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Short Stack Strategy

A short stack can make your bankroll tall
A short stack can make your bankroll tall
D. Biondi

If you’re relatively new to No Limit Hold’em poker, it can be quite daunting sitting down with your $200 or $100, looking around the table and seeing some giant stacks. Why? Because you know some of those giant stacks are going to try and push you and your perfectly average starting stack around. The only way to combat this is to bring 3 or 4 buy-ins and not let yourself be pushed around. Unfortunately, this can be a very costly way of making sure the other players are not taking advantage of you.

Or is it? There is one way you can completely negate their big-stack advantage and frustrate them to the point where they are starting to tilt. What is it?

Buy in for even less. The table minimum, in fact. If you sit down at a $1/$2 game and the minimum is $40 and the maximum $200, either buy-in for the max or the min – doing anything else (like buying in for $100) only labels you a fish and scared money.

This is how you play it: only play premium hands: AK, AQ, KQ, AJ and all pairs from 66 on up. AT suited if you’re in late position and no one has raised before you – otherwise, fold it. Everything else you’re folding. If the action gets to you pre-flop and the pot has not been raised yet – you pop it up 4x the BB plus an extra $2 for every limper. If it has been raised before you, when the action gets to you – you push all-in. (If it has been 3-bet before it gets to you, only push with AK and pairs TT and above)

You are never limping. You are either raising, pushing or folding.

On the flop, you are pushing if you’ve hit at least second pair and/or a good draw. This is key: you are not C-betting if you miss the flop. Go into check/fold mode if that happens, and then reload so you have at least the table minimum for the next hand. If someone donk-bets into you after you have raised pre-flop, fold if you’ve missed, push if you’ve hit 2nd pair or better.

How does this strategy work? It takes all the guesswork out of the game for you. It also completely negates anything the other players – especially the big stacks – can do to counter your strategy. In fact, they can’t counter it at all accept by actually hitting a better hand than you. Why’s that? Because when you raise pre-flop, they will catch on that you only do so with premium hands and they will have to – frustratingly – fold their suited connectors, suited Ace-rag hands because they will know they do not have enough implied odds against in order for them to make a +EV call. So they fold. And when they’ve raised pre-flop and you’ve pushed, they can only profitably call with pairs and AK…so they will mostly fold.

Their strategy will also have to change when they are in late position and you are in one of the blinds. They will now be less likely to raise with speculative hands because they do not want you to push over the top of them, forcing them to fold. Instead, they will limp more, letting you see more flops for cheap out of the blinds.

You keep with this strategy until you get above the 50 big-blind level ($100 in our $1/$2 game), and then you can open up a bit more and stop pushing pre-flop as a 3-bet. You can also now “play” a little more poker than you were when you were a short-stack. But as soon as you drop below that 50 BB mark, revert right back to your strategy.

If you’re playing online, you can leave the table once you’ve doubled up and find another one. Live, that’s almost impossible to do – but there are still plenty of live short-stackers out there who have implemented this strategy to perfection – making money and frustrating loose-aggressive players the world over.


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