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Short Stack Poker Strategy

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Sometimes in your poker career you'll find yourself with a short stack at the poker table and you'll have less chips than your opponents.

The reason for this may be the fact that you are in a poker tournament and you just keep getting bad cards, or because you just like to get into cash games with short stacks.

No matter why you have a small stack, you should know how to use it and you should find a good shrot stack strategy.

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

When we talk about short stack in a cash poker game or in a tournament we mean 40 BBs or less.

Playing with a 10BB stack is not the same as playing poker hold'em with a 40BB stack. You need different strategies for different situations.

How short your stack is depends on the size of the blinds and not on the size of the other player's stack. This means that if you have 30 big blinds and the other players hold a 20BB stack, you still have a short stack and you'll need the short stack strategy.

Playing with a short stack

When you have a short stack your freedom in the board is limited. When you have a short stock, you have less and sometimes no chance of pulling off complicated maneuvers like bluffs and float plays.

Besides, in No limit Poker Texas Hold'em game the biggest bets are usually made on the turn and river, because the preflop and flop rounds are preparation rounds which build the pot and anticipate the action in the hand. The fact you have a short stack means that you will never bet after the flop, because you won't have enough chips to continue.

The preflop and flop betting rounds will see most of the action with a short stack.

Which hands you should play when short-stacked

The fact that you have little space to make your moves and that your bets stop at the flop means that you should play big hands which pay strong and that make strong hand at the flop, instead of smaller hands with `potential´.

Hands such as suited connectors and small pocket pairs should be avoided since they are profitable when you have a deep stack. This happens because the implied odds compensate for the fact that you could miss the flop. You should, in general, enter big pots when you have big suited cards which can help you make a pair or better at the flop. However, you should take your stack into consideration to select beginning hands in a flexible way.

Short stack starting hands table

Note: use this chart when you are in a tournament and you are forced to make moves as your stack decreases. Do not use it in cash games in which you are able to reload once and again.

Hands Key

40BB or less.
30BB or less.
20BB or less.
10BB or less.





Big cards that can make top pair or better on the flop are the ones you should play more frequently. You are not likely to bet after the flop, which means you should be happy if you get to make a good pair and earn some profit on the flop.

Notice that those hands that include an ace acquire a lot of weight particularly when you are very short stacked. The reason for this is that you are likely to push an all-in on the flop when you are short stacked, independently if you have get something from it or not. As a result, if you have an ace, your chances of winning will be better with a high card against a rival in the case he has not a pair either.

Playing these hands when short-stacked

When you get any of the previous cards which are in your range depending on the size of your stack, you should always choose to raise when you get into the pot. It possible that limping and trying to get a good flop cheaply may seem a good idea, but it is more profitable to raise and build the pot for the time our hand, which is more likely to happen if we have a strong starting hand.

With a 10BB stack or more you should try to raise about 3 or 4BB if you are the first one to get the pot. However, if you have 10BB or less, it won't be a bad move to go all-on immediately, because anyone who calls from a 4BB raise will leave you absolutely pot-committed anyway. With 10BB or less, you can also considerate the possibility of using the stop and go game.

At the flop you normally see yourself limited to go all-in or to fold with a short stack. The smaller your stack size is, the more likely you should be to call or to go all-on, as it is more likely to be pot-committed. The shorter the stack is, the less you will care about the flop. On the other hand, if you have about 30/40BB, you'll be more committed to the pot, which will allow you to be more selective and wait for something better.

The shorter your stack is, the less post-flop action you will have to face. So it is important to have a strong hand which has good possibilities of winning after the five community cards have been dealt.

Nonetheless, if you are pot-committed and you go all-in anyway, it is always better to make the all-in bet than to call, if it is possible. It is because, betting, you give your rival the opportunity of folding the best hand or a potentially winning hand, something you do not have if you call the all-in bet.

General description for short stack advices.

  • Play a simple basic poker. Avoid bluffing and bet only when you have a strong hand.
  • Get in the pots just with premium hands.
  • Fold small pocket pairs and small suited connectors as you do not have implied odds.
  • Make strong 4BB bets before the flop
  • Be ready to put your entire stack in the center before the flop or on the flop.
  • Leave the table if you win a big pot (have the intention to play with a short stack)

Short stack strategy evaluation

A good strategy for short stack is to push every little range you have. Having a smaller stack does not mean that you have less opportunity of winning a hand; it just means your game has to be flexible.

However, you will see yourself facing a battle if you are in a tournament, because it is more likely that each pot you get in involves putting in danger your competition life. In same poker sites, because of the way ion which fast tournaments are structured you will be most of the time with a short stack, which is a good way of learning to play a good short stack poker.

You always have to look for the profitable situations and put money in when you believe you have the best hand, and you also have to be prepared for the time when luck plays its roll in every result. The fact that you play a good and solid short stack strategy does not guarantee you will save your life in the tournament or that you will secure a double-up, but you will be improving your chances of reaching the top in the long term.

You can't win every all-in in cash games, but you can make a profitable game by choosing the right situations and trying to get your money with the best hand.

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