Push and Fold Strategy

This article was posted on September 10, 2013

According to Dan Harrington’s zone system, which is the cornerstone of pretty much every healthy tournament strategy approach, there comes a time for short-stacks when the size of the blinds corroborated with the size of their stack allows them no reasonable option out of the fix except for the push and fold approach. The push and fold strategy is one of those essential poker strategy pieces which won’t make one a winner on their own, but which will help players better understand the game and their opponents while exerting better control over the flow of the action.

In poker, the fewer options one leaves on the table leading to an eventual decision, the more likely he is to make the right move. The Push and Fold strategy is aimed at achieving just that: it leaves the player with two simple options in order to maximize his chances of getting back into the game.

The goals of the push and fold strategy are multiple: first and utmost, it aims to allow the player to use his remaining chips as efficiently as possible picking up blinds and antes. It also aims to stop the bleeding of chips to limping in hands in which the player will end up folding. Last but certainly not least, it lends double-ups some serious weight.

One should generally only resort to “push and fold” when down to fewer than 10 blinds. That’s when the situation gets desperate enough to warrant the approach.

This strategy approach is obviously only suitable for poker tournaments as in cash games it is highly recommended that one never let his stack get down to 10 blinds.


Quite possibly the most important factor in recognizing whether the situation is ripe for push and fold strategy or not is the correct assessment of whether or not one is short-stacked. To that end, it is recommended that one study Harrington’s zone system and its M variable, because “short stack” tends to have different meanings for different players.

Why is an all-in better than a raise though? After all, a raise will still leave some chips in what’s essentially one’s lifeblood in a poker tournament: his stack. The all-in however is much better suited at achieving the primary objective of push and fold strategy, which is to get the other players to fold. There are many players around the table who will call a raise with a marginal hand, but fold to an all-in with the same hand.

The bottom line: unless the short-stack happens to pick up something like pocket rockets or pocket Ks, aiming to make everyone fold should always be plan A.


Doubling up is nice of course, but it’s risky. In order to double up, you actually have to beat off a challenger, and that confrontation always carries the possibility of a very unfavorable outcome. Instead of doubling their way back into contention, short-stacks should focus on stealing their way back to large-stack status.

Here’s a small list of important factors from the perspective of the all-in-or-fold short-stack: one should always aim to take advantage of the fold equity by being the first player in the pot.

Position is extremely important, possibly more important than under regular circumstances. Loose players and big stacks sitting in the blinds eager to see you out, call for a much tighter shoving range. By analogy, one can loosen up his shoving range when faced with tight opposition.

One should always aim to pick up the blinds/antes. Opponents will relinquish these compulsory bets easier and for the above said reasons, this sort of approach serves the objectives of the overall Push and Fold strategy much better.


Of course, it never hurts to have a contingency plan to fall back on in case plan A misfires, but make no mistakes about what one’s primary objective is here.

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