Playing the Short Stack

What does playing with a short stack mean for you, and how do you implement a basic and effective short stack strategy? These questions - and others - are answered in this article. Just because you're down, doesn't mean you're out!


Take our short stack strategy to heart and learn how you can be down without being out. When most of us think about being short stacked, we probably think it’s the result of a bad run or cards and/or some questionable calls. However, some players simply like to buy into cash games with a shorter stack. Regardless of the reason, there are plenty of ways to build on your capital by gaining a solid grasp on short stack strategy.

What does playing with a short stack mean for you, and how do you implement a basic and effective short stack strategy?

Recognize Your Limitations

Short stack strategy revolves around the fundamental understanding that you have less room to maneuver. This limited reach can make bluffing or pursuing other special plays (like float bets) too risky. Having a short stack means that your action will be confined primarily to the deal and the flop because, for the most part, the more sizeable bets from the more sizeable stacks are made on the turn and river. You, our short stacked friend, won't have the expendable resources to get in the action on a less than stellar footing – and without solid footing you are not going to want to push your luck. 

Dedication to Conservation

A large part of short stack strategy relies on being able to identify the best poker starting hands - and even once you have a handle on the best starting hands, you need to play on the very conservative end of that spectrum. We’re talking big, suited cards that stand of chance of making at least top pair at the flop. Sure, landing small pocket pairs or even suited connectors may seem enticing, but you also have to remember that they can still come at too dear a cost when you don't have the big stack to cushion your loss. 

Position Considerations

When thinking about short stack strategy you’ll also want to consider your position at the table. Do you have the luxury of checking to see how the betting round pans out? If so, you can afford to stay in the game for another round. Are you a blind who is going to have to post a bet (or a portion of the bet) regardless? If so – and especially if you are the big blind – you may as well stay in the game as long as it isn’t costing you. Are you in a late position where you can gauge the quality of your opponents’ hands? If you see a lot of checking or folding, you may be able to squeak by on a slightly less stellar starting hand (though nothing short of pairs higher than 77 – AA or AT, AJ, AQ, AK, KQ). All these factors will impact whether or not you are going to want to put any of your own cash on the line. 

Photo Credit: Edd Morgan | Flickr