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Best Short Stack Poker Strategy Tips


Short stack play might be your bread and butter or just a small part of your game, depending on what you are playing. Tournament players don’t have the luxury to choose if they want to learn short-stack poker or not, as it is an essential part of every game, and it is impossible to be a winning MTT player without it.

On the other hand, cash game players have the option to decide if they want to approach cash games as a short stack or not.

If you are a tournament player or want to understand how to approach cash games from a short-stack perspective, this article is for you. We will be breaking down short stack play and teaching you every little thing you need to consider when playing with a small stack.

Best Short Stack Poker Strategy Tips

What Is Short Stack Poker?

If you still have doubts about what is considered under the term short stack poker, we will start from there.

Poker players usually use the term short stack:

  • For players with 40 big blinds or less in cash games
  • For players with 20 big blinds or less in tournaments

However, this is not set in stone and depends on the game and the format. In some situations, each player with less than 100 bb in a cash game will be considered a short stack, while in other situations, only players with 40 bb or less will belong to this group.

Tournaments are a completely different story because it is very situational depended. There are many variables to consider, such as an average stack or game format.

For example, if there is a situation in a late stage of a tournament where all players at the table have around 30bb, none of them will be considered a short stack. On the other hand, if it is an early stage of a tournament and all players at the table have more than 100 bb except one player who has 30 bb, that player will be considered a short stack.

That said, players usually refer to short stacks as someone having 20bb or less in tournaments, as this is where the showing or folding phase can start.

Best Short Stack Poker Strategy Tips
Short stacks are everywhere

Why Do Players Play With Short Stacks?

Now that we have a better idea of what poker players consider under the term short stack, it is time to explain why they play with short or small stacks. There are three main reasons for this, and we will start with the most obvious one.

In tournaments, poker players can have short stacks because they don’t have the option to top up their stack. So even in the early stages, you can be a short stack if you lose a few significant pots.

On top of that, you will naturally have fewer blinds to play with as the tournament progresses as blinds constantly go up.

This is a natural course of action in tournaments, and even the best players in the world get in these situations. This is why learning the short-stack poker strategy is one of the most crucial things for tournament players.

The other two reasons are related to cash games.

In cash games, players will play with short stacks as a part of their strategy. This strategy is called “short stacking,” and these players are referred to as professional short stackers.

These types of players base their whole cash game strategy around the fact that they are playing with a short stack. This means that they adjust their opening ranges, calling ranges, 3 betting ranges, etc. to serve the fact that they are not planning with a full stack.

Another big part of their strategy is taking advantage of cash game players who are not used to playing against short stacks and have trouble adapting to this style of play.

Finally, there is also a segment of recreational players who play with short stacks without even realizing it in some cases. They don’t top up their stacks when they fall under 100bb or even under 50bb and play the game with what is left after each hand.

As a cash game player, it is very important to learn how to recognize professional short stackers from amateurs who don’t pay attention to their stacks because the previous will adapt their strategy to their stack while the latter will not.

Best Short Stack Poker Strategy Tips
Female poker player

Short Stack Poker Strategy Tips

Learning how to implement a correct short-stack strategy can make or break your tournament poker career. On the other hand, playing a short stack strategy in cash games where your opponents don’t know how to adapt can do wonders for your bottom line.

Whichever of the two you are preparing for, these short-stack poker strategy tips will help you make the correct adjustments.

Memorizing The Correct Preflop Shoving Ranges

Preflop shoving ranges are mostly mentioned in terms of tournament poker because even if you are playing as a short stack in cash games, you will be playing with around 30 to 40 big blinds, and there aren’t many situations in which you should be open shoving that many blinds.

In short, certain starting hands can be profitably shoved depending on the position and stack size. These hands, positions, and big blind amounts are displayed on charts which poker players call preflop shoving charts.

Because everyone gets to these situations in tournament poker, memorizing the preflop shoving charts is a must.

However, you should also know that these charts are created based on the correct calling ranges of your opponents, so if your opponent is calling too light or too tight, these ranges will lose a part of their profitability.

For this reason, it is not enough to blindly follow the charts. The best tournament poker players also factor in their opponents' calling range and adapt their shoving ranges accordingly. This is just something to keep in mind. If you are a beginner, memorizing the charts will be more than enough.

Best Short Stack Poker Strategy Tips
Steffen Sontheimer playing poker

Adjusting Preflop Raising Sizes

Adjusting preflop raising sizes is something that, as a short stack, you should do in both tournaments and cash games.

When you come down to around 20 bb in a tournament, you will want to go all in or fold in some situations. However, when you are going to “just” raise, you should adjust your sizing accordingly.

As a tournament player, it is very important to understand the effective stack in play since even if you have a big stack, but your opponent has around 20bb, you are still playing in short stack territory. This is why you might want to optimize raise sizes based on the situation, which should be adjusted throughout the tournament.

With this said, if you have 30 bb or less in a tournament, the most common strategy is to min raise. This is a good approach because you will preserve your stack when you need to fold the hand preflop after raising it and won’t sacrifice too much of your stack.

Now, the situation in cash games is a bit different. Although you still want to adjust your open raise sizings, the approach can be slightly different.

This is because even though you are playing with a short stack, you can still top up your stack to the x amount of chips you play with after each hand.

The best thing that you can do is adjust the size of your raise to game dynamics, your opponents, and your cards. This is a great strategy, but it will only work if your opponents don’t pay attention or adjust their ranges.You will see some short stacks in cash games that use the same opening sizes as players with 100bb, but you will also see players with short stacks that open to x2 bb from all positions.

So, if you are a beginner short stacked, you might want to keep things simple initially and choose an opening size from 2 to 2.5 big blinds that you will use from all positions. As you become more experienced, you will want to experiment with different sizes against different players.

Raise sizes change according to the size of your stack

Adjusting Opening Ranges

This is what most players that are new to short stack poker struggle with the most. Adjusting opening ranges is the most important thing when transitioning from full stack to short stack poker. Playing the same ranges with a short stack as with a full stack is not profitable, and because of this, the first thing you should do before you start playing with a shallow stack is to adjust your ranges.

The main reason for this is the stack-to-pot ratio.

The stack-to-pot ratio has an enormous impact on the value of certain hands. In the case of short stack poker, it shifts value from suited and connected hands to strong high cards and broadway cards.

As a short stack, most of your decisions will come before the flop and on the flop because you don’t have enough chips to play all the streets. This means that your decisions will be much more straightforward as you don’t have the means to become creative.

Additionally, depending on the pre-flop action, you will have to decide if you are going all the way with a hand on the flop because you will be committing a lot of your stack with a call or a raise in most situations.

For this reason, you want to play hands that make strong one-pair hands, such as high pocket pairs and high unpaired hands.

Combinations like suited connectors should form only a slight portion of your range for board coverage in some situations. These hands lose a lot of value when you do not have a chance to win big pots since, more often than not, you will have a draw with these holdings and be behind when you move in. On top of that, they do not have blockers, so your opponents are more likely to have a strong hand.

The short-stack poker strategy is much less complex, but there is still more to it than these three tips. These are just the fundamentals you need to consider when starting and then build the rest of your strategy on top of them.

Best Short Stack Poker Strategy Tips
Opening ranges also change when you have a shorter stack

The Advantages Of Implementing A Short Stack Strategy

At this point, you should have a pretty solid picture of a short-stack poker strategy and some things you should adjust if you want to implement it successfully.

The only question remains, why should you bother learning this strategy if you are not a tournament player? To answer this question, we have prepared some of the advantages that the short stack poker strategy brings below:

  • Short stack strategy is simple, which means fewer difficult decisions
  • It speeds up the decision making
  • Allows you to focus on other things at the table and make reads
  • Most of your opponents will not properly adjust their strategy

Short Stackers Have Fewer Difficult Decisions

One of the main advantages that a short-stack strategy brings is fewer difficult decisions. This makes it one of the most simple strategies to implement, and simplicity in poker is by no means a negative thing, especially if you are just starting.

The main reason why short stackers don’t get in as many difficult spots as players with full or deep stacks is that most of their decision-making is done on two streets, before the flop, and on the flop.

This means that short stackers can almost memorize each of the most common spots, preventing them from making big mistakes.

Best Short Stack Poker Strategy Tips

Short Stacking Speeds Up The Decision-Making Process

Because the short stack strategy is simple and players don’t get into too many different spots, each of their decisions becomes easier. Good short-stack players use a solid baseline strategy and just make minor adjustments in situations that call for it.

Most of the time, they have solved game trees in their heads and follow them. This prevents them from getting into awkward spots for which they are not prepared.

Short Stacking Allows You To Focus On Your Opponents

As we mentioned in the previous paragraph, short stackers have a pretty easy job when it comes to decision-making. Apart from making their life easier, this also allows them to focus on their opponents and make better and more accurate reads.

You can spend more time observing the actions of your opponents, which in turn allows you to recognize some of the mistakes they make.

It also lets you see if your opponents are making adjustments to your short-stack strategy. This is very important because a big chunk of your profit will come from players who don’t adjust to different stacks sizes.

Most Opponents Does Not Adjust To Short Stackers

In cash games, few players are used to playing against short stackers. Because short stackers are so rare, most players think it is a waste of time to develop strategies for a situation that doesn’t come as often.

This is the biggest reason why some players decide to develop a short-stacking strategy. In return, they can expect higher win rates than opponents who do not know how to counter these situations.

Understanding how to approach various situations with a short stack and counter other players effectively will boost your results, whether playing tournaments or cash games.

With this in mind, make sure to follow the tips outlined in this article and take some time to further study this area.

Best Short Stack Poker Strategy Tips
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