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Short Stack Strategy

Evan Jarvis

categories General NLH
  Photo Credit: Phil Denton (flyingsaab) | Flickr

  Photo Credit: Phil Denton (flyingsaab) | Flickr

In this article I'm going to cover some of the advantages and strategies you can employ when playing as different stack sizes - specifically the smaller stack.

Buying in short gives you the following advantages over the other deep stack players:

1. You will experience lower variance and therefore smaller swings despite playing in limits higher than you’re used to.

2. Your opponents will call your pre-flop all-ins lighter in the hopes of busting you.

3. If your opponents are very deep, they can bluff each other out of a big side pot, greatly increases your chances of winning the main pot.

4. Your opponents will have a much harder time trying to bluff you off hands since there is less money behind.

Let’s look a little more in depth at each benefit individually:

One of the greatest things about buying in short stacked is that it allows you to play at higher limits while still risking your regular buy-in. If you are a 2/4 NL player and you want to play 5/10 try buying in for 40 big blinds, likewise if you are a 3/6 NL player try buying in for 60 big blinds. You’ll still have plenty of room to play poker but at the same time you won’t be exposed to the thousand dollar swings that come with playing at this limit. For the most part hands that are coin-flips pre-flop will play out the same way but instead of risking $1000 when you get all in pre-flop you will only be risking $400 or $600.

Almost everyone who plays deep stack poker absolutely detests short stacks. They think that they ruin the game and they’ll do whatever they can to get them off the table. This will be a great benefit to you since you will have a strategy that’s well suited to playing the shorter stack but your opponents will not. They will make lots of pre-flop mistakes in the hopes of busting you allowing you to get it in with a significant edge often.

In very deep games where players are sitting with well over 300 big blinds and 500-1000 big blind pots are the norm, the value of buying in short goes through the roof. First off with the standard pre-flop raise varying between 6-10x the big blind your decisions about whether or not to get involved pre-flop will be very easy. Additionally if players are making these opens with speculative hands in the hopes of building a big pot, now you can move all-in with hands like pocket sevens or AQ and be a 60-70% favourite if you get called. The squeeze play will also have a ton of value, a lot of players will call these big opens with speculative hands as well that simply can’t call all-ins, you will find many spots where you can increase your stack 50% with a well timed all-in re-raise without even having to take a flop. When you do make it to the flop in these games and make a hand worthy of getting all in the benefits compound; your risk will be limited to the main pot but the other deepstacks will continue to fight for the big side pot that is brewing. The other players will be making big bets forcing strong hands to fold because of all the money at risk, whenever they make another player fold your equity in the main pot and odds of winning it drastically increase.

Continuing to build on this deep stack idea you will be happy to know that you don’t have to worry about multi-street bluffs. With 40-60 big blinds if your money is going in it will probably be on the turn if the pot has been raised at any point or on the river if the action is bet/call all 3 streets. When someone raises you on the flop as they would often do to set up a big bluff, your decision is much easier because there isn't much more money to put in and it's easy to evaluate if you have the best hand or not. By buying in short you take a lot of the fear and intimidation out of the game that your opponents normally use to their advantage which will make your playing experience much easier and much more comfortable.

Strategic Considerations

What adjustments you should make with a shorter stack:

1. You should be trying to steal more than you would with a full sized stack. Since your opponent’s implied odds will be lower against you, they will be calling your ranges with much fewer hands and therefore greatly increasing the success rate of your steal attempts.

2. You should also be 3-betting more as a bluff than you would with a full stack. Once again, your opponents will have lower implied odds post-flop so they won’t call your re-raises with as many speculative hands. There is also less room for them to try to outplay you post-flop which will deter them from calling your re-raises with the intention of stealing the pot at some point.

3. You should be opening fewer hands for value than you would with a full stack. Your opponents' strategy for playing against you will generally be to flop top pair and get all in against you. They will probably still be flat calling you with the same range of broadways and strong suited connectors that they would if you had a full stack. By narrowing your opening range to only the premium high cards hands you will greatly increase your odds of having them out kicked when you both flop top pair and get all in. Your opponents will also be calling you with fewer pocket pairs since their implied odds are much lower and therefore when you get action it’s much more likely to be from top pair than a set.

Conclusion: Anytime you flop an over pair you should be happy to get it all in and most likely be well ahead.

4. You should continuation bet more than you would with a full stack. Since there are fewer bets behind when you are shorter stacked your opponents will be less likely to float (call with the intention of stealing the pot on a later street) you or bluff-raise you. Your continuation bets will also be more successful because players will be less likely to call with long-shot draws and therefore will be folding a much higher percentage of their range on the flop.

5. You should slow play your big hands more when there is a raise ahead of you or if you get 3-bet. Since our opponents will be stacking off with top pair against us any overpair becomes the nuts. Since our 3-bets will look very strong we dont want to scare out players who have raised with suited connectors or broadway hands. Your goal is to let them flop top pair and get all the money in. Likewise most of your opponents will only be 3-betting you for value and not as a bluff. So if you get 3-bet and you hold a hand like pocket kings or pocket aces, you should flat call and plan on getting all in on any flop.

6. You should be doing less multi-street bluffing. Since your opponents will never consider folding top pair, you should not be firing multiple bullets with the hopes of making them fold a big hand. As a shorter stack the game becomes about value betting once you get past the flop and doing much less bluffing.

7. You should be calling less with implied odds hands like pocket pairs and suited connectors. Since you can only win 60 big blinds when you do hit your hand, you should only be calling with speculative hands in the ideal scenario: Raise and a call ahead of you. You should never be the first caller with something like pocket sixes, and you should restrict your calling range to hands that dominate your opponents range, specifically big broadway hands like AJ, KQ, AQ and the big pocket pairs.

8. You should be getting all in pre-flop with weaker hands than you would if you had a 100 big blind stack. Players really don’t like short-stackers and they will do whatever they can to bust them. As a 60 big blind stack you will be getting called all in a lot lighter than you would normally. This means that against a lot of opponents you should be willing to get it all in with pocket nines and better, AJs and better and AQo and better. You will find that you’re getting it in with the best of it a lot, and even if it turns out to be a cooler you’re only losing 60 big blinds instead of 100.

By buying in for a short stack you’ll be able to play at limits higher than you are used to and get used to the differences in dynamics in the bigger games. You will get a lot more action than you would as a full stack which will be to your advantage since you should be playing tighter in general when it comes to the later streets. Your opponents will be handcuffed by not being able to run big bluffs against you which will keep your decisions much simpler. You’ll still get to play poker as you’ll still have a decent stack size but while you will be fully comfortable playing with 60 big blinds you’re opponents will find it difficult to adjust since they spend most of their time playing with 100-200 big blinds. So next time you see a game that looks really juicy but its above your normal limit, buy-in for 40-60 big blinds and take a shot, you’ll be suprised at how willing your opponents will be to take a shot at busting you when you have the best of it!

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