Tourney Strategy: The Stop-and-Go

Poker Strategy RSS / / 12 April 2012 / Leave a Comment

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The "stop-and-go" is a play that can potentially increase your fold equity despite having a short stack.

The stop-and-go is a “special case” play that can only be attempted when the circumstances are correct. You must have a short stack but not too short to make dividing your all-in push into two stages irrelevant. Also, you will be out of position and heads-up after the flop.

Being short-stacked in a no-limit hold'em tournament is never ideal, whether during the early, middle, or late stages. Whereas a big stack affords you a wide range of options both before and after the flop, when you find yourself having dwindled to less than 10 big blinds' worth of chips, you often are reduced to two choices, both preflop -- all in or fold.

For players in such a spot the so-called "stop-and-go" play provides one other possible course of action, although it is a maneuver that is sometimes misunderstood and thus misused. The play -- an all-in commitment of one's short stack performed in two stages rather than a single shove -- requires a special set of circumstances to be effective.

The stop-and-go is often associated with 2004 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Greg Raymer. Posting under the name "Fossilman," Raymer was a frequent contributor to the Two Plus Two strategy forums during the early 2000s, right up until his big Main Event victory and for a while afterwards, too. Among the ideas Raymer discussed there was the stop-and-go play in no-limit hold'em multi-table tournaments.

Increasing fold equity

The idea behind the stop-and-go is to increase your "fold equity" even by just a small amount, despite your short stack. Fold equity refers to the chance an opponent will fold to your bet and the subsequent gain in chips that will result. Sometimes fold equity is expressed as a formula, with the likelihood of an opponent folding (between 0% and 100%) multiplied by the pot you would win if he did.

As your stack gets shorter, it becomes more difficult to pressure opponents into folding hands when you raise. They know that by calling they can only ultimately lose so much, and thus will become more willing to call you. Meanwhile, when the biggest stack at the table makes a preflop raise, players know that playing a hand against him could end with their elimination from the tournament, and so they're more wary. With a bigger stack, he has more fold equity than you do.

When played correctly, the stop-and-go play increases your chances of getting an opponent to fold and concede a pot to you despite your short stack.

Calling, then shoving

For example, say you're in the big blind in a full ring (nine-handed) NLHE tourney. The blinds are 100/200 with a 25 ante. After pushing out your ante and big blind, you're down to just 1,400 chips or 7 big blinds.

The table folds around to the player on the button who has an above-average stack of 6,200 to start the hand, and he raises 3x to 600. The small blind folds, and you look down to see Ad-Jc.

Here you've been dealt a hand that falls within the range of shoving hands you've been hoping for. Indeed, if given the chance, you probably would've open-pushed with your ace-jack. But that wasn't the case here.

You could reraise all in here -- a perfectly acceptable play. However, your fold equity isn't going to be all that great. When your opponent made that raise to 600, he made the total pot 1,125 (his raise plus the blinds and antes). Say you shove the 1,400 you have behind, which added to your 200 big blind means you're reraising to 1,600 total. The pot is now 2,525 and he only has to call 1,000 more to stick around.

Those are some inviting pot odds for your opponent. He could -- in fact, should -- call with a wide range of hands. With hands like Kd-10c or 4d-4h or even worse, he's probably going to call.

Here's where the stop-and-go might increase your fold equity and thus your chances of winning the hand and surviving. Instead of reraising, you simply call the raise, then shove the flop no matter what three cards come.

When you called his raise you made the total pot 1,525, leaving yourself 1,000 behind. The flop comes and you shove, giving your opponent exactly the same pot odds to call as before. So what's the difference?

As we know, with most hands the chances of missing the flop are greater than hitting it. Let's say he's holding pocket fours, the flop came Kh-9c-8d, and you made your all-in bet with Ad-Jc. The pot odds are the same for him, but now there are three overcards to his small pocket pair on the board and just two more to come.

The chance of him folding a hand here is greater than his folding before the flop, thus your fold equity has gone up. And in fact, if he does fold his pocket fours, you've won the pot -- and a considerable increase to your chip stack -- with the worst hand!

A "special case" play

Of course, with the stop-and-go there's always a chance the flop helps your opponent and thus encourages him to call. Say he sitting there with Kd-10c when that king-high flop comes -- he's obviously calling, and when he does you're in tough shape. But if you had shoved preflop he probably would have called there, too, so the result isn't really different although it might seem so given how your last chips went in as a dog rather than as a favorite.

Note that the stop-and-go is a "special case" play that can only be attempted when the circumstances are correct. You must have a short stack but not too short to make dividing your all-in push into two stages irrelevant. That is, you need 7-10 big blinds or so -- with less, just go ahead and shove preflop. Also, you will be out of position and heads-up after the flop.

And even if all of these circumstances are in place, take a moment to think about what you're doing before trying the play. It could very well be the case that in certain situations against certain opponents, going ahead and pushing preflop is the better move.

In other words, stop and think before you stop-and-go.

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