Basics of short stack poker strategy

by ~ August 27th, 2008. Filed under: Short stack poker, Super turbos.

There used to be a good short stacking strategy on a site called donkeydevastation, but the other day I went to look for it again and the site no longer exists. I think there were a couple of articles on playing both 10BB buyins as well as 20BB buyins.


I started playing short stack strategy after a run at playing Full Tilt‘s super turbos. In these sit and goes each player starts with 300 chips and the blinds are at 15/30 and rise every 3 minutes. There really is no room for postflop play because you start with only 10 big blinds, and unless you get some idiot limping into your big blind or you get two early big stacks playing each other, it’s all push/fold.

Playing the super turbos led me to become very tight preflop in the early stages:

  • unwilling to call shoves in the early orbits without AA/KK/QQ/JJ/TT/AK
  • unwilling open from early/mid position or to shove over limps without 99/AQ or better because players will limp JJ down to 22 or any ace and then call a shove
  • playing position (opening with progressively weaker hands if the pot is unopened or the table gets shorter)

Once the game gets a little further along the blinds rise, the table gets shorter and I start to get some reads then I will start to get a lot more active. Or at least I try to. Sometimes the timing doesn’t seem to be there and I get a marginal shoving hand but someone else opens so I fold instead.

Then I took this playing style to short stacking $25NL, buying in for the minimum of $5 at 4 tables at a time. Largely I use the same preflop strategy that I use when full stack at $25NL; raising based on hand quality and position.

  • Early: AQ/TT and up
  • Mid: AJ/99 and up

And then from the hijack to the the cutoff to the button and small blind there is a fast increase in hands I will open raise with. By the time it gets to:

  • Button or small blind: Any ace, any pair, any two big cards, any suited connectors or gapped suited connectors.

How wide I open my raising hand range in late position depends on the players behind me. If I see that they often open call raises I will wait for better quality hands. I don’t want to see a flop, I just want to steal the blinds.

The difference between my full stack and short stack preflop strategy is that I will not open limp mid pairs from early/mid position hoping for a cheap flop to catch a set because I cannot call a raise. And I will rarely limp behind with mid pairs or suited connectors either unless there are at least two or more limpers already in. Essentially the only limping I will do is completing from the small blind, and even that has to be good odds with a hand that has drawing value. I will not call raises with these hands because I do not have implied odds. In other words, the times that I hit my set will not repay all the times that I won’t hit my set. This is because my stack is too small to recover enough winnings when I do hit the set.

The other preflop strategy difference is that I rarely raise or 3bet to punish limpers or to isolate a weak player. This is because I do not have the stack to defend a 3bet after the flop or to defend a raise over limpers. The pot becomes too big so that my remaining stack is smaller than the pot on the flop, with two more cards yet to come. The only thing that I can do is overbet the pot and shove (unless I have AA/KK and want some action, then I’ll raise hoping for one caller).

The other key is to guess how your hand compares to the range that you put your opponents on. If I’ve got 99 and someone open limps, I expect them to have either a lower pair or overcards, and I’m willing to get it all in preflop. If, on the other hand I open raise AQ from early and a tight player reraises me, I’m at the bottom of the range of what I should have. If he knows hand strength and position he’s got JJ/AK or better and I should fold. But, if he’s loose and or overly aggressive then he might have any Ace or two big cards and I can push all in.

The problem for me comes with AQ/AJ/99/TT in late position with a raise from mid. I’d be willing to call behind or to raise with a full stack, but with a short stack and if there is no indication of a loose or aggressive opponent I’m not sure whether I’m ahead or behind at $25NL and I don’t have a stack to find out.

At $25NL some players will be liberal raising short stacks, though some will be hesitant because $25NL lacks aggression and some players never 3bet. Instead, they might call and then try to put you all-in on the flop.

Many players who buy in short don’t know how to play; they buy in short just to limit their potential losses, and players will assume that because you bought in short, you are one of these players. This is where the biggest part of my winnings seem to come from. Players with otherwise decent statistics making some truly awful plays, though, these are also often when I’ve re-raised and they’ve called, so inability to let go after putting money into the pot could also be a factor.


All of this assumes some other basics, like no minraising preflop, c-betting most flops against single callers (I’d shove many on the flop because of my stack size, except if I have a hand I want to entice them to call), and leaving the table after getting more than 26 or so big blinds because the strategy no longer works if your stack gets to big. If you’re playing at a major site then there are plenty of other tables to move to. It’s a simplistic, tight, aggressive approach but it seems to work, at least at $25NL. It requires a lot of patience though because you play very few hands, and if the cards/situations are not coming sometimes my VP$IP sits below 10% at any one table. which means that other than from the big blind I’m playing less than 1 out of every 10 hands. Hence one of the advantages of playing multiple tables is that I don’t get bored or anxious and start playing more than I should.

The next step will be trying this at both higher and lower levels to see the results.

I do feel as though my postflop play is suffering because I am rarely playing those streets but my preflop play is tightening up and getting more sharply defined. I’ve heard claims that this is a good approach for beginners because of the simplicity, but I’ve made previous attempts at this and was unsuccessful because I lacked the situational reading ability, the discipline and patience, and the real understanding of what the short stack means in terms of lack of implied odds for myself and the opportunity to pressure other players because of the implied odds that I deny with the short stack.

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