More short stack theorizing

by ~ October 20th, 2008. Filed under: Philosophy and approach, Short stack poker.

For a while back in the summer, I was focusing my play at short stack games, buying in for the minimum (20BBs at PokerStars and Full Tilt, the two main places that I play). I tested out my play first 4 tabling $25NL tables and buying in for $5, and then played some $50NL with $10 buy ins. And I ran hot. After some 2,000 hands I was making ~26bb/13BB/100.

I didn’t think that it was so hot, but when it cooled off I noticed the difference. Since that time I’ve run pretty much flat; some general movement up and down but net I’m about where I peaked. So, for that reason, plus I kinda missed not being able to play medium/low pairs and suited connectors for implied odds, I went back to full stacks again.


But, I think that there’s more to playing good short stack cash poker game strategy than waiting for cards. I think that there were situations, sometimes almost disregarding the cards, where I missed opportunities to push my stack in.

For example, there’s limpers ahead, I have say AK, raise the limpers (say two limpers, so a 6BB raise to $1.50). One limper calls, pot is now my 6BBs, his 6BBs plus 2.5 from the blinds and from the limper who folded = 14.5BBs or 3.65. If I started with $4.50, I how have less than the pot in my stack. If the flop comes low and I miss, he donks into me, do I call/shove?

If he’s got a small pocket pair or he’s paired the flop at all, it looks like I’m a 1-3 dog. If he’s semibluffing a flush draw, we’re in a coinflip. If he’s semibluffing an OESD, I’m just a coinflip favorite. If he’s wiffed the flop as well, but is gambling that I’ve missed the flop too and his two cards are lower than mine, I’m a 3-1 favorite. If he’s called with say the top 25% of hands (not unreasonable at $25NL; this is like 55+,A2s+,K6s+,Q8s+,J8s+,T8s+,A7o+,K9o+,QTo+,JTo) overall I’m a 60/40 favorite even on a low flop, but preflop I’m a 2-1 favorite.

So why not shove preflop? Well, if my starting stack is say 17 BBs, shoving into a 3.5 pot seems a bit donkeyish. And unless they read me as a bad short stack player or are really bad themselves I fold out most of the weaker hands in the potential limp/calling range of my opponents. Of course, those are the kinds of hands that are going to be beating me if the flop comes mid/low cards.

Back to the flop decision. It seems entirely dependent on whether I think there’s any chance that he’s doing this either as a semibluff or a bluff. From his perspective, I’ve raised, indicating a big hand, the flop misses most big hand ranges. How much fold equity does he think he has when I have only the pot left in my stack? If he caught a pair on the flop or held say a pair of 8s that missed the set but there’s only one overcard, is there value for him to bet into me? Is there value in protecting against a free turn card if I hold overcards? I think the likely thinking process is the basics; I have something, bet. If his aggression frequency is high, then it increases the chance that he’s bluffing or semibluffing. If he’s normal or tight/weak, then the chances decrease that I’m ahead.

What about OOP; say I have AK again but in the blinds. I raise, one limper calls. Flop comes low, my stack is similar to the size of the pot. Shove? Check/call? Do I have fold equity?

I guess this is where the 60/40 even on a low flop comes into play. Again, the tighter player is going to hold a better hand, but a better hand misses a low flop as well unless it’s a medium pair or middle connectors. If a tight player catches a pair on a low flop, he might be more likely to fold if I shove representing an overpair. He’s also more likely to fold if he has nothing. Unless the players is weak/tight I don’t think I can fold out very many hands that I’m ahead of, but I might get called by a lot of hands that have nothing but overcards.


What about squeeze plays? Is there any value to squeezing with AJ? 88? Chance are I’m not ahead by much, if at all, but how much fold equity do I have?

From the blinds it’s not a bad play, especially if the preflop raisers are loose or are blind stealers since there is a good chance that I am ahead of their range.

Definitely against a nit I’m not ahead by much, if at all, and nit’s aren’t likely to fold. Not only do nits only raise only the very best hands, often they have aggression issues as they often won’t let go after they’ve raised. He is more likely to fold if he’s the caller rather than the initial raiser.


There came to be lots of these type of situations that I ran into, mostly that I folded. And because of the limp/calling style of players I became hesitant to isolate with hands like KQ/AT. This came after numerous examples of players limp/calling hands like 99/TT, or refusing to fold the flop with overcards or weak draws. Again, with an even shorter stack I can shove, but shoving 15+BBs into a 3.5-5.5 pot seems pretty donkeyish. But if players are willing to call with K2s, then I guess it’s not a bad play. When I have a full stack, against a 33/5/1 I raise to isolate and then c-bet, but with a short stack I got frustrated raising then c-betting, then folding to river bets for what usually turned out to be bottom pair on the flop or a pair of 5s or something.


On the other hand, if I view any PFR as a stop and go, that means I’m raising to get someone in and then I’m shoving no matter what. I guess the best of both worlds would be if I view it like an option play in football. If I can save a couple dollars when I’m really certain that I’m beat, say, two high cards and I have neither and I’m bet into, or the player is really tight and bets into me, but never when the player is loose or aggressive, especially postflop.


Ed Miller made a good point in an entry in his blog. I’d link to the post, but he mentioned something about archiving entries so that only paid members can view the archives. Search “Ed Miller poker” to find his site. He was talking from the perspective of a big stack in the blinds, getting raised by a short stack. His point was based on the fact that effective stack sizes and effective table size are both tiny. Essentially the table is 4 or 3 remaining, and the effective stack size is 15-25BBs. His point was that with 20BB effective stack sizes, chips should be flying. 3-betting light, 4-bet/shoving with a wide range of hands should be happening.


Overall, not a very coherent post, even though I worked on it over a series of days. I may have to come back to this analysis.

Be Sociable, Share!

4 Responses to More short stack theorizing

  1. Lorin

    This is kind of a conundrum. I like the way in which you analyze hands and play, but your short stack theories are wildly inaccurate. I think this mainly comes from a misunderstanding of implied odds and how this applies to full stack play. I consider the concept of implied odds to be the greatest con ever pulled on the poker community at large.

    I noticed that you said if you buy in full and a SSer raises 4x and a tight big stack calls, you should call with 44 to bust the big stack. Where to begin here?

    The SS range up front is very tight, typically TT+, AQ-AK, and sometimes tighter (like myself). The nitty full stack is almost always re-raising the hands you are likely to bust him with, namely QQ-AA. However, look even further here. He is only likely to stack off with QQ and KK IF no ace hits the board. And given the effects of card removal because of the short stack, he is more likely to contain hands like AQ, AJs, 77-TT. The only way that these hands are likely to stack away against another full stack acting behind him is when he either flops 2 pair (still has 4 outs), pair + nut draw, nut straights, and bigger sets.

    And now back to the (very) optimistic scenario that this guy was actually smart enough to cold call with QQ-AA. These hands are just as likely to flop a set as you and if they are going to stack away every time here, guess what? You are right back to being a 4:1 dog with your 44. And that doesn’t even factor in when the board comes really bad and you happen to get bluffed off your set.

    In addition, the concept of flopping big and stacking someone is simply the wrong way of looking at things. If you assume that you play your 44 perfectly, you still need to look at what your AVERAGE profit for this scenario is. In a $1/2 game, I would say it would be VERY optimistic to assume that this situation will even net you $3 on average, but the variance you will be taking on to win this $3 is enormous. And yet again, it also ignores the negative psychological effects of missing your set an inordinate amount of time, flopping it and getting nothing in return, flopping it and losing to a higher set, flopping it and getting little because of scary boards, and the worst of all, flopping it, building a large pot and then getting bluffed off it.

  2. PokerAnon

    I can’t find in this post what you are referring to in your comment, about calling to bust a tight big stack. I do, however, recall saying something similar, but in a different post, which is perhaps what you’re referring to.

    I like your thought process too, which doesn’t mean that I agree with your conclusion. First off, we’re talking in pretty general terms, but specifics such as position and more detailed reads will make a difference.

    Also, a nitty full stack will re-raise AA/KK, but I don’t know that it’s always, given that against a short stack raise where there’s not much to be won, he may opt to flat in order to get someone with a bigger stack to play as well. Or, he should reraise with AK/AQ if he’s going to play these to isolate if he thinks it’s worth playing against this short stack in this situation. But tight players will also flat these behind raises, either because they’re afraid or because they have position on the raiser, or because they only 3bet AA/KK, I’m not sure. All I know is that I see it done. If I flat with 44 and the flop comes with an A, a K if they have AK, or a Q if they have AQ, I don’t think they’re going to put me on a better Ace, King or Queen. They may not stack off, but they may also pay off well.

    Your comment about the negative psychological effects is interesting; that’s something that I have not noticed much in the way of effect, but everyone is wired differently. At the moment I 6 or 8 table so that probably mitigates such effects, and assume it would be greater in a live game which moves slower and which you only have one game to focus on.

    In the end, its about results. In terms of bb/100, AA/KK are my best winning hands, followed by 22. Then QQ, TT, AKo, followed by 33, followed by AQs and AQs, followed by 44. Basically the Sklansky hand chart, but interupted by small pocket pairs.

  3. Lorin

    Those are pretty interesting results. In fact, it tells me that you are quite judicious when playing said pairs, and that is very impressive. Most people never give a thought to implied odds and how they vary according the situation. They assume that implied odds are an intrinsic property of a given hand, when the only hands that really have implied odds from the start are exactly, AA+KK, which will be long term winners for everyone, no matter how bad they play.

    I would assume that your typical player, who is a long term loser, loses money in the long haul with 22-66, and probably 77-88 as well. They believe they are always worth a play. In fact, even good players who like to set mine tend to pay me off frequently knowing full well that I am one of the tightest players in the world!

  4. PokerAnon


    I should point out, because it’s not necessarily obvious to a casual reader, that those results that I posted in the comment above are filtered for full stack cash games only. Tournaments are another animal, as is intentionally playing short stacked at cash tables.

    I think you’re right about typical players who play small or medium pairs badly, but it’s probably not the only hand they play badly, like suited connectors where they’ll win once and then lose 20 times by folding on the flop, 10 times after flopping middle pair or top pair/weak kicker, and then lose bigger 2 times dominated by a bigger flush. Or some frequency like that, and then they’ll continue to limp in or call 3 bets with them.

Leave a Reply