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As a beginning poker player, short stack strategy is the fastest way to achieve a positive expected value with your game and immediately start reaping profits.

Short Stack Strategy

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No Limit Hold’em is a tough, complex game especially for beginning players. By playing with a smaller stack, usually between 25-50 big blinds, newer players can become winners by utilizing a few simple concepts. Short stack play is straightforward and simple because it cuts down the number of decisions players have to make during a hand.

Basics of Short Stacking

Short stack strategy works best in the full-ring format, which consists of 9-10 players. The looser the game the better as you will be looking for people to call your all-ins or give you action when you enter a pot. Game selection is especially crucial when it comes to choosing tables while using the short stack strategy.

How much you decide to buy into the game for is up to you. I would not recommend buying in for less 20 bbs and would not go higher than 50 bb. Stick to the standard amount and make that your usual buy-in amount for each table you sit at.

As short stackers, we are simply going into the game with the goal of doubling our buy-in. If you happen to double your buy-in or increase your stack by 50 percent or more – you should immediately get up. You can then buy-in with your standard amount at another table. As you become a more skilled player, and adept at playing with a medium sized stack and then deep stacked, you can relax your requirements.


When playing with a small stack, you will not have the ability to get into a lot of pots looking to hit the perfect flop. You will need to play a tight aggressive style and do your best to get yourself in an advantageous situation with your chips. This means playing with a tight starting hand range.

The general rule for raising pre-flop is 3-4 bbs and 1 bb extra per additional limper. This is an excellent starting point for your raises, and should be followed when opening the pot with any premium hand. As a short stacker, your range from early position mostly just consists of the top tier hands. AA, KK, QQ, and AK are all hands you can open raise with, and many times go all-with if you are re-raised.

As you move to middle and late position, you can start to open up your range to other hands. Pockets pairs from 99-JJ should be opened with raises and AQ becomes playable. As you reach the button or the cutoff, your range can be opened up even further. This means mid-ranged pocket pairs from 55 to 77 and mid-range aces such as AT and AJ.

As a short stacker, we do the best to avoid folding if we are re-raised, which is why it is essential to choose your spots carefully. Of course, if you are think you are behind pre-flop and are facing a raise, it is usually best to fold. However, we must remember that short stackers will get played back at against, especially when opening from late position. Also, many players do not care about calling off 20-50 bbs. This is even truer for players who are deep stacked. Getting it all-in pre-flop with a slightly better hand is how you will make most of your money short stacking.

The Flop

The flop is a street that should be much easier to play short stacked and is less based on the reads you have on other players, but instead about flop texture. Of course reads and ranges matter, but your decision should be relatively simple depending on the board.

If you hold an overpair to the board, you should generally fire out a bet for about ½ or ¾ of the pot. Even if there is one over card, it is usually best to make a continuation bet. Of course, board texture and reads are important, but if you c-bet 70 percent of flops, you will still easily be a winning player if the other parts of your game are solid. This, of course, is when you are against a single opponent. It is usually best to check the flop with multiple opponents, unless you hit your hand. You will then need to think about the moves that get you maximum value.


This section will be quite small, not because post-flop is not relevant, but because it is not a large aspect of short stack play. Most decisions will be raise or fold, and ideally, players would like to get all their money in on the turn and river if they can’t get it in on the flop.

Since we will be getting all-in so often, it is best for us to be the ones doing the betting in the raising. It improves out fold equity and shows strength. Short stack play is simple ABC poker and is extremely straightforward. Don’t outthink yourself. Look for aggressive starting hands, and get your money in if you hit the flop. Short stack play is not the time for bluffing or making moves.

Advantages of Short Stacking

As a beginning poker player, short stack strategy is the fastest way to achieve a positive expected value with your game. Decisions are much easier to make and there is no risk of playing a hand poorly with a big stack and ruining your night. While players will not be extracting full value from many of their games due to short stack play, it will reduce the implied odds players are offering to their opponents.

Playing short stacked is normally a novice or beginning player’s strategy but that isn’t always the case. A rare time that it may be used by players who do not normally play short stacked is when they are entering a higher stake level or new game. Taking “a shot” in a bigger game is a popular time for players to short stack. Also, if you are unaware of how tough a game may be, and you do not know the players, short stacking is another way to reduce your exposure.

Disadvantages of Short Stacking

One of the main disadvantages to short stacking is sacrificing expected value. Of course, if you can play better than the vast majority of opponents in your game, (especially post-flop) it is beneficial to have more chips.

That’s generally why the strategy is utilized for newer players or for those moving up in stakes. Deep stacked play is learned through experience, and if you never play deep stacked then you will not learn to maximize your expected value.

Also, while it is easy to move around to different tables online, it is much tougher to do this while playing live. If live poker is a vital part of your game, in addition to your online play, short stacking can be a longer process at a brick n’ mortar casino. Moving around tables and re-buying constantly will add a lot of shuffling time to your live sessions.

Short Stack Strategy Overall

Short stack strategy is an excellent way for players to learn poker quickly and immediately start reaping profits. While it is normally not a long term strategy for most players, its profitability is not in question. Still, short stacking leaves EV out on the table once players have improved their game.

When you have the skills to play medium or deeper stacked, it is probably best to give up short play, but it is not a requirement. However, for new players learning no limit cash games, there is no better way to learn the game from a profits perspective.

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