The "stop-and-go" play refers to a strategy sometimes used to good effect by short-stacked players in tournaments. It's a two-part move that begins before the flop then continues on the flop — kind of a delayed all-in push of your short stack that gives you one other option besides simply going all in preflop.
By "short-stacked" we're referring to a chip stack of around 7-10 big blinds, although you could still try the stop-and-go with a little more or less. However, the play isn't really a viable option once you're down to five BBs or less.
Let's start out defining the play, then talk about some of the strategy involved when it comes to choosing the stop-and-go rather than simply shoving all in before the flop.
The Stop-and-Go: Definition
You are in a tournament and the blinds have increased to 500/1,000 with a 100 ante. You are down to your last 8,100 and in the big blind, so after paying your ante and posting the BB, you now have just 7,000 behind. It folds to the button who is one of the chip leaders with more than 70,000, and he raises to 2,500. The small blind folds, and you look down at .
One option here would be to reraise-push your stack all in. In fact, many players might view this situation and decide that's the only option — but in fact there's another way to play this hand.
Rather than go ahead and shove all in right here, you decide just to call the raise, then go all in on the flop — you "stop" the action with the call, then "go" all in. That, in essence, is the stop-and-go play.
But why play a hand this way? What's the benefit?
The Stop-and-Go: It's All About Survival
The primary reason for choosing the stop-and-go over a preflop-shove is that the play gives you a better chance of winning the hand by forcing a fold when you do go all in. It may only increase your "fold equity" by a little, but that little can be worth a lot when the question of your survival in the tournament is at stake.
When you're short-stacked in a tournament, you sometimes don't have enough chips to encourage opponents with bigger stacks to fold when you finally do commit your chips. That's why you're often better off open-raising all in than reraising all in (or even worse, calling all in) — then, at least, you might have a chance to earn folds if you're shoving for six or eight or 10 big blinds or more. That's also why you shouldn't let yourself get down below five big blinds, if you can avoid it, as then you're even less likely to win without a showdown when you shove.
Here, though, we have a situation in which a player has raised before you, then you finally look down at an above-average starting hand. If you were to reraise all in before the flop, your opponent might be tempted to call you even if — as you might well suspect — he is simply trying to steal the blinds and antes and is holding a weak hand.
By just calling his raise, though, then shoving the flop — regardless of whether or not it hits your hand — you increase your chance of earning a fold and winning without a showdown.
The Stop-and-Go: Making It Less Inviting to Call
Interestingly, the pot odds your all-in shove gives to your opponent are exactly the same whether you reraise-push before the flop or just call and shove after the flop. However, the decision he has to make becomes a much different one after the first three community cards have already been dealt.
Say it's a nine-handed table — that means at 500/1,000/100 when your opponent raises to 2,500 from the button, there's now 4,900 in the middle including your ante and big blind (900 for antes + 1,500 in blinds + 2,500).
You have 7,000 left behind. If you push all in before the flop, that makes your total reraise 8,000, meaning your opponent will have to call 5,500 to win 11,900 — pot odds of a little worse than 2-to-1.
If you just call and then shove after the flop, the pot odds would be the same. Your call would bring the pot to 6,400, then you'd shove your remaining 5,500. Again, your opponent is looking at calling 5,500 to win 11,900 — the exact same pot odds of a little worse than 2-to-1.
Let's say your opponent is indeed just trying to steal with a weak hand like or . If he thinks he has a couple of live cards, he might call your preflop shove with even a terrible hand like — and he wouldn't necessarily be making a mistake by doing so! If he puts you on two overcards (like the you have), he's still going to be nearly 32% to win the hand with . With almost 2-to-1 pot odds, it isn't such a bad call for him to make, especially when he has the chips with which to gamble.
But if he misses the flop — which will happen more often than not — he's going to be much less willing to call your flop shove and risk 5,500 to win 11,900 with only two cards to come (and very little apparent equity). Say the flop comes and you shove. He folds his or or many other hands, and you win the pot without having to go to a showdown.
There will be instances when he actually has a hand before the flop here — say a small pocket pair like — with which he'd definitely call your preflop shove. But after a flop he's probably tossing away his pair, and you win the pot with the the worse hand (your ace-high).
What about those times when he does hit the flop — say he had when the flop came to give him a pair of kings? He's definitely calling your flop shove. But he likely would've called if you had shoved before the flop, too, so in many cases the outcome wouldn't have been any different.
When deciding upon the stop-and-go, you should be ready to pull the trigger on the flop no matter what it brings — unless, of course, you happen to flop something big (like a straight or two pair or better) and don't want your opponent to be so eager to fold.
Also, while the play is mostly rooted in the math of the situation, you'll want to be aware of your opponent's style and note whether or not it might lessen the effectiveness of the play. For instance, if he's the type who never folds after putting some chips in the middle, the difference betwen calling your shove before or after the flop may not matter much to him.
In any case, be aware of the stop-and-go play and how it can give you a second option besides reraise-shoving all in before the flop — and how it can increase your chance of survival in those crucial tournament hands when you've decided to put all of your chips at risk.
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