A short stack strategy in Texas Hold’em isn’t usually going
to be advisable. The exception to this rule will arise when you
don’t really have a choice. For example, if your stack in a
tournament has taken a beating, or even if it’s simply late in
the event, you’ll be forced to maneuver a short stack. If you
are in a cash game and are playing with a short stack, however,
it will be much more profitable to instead learn how to play
with the normal 100 bb or 200 bb.
Types of Short Stackers
There are a handful of different types of short stackers in
cash games. The most common form of short stacker is the total
amateur who just doesn’t know any better. This is the type of
player that you want to be facing as they are the most likely to
donate their chips without putting up much of a fight. While it’s obviously much better to stack a player when they have a more
sizable amount of money, it’s hard to argue against the idea of
playing against very weak players for easy money.
The next type of short stacker is the player who started with a full stack and
has now been reduced to a short stack. These players can fall at
any end of the skill spectrum, but the majority will be
somewhere in the middle. Any strong player will know that it
makes most sense to re buy to the max whenever possible, so you
can usually discount a strong skill set.
A lot of casual players who are decent, but not great at poker will buy in for the max
and just let their chips bleed off until they either
double/triple/quadruple up or instead go bust. The weird thing
about these players is that they will often times re buy for the
table maximum when they finally do go broke. Again, this type of
approach is usually indicative of a very mediocre player.
The third and final type of short stacker is the
professional. Use the word professional with extreme caution,
however, as no true poker professional with legitimate skills
will be required to reduce themselves to short stacking. The
most skillful short stackers are going to be found online,
because this is the environment that best lends itself to profit. Short
stacking in live play just doesn’t tend to work, because its
profitability relies on significant volume.
If you are playing 30 hands an hour live vs. 600-1000 hands an hour online, the
difference is quite dramatic, even when you compensate for the
difference in skill level. Professional short stackers will
apply a very systematic approach to their game. They know what
spots they are looking for and tend to be in push or fold mode
almost all of the time. While they can be steady winners, these
players aren’t that difficult to exploit either.
Short Stacking Tournaments
In tournament (and sit and go) play, you are going to be
working with a short stack from time to time. Barring an opportunity to re
buy, you’ll have no choice but to attempt to build it back up
to its once healthy state. One thing that many players do in
this position is panic. They will lose all regard for time and
place and will start making spastic plays. The most common
reason for this type of play with a short stack is frustration.
Since a short stack means the player has lost a lot of chips,
and losing a lot of chips tends to induce tilt, it all goes hand
Instead of getting all upset and reacting instinctively, take
a step back and reassess your situation. If you are in absolute
dire straits, it’s perfectly fine to shove on the next hand. It
doesn’t make much sense to hand select if you have one big blind
left as you are as good as dead already. If you have 10 big
blinds or so, however, you should still play to win. A lot of
your opponents will discount you altogether and will call off
your shoves with awfully light ranges (as they should).
The best way to exploit this is to wait for above average spots where you
can shove. Never flat call bets or make raises for less than all
of your stack. Aside from your chip stack not giving you room to
play post-flop, you should attempt to capitalize on the little
bit of fold equity that you do have.
Short stacking in tournaments is no more complex than understanding that you have two
options: shoving or folding, and that you need to still hand
select a bit above average hands so that you can get your money
in with better than a coin flip. Of course, sometimes this plan
will flame out, but it’s what you should have in mind if the
opportunity should arise where you can put it into play.
Short Stacking Cash Games
The best piece of advice when it comes to short stacking cash
games is: DON’T DO IT.
Even the best short stackers are working
with very small win rates. If you do want to short stack in cash
games, you’ll need to be prepared for an awful lot of
variance. You are going to be up and down many buy ins over and
For all intents and purposes, you are going to be
playing out the 60/40 scenario on repeat. The problem is that
your 20% edge can take a long time to
balance itself out. As was the case with tournament short
stacking, cash game short stackers will also be playing a
push/fold game. There’s a very systematic approach to how to
best use this strategy depending upon your game of choice, and
this would take several pages to cover. In the end, though, your
most profitable plan is to not short stack at all.
If you learn how to play with a normal sized or deep stack, you’ll make a
lot more money in the long run. Short stacking is nothing more than
the easy way out for those who don’t want to actually become
good at poker.
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