Can Short Stackers poker strategy Ever Win?

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Poker is an amazing, enjoyable and challenging game, partly because there are so many ways to approach it. While there is a wide range of strategies to look at when playing online poker that players have various opinions about, the most critical views are reserved for short-stacking.

Wherever people discuss poker, whether Facebook groups, online forums or in poker lobbies, you will find people complaining about short stackers. If you play a short stack strategy, opponents may even show anger towards you, but why?

Short stacking is one of the most misunderstood strategies around, yet people still try it. You will often see a tournament poker player win with it. So what is it, why does it upset so many players, and can you win with it?

What is the short-stack poker strategy?

If you start playing poker, there seems to be no end to the terminology. From preflop and flop to postflop play, there is always something new to learn. A short stacker is an important one, and refers to players who play with a relatively small amount of chips compared to the blinds at the table. While most poker players will be using a stack of at least 70 big blinds for cash games, and usually 100 or more, a short stacker will be holding less. It used to be thought that  20bb or less was a short stack, but today with games having a 40 bb min, anything below 50bb can be thought of as short stacking. 

Now, there are two ways this happens, if your game goes badly and you are running down your stack size, then you become a short stack player by default until you load your account with money again. However, usually, the term short stacker is reserved for players who deliberately play with less bank and build a poker strategy around that situation.

Why use short stack strategy?

The most obvious benefit of short stacking is that you limit how much you can lose on a given hand, but that can often also mean that wins tend to be smaller too. But not always, as we shall discuss later.  It’s a relatively easy approach to understand, you don’t have to think about pot sizes and instead focus on players. In addition, you won’t get into a situation where a bad run really sets you back in your gaming.

Because it is different to the norm, a short stack strategy can disrupt other players, especially those not used to the strategy. It forces them to adapt to your playstyle, and anything that causes a poker player to rethink and second guess themselves is an advantage. Over the long term, there is another benefit to short stacking too, variance is lower than it would be with a larger stack, with stats showing roughly half the variance between a 100 blind and 50 blind strategy and even less for 30 big blinds.

While we mentioned the drawbacks of smaller wins, the biggest downside to short stacking is that it can be difficult to find any guidance to do it. Because players really don’t like short stacking, there are few resources discussing exactly how to go about playing it. That makes it a little difficult to get the information you need, especially with things like hand selection. There is surprisingly little poker training that mentions short stack strategies. Risk is also a factor, with the potential to lose your bankroll higher here than in a full stack approach.

If you are a tournament player, or want to be one, knowing how to play short stack is also an incredibly useful tool. Tournament play will, at some point, force every player into a short stack strategy just to stay in the game. This is the result of a dwindling stack as the tournament progresses. Knowing how to play it, and how to play against it as a result, is a key part of tournament strategy you should learn. Knowing the best short stack poker strategy also means understanding the best counter, and it is something you will eventually need.

How to bet for pot control

Pot control is inherently difficult for traditional long stack players, so much so that many guides will tell you to specifically look out for tables with players who tend to call loosely to help you maintain some level of control before the river. Pot control involves some complex concepts, a good understanding of hand selection and the ability to read and other players and their strategies relatively accurately. For newer players, it can be one of the more difficult aspects of the game to learn.

But with short stack strategies, pot control isn’t an issue, it comes as part of the way the game is played. Because your bet size is much easier to manage, it’s a much less confusing approach, and even new players can maintain pot control.

Can short stack poker make more money in a cash game?

In general, if you add less to the pot, then your wins are going to be smaller, however, with short stacking it is possible to make more money, and here is how. It’s a matter of mathematics. With lower staking, you can advance to bigger games much more quickly, and that means you are always getting more money in your wins than a standard stack player would be, because you are ultimately playing for higher stakes than they would be.

As an example, A short staker can play a 100NL game with $30, but if you are playing a full stack game, then you are playing with $25 for a 25NL game. In other words, a short stack player is getting the opportunity to win more for the same value investment as a full stack player. 

Importantly, if you can average a 5BB/100 ratio, then using short stacking to enter higher stakes games means a dramatically increased amount that you will win. in other words, you can win more money from the same investment, just by switching from full to short stack. Poker can be played more profitably with just that change.

Poker Tips for Short Stack Poker Players

The basis of a successful short-stack strategy when playing with a short stack is hand selection. Playing premium starting hands is key. That means a strong hand like high pocket pairs, or high cards from the same suit, or with suited connectors would be hands to go for. Conversely, avoiding hands that would be marginal is also part of the best way to maintain an effective stack. In general, short stack players need to be aggressive, avoiding calls and either pushing your small stack on premium hands by going all-in, or folding and getting out.

Short stack players tend to minimize bluffs, as smaller stakes mean that opponents are more likely to call, but above all, a short stack strategy that focuses on the other players is key. Finding weaknesses in other players at the poker table, such as overplaying hands, and taking advantage, is key to short stack success.

It requires patience and discipline to succeed with short stack play, but as we will see, it is worth the effort.

Analyzing Short Stack Win Rate

For any poker player, a win rate over 0BB/100 is good, because most poker players lose overall long term. In general, only the top 5% of players will have better win rates, but how do short stack players register in this?

Hitting 1 to 5BB/100 is not unheard of in lower stakes cash games, and that can lead to healthy profits.

Strategies for Short Stackers to Improve Win Rates against big stack players

The key to increasing win rates is better hand selection. Avoid speculative hands and stick to premium hands. This avoids bluffing and other potential issues, and allows you to focus on the best outcomes for your investment.

The Future of Short Stacking in Poker

Recently changes to staking across the board have pushed online poker to minimum 40 blinds, making the old 20 blind short stack almost irrelevant in many games. The animosity towards short stacking and the potentially increased risks mean that large operators look to protect themselves, and while there is no sign that anything is going to change dramatically again, we could see that minimum rise to 50 blinds over time.

Regardless of those kinds of changes though, two things are certain for the futer:

1.   Players will continue to dislike short stacking

2.   Some people will keep making great profits fro short stacking strategies


Can short stackers really win against opponents with deeper stacks?

Yes, and they frequently do. Short stack players do have some advantages over full stack, in terms of flexibility and simplicity of strategy, allowing them to focus on exploiting opponent weaknesses. Whether tournaments or cash games, short stack players are winning poker games against full stacker players.

What are the main advantages of short stacking as a strategy?

Short stack players can play for larger pots for a given stack of chips, and they have a simpler approach to pot size that is much easier to understand. That means simplified play and bigger wins for your money.

What are the biggest challenges short stackers face in poker games?

Players risk a bigger portion of their stack at any time, and there is very little formal information or support available for this style of play.

How does short stacking compare to other strategies like deep stacking or mid stacking?

It makes more of your stack, allowing you to win more by playing for more. It deploys simpler strategies than are easier to follow, and actively helps with things like pot control, that mid or full stack players have to learn to accomplish.

Are there any famous examples of successful short stackers in professional poker?

Poker tournaments by their nature often force competitors into playing the short stack strategies through necessity if they don’t have enough chips left for full stack play. That is tournament life, and In that sense, most professional players are short stack players. However in terms of someone who deliberately plays short stack in tournaments, probably the most successful is Daniel Negreanu.


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