Short Stack Poker Strategy

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For a guide to beating short stack poker players, check out the "Crushing Shortstackers" concept video.

Short Stack Poker

There are always going to be times in your poker career where you will find yourself as the short stack at the table and probably having a smaller stack than the rest of your opponents.

It may be because you are in the middle of a tournament and had a bad run of cards, or because you simply enjoy to buy in to cash games with a short stack.

But for whatever reason you are playing with a relatively small amount of chips, it is good to be able to understand and employ a good short stack strategy.

What is a short stack in no limit Texas Hold'em?

The typical short stack in any cash game or tournament will have 40 Big Blinds or less.

However, there are varying degrees of short stack poker as a 10BB stack will require a slightly different strategy than a 40BB stack, and it is important to be aware of these differences.

You may have noticed that the term ‘short stack’ is determined by the size of your stack relative to the blinds, and not relative to the stack sizes of your opponents. Therefore even if you have 30BB and your opponents have 20BB, you are still considered to have a short stack, and so you should continue to utilize a good short stack strategy.

How to play with a short stack.

Having a short stack means that you have less room to make plays at the poker table. Bluffs and advanced moves (like float plays) are formed from being able to make educated checks, bets, calls and raises on each round of the hand, so having a short stack will reduce and sometimes eliminate any room for special manoeuvres by both you and your opponents.

Furthermore, the general structure of a no limit Texas Holdem game is that the bigger bets will be made on the turn and river, as the preflop and flop rounds are usually set-up rounds that build the pot and prepare the hand for action. The fact that we have a short stack means that we will rarely be making it past the flop in terms of betting as we will not having enough chips to continue.

With a short stack, most (or all) of the action will be taking place on the preflop and flop betting rounds.

Hands to play when short-stacked.

The fact that we have little room for movement and that our betting will cease at the flop means that we should be playing big heavy hitting hands that will make strong hands at the flop, rather than smaller hands that have ‘potential’.

We should avoid hands like suited connectors and small pocket pairs, as these hands are profitable when we have a deep stack, as our implied odds are there to compensate for the likely event that we miss the flop. In general we are best entering pots with are big suited cards that can make top pair or better at the flop, although we should exercise some flexibility in starting hand selection depending on the size of our short stack.

Below is a table of the hands we should be looking to play depending on our situation:

Starting hands chart.

Note: This starting hands chart is designed for tournament games where you are pressured to make more moves as the amount of chips left in your stack decreases. This table is not designed for short stack cash game strategy where you have the option of reloading again and again.

Hands Key
  • 40BB or less.
  • 30BB or less.
  • 20BB or less.
  • 10BB or less.
  • AA
  • KK
  • QQ
  • AKs
  • AQs
  • JJ
  • AK
  • AQ
  • AJs
  • AJ
  • TT
  • ATs
  • KQs
  • AT
  • KQ
  • KJs
  • KJ
  • AXs
  • AX
  • QJs
  • QJ

As you can see, a lot of emphasis has been placed playing big cards that can make top pair or better, which will often be the best hand on the flop. As you should remember it is unlikely that we will make any more bets past the flop betting round, so we should be more than happy to be making a good pair and get our money in on the flop.

You may notice that hands that include aces have been given a lot of weight, especially if you are a very short stack. This is because of the fact that as a extremely short stack, it is more than likely that you will be pushing or calling an all in on the flop regardless if you have caught a piece of it or not. Therefore if we are holding an ace, we will have a better chance of winning with a high card against an opponent in the event that they did not make a pair either.

How to play these hands.

When we are dealt any of the above cards that are within our range depending on the effective stack sizes, we should always be raising when entering the pot. It may seem like a good idea to limp and try and catch a good flop for cheap, but it is more profitable to raise and build the pot for when we hit our hand, which we are more likely to do if we are holding a strong starting hand.

With a stack of 10BB or more we should be looking to raise around 3 or 4BB if we are first to enter the pot. However, if we have 10BB or less, it will not be too bad of a play to push all-in straight away, as any call from a 4BB raise will leave us completely pot-committed anyway. With 10BB or less, you can think about using the stop and go play also.

On the flop we are usually reduced to going all-in or folding as a short stack. The smaller the size of our stack, the more inclined we should be to calling or pushing all-in as we are more likely to be committed to the pot. The shorter the stack, the less the flop will matter to us. However, if we have around 30/40BB, we can be a little more selective because we will not be pot committed and have the opportunity to wait for a better spot.

The shorter your stack, the less post-flop action you are going to deal with. So it's important to have a strong hand that has a good chance of winning after all 5 community cards have been dealt.

Nevertheless, if we are pot committed and will be moving all-in regardless, it is always better to make the all-in bet rather than calling if possible. This is because by betting we are giving our opponent the opportunity to fold the best hand or a potentially winning hand, which is something that is not available to us if we are calling the all-in bet.

  • Short stack tips overview.
  • Play simple ABC poker. Avoid attempting to bluff and just bet when you have a strong hand.
  • Only enter pots with premium hands.
  • Fold small pocket pairs and suited connectors as you have do not have implied odds.
  • Make strong 4BB raises before the flop.
  • Be prepared to move all of your stack in to the middle before or on the flop.
  • Leave the table if you win a big pot (and intend on playing short-stacked).

Short stack strategy evaluation.

Good short stack strategy is all about pushing every little edge that we have. Just because we have a smaller stack, it does not mean that we have less chance of winning any individual hand, it just means we have to adapt our play a little differently to each situation.

Nevertheless, we will be facing an up hill battle if we are in a tournament as each pot we enter is more likely to involve putting our tournament life on the line. At some poker sites (friend's website), the structure of the faster tournaments will mean that you will spend the majority of the game as a short stack, which is a good way to learn how to play good short stack poker.

We should always look for the most profitable situations and get our money in when we think we have the best of it, and we should always prepare for luck to play its part in each outcome. Playing a good, sound short stack strategy does not guarantee to save a tournament life or secure a double up, but it will improve your chances of coming out on top in the long run.

In cash games, you cannot expect to win every all-in, but you can still play a profitable game by picking the right situations and trying to get your money in with the best hand.

Go back to the awesome Texas Hold'em Strategy.

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