my raises, both when I was bluffing and when I had the goods.
After a few more orbits, the four of us decided to split the prize pool evenly, leaving me with $500 in real money and a $340 profit. The chip leader at the time commented that he feared and respected the way I was playing, fully expected me to win the tournament if we had continued, and didn’t want the vagaries of luck to cause him to miss out on a decent pay day.
Long story short? “A chip and a chair” isn’t just an empty catchphrase in tournament poker. If you keep your head and know how to use it, with some luck you can turn even the shortest possible stack into a win.