Short stacking is a poker strategy that is often met with a range of emotions—contempt, dismissal, but sometimes, grudging respect.
For the uninitiated, a short stack in poker refers to a player who sits down at a table with fewer chips than the maximum buy-in allows. This approach is most prevalent in no-limit Texas Hold’em, where the pot can grow exponentially with each round of betting.
The rationale behind short stacking is simple: to minimize risk while maximizing the potential for profit. But like any strategy in poker, short stacking is not without its nuances, challenges, and misconceptions.
I have been short stacking cash games as an online professional for over 10 years and even wrote a book on the topic called Automatic Poker. In this article I will give you a basic overview of what short stacking cash games is all about.
The Appeal of Short Stacking
Limited Risk: By starting with a smaller stack, you limit the amount you can lose in any one hand.
Simplified Decisions: A short stack makes decision-making somewhat easier. You often find yourself in “all-in or fold” situations, which negates the need for intricate post-flop play.
Leverage: A short stack can put maximum pressure on opponents by pushing all-in, forcing them to make difficult decisions for a significant portion of their stack.
The Basic Strategy
When short stacking, tight is right for the novice short stacker. Stick to strong starting hands like high pairs, high suited connectors, and high cards of the same suit. The goal is to enter the pot with a strong hand that can stand up to an all-in showdown.
For intermediate and advanced players, loosening up and playing an aggressive style is the most profitable way to maximize your potential profit as a short stacker.
In my online poker academy, I teach players both a basic tight strategy and a more advanced looser strategy. To learn more about it, go here.
If you’ve hit a strong hand, the play is straightforward—try to get all-in. With a short stack, you often don’t have the luxury of drawing out your opponents. Your mission is to generally build the pot as quickly as possible.
For the more advanced, dealing with smaller SPRs will shine against opponents who are used to playing pots in high SPR situations.
Being in a late position (closer to the dealer) allows you to gather more information before making a decision, which is invaluable when you’re playing with a short stack.
Counterarguments and Criticism
Lack of Flexibility: Critics argue that short stacking doesn’t allow for nuanced plays and deep strategic thinking.
Limited Profit: The upside of winning is naturally capped. You can only double what you’ve initially bought in for, minus the blinds and any bets you’ve made.
Table Etiquette: Some players consider it bad form to short stack, viewing it as a way to game the system.
Of course, these arguments had more weight over 10 years ago when I first got started. Today, most players accept short stacking as a viable way to approach the game of poker.
Skill Building Through Short Stacking
While short stacking simplifies decision-making, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It requires impeccable timing, an understanding of table dynamics, and the ability to read your opponents, even in limited interactions.
Online Vs. Offline
In online poker, short stacking is even more prevalent due to the rapid speed of play and the anonymous nature of the game. In a live setting, it might be easier for opponents to adapt to a short stacker’s strategy. Online, however, players often multi-table and may not pay enough attention to adapt their game to one short stacker.
Short stacking is a divisive topic in the poker community. While some players consider it a legitimate strategy, especially for beginners or those looking to minimize risk, others look down upon it, arguing that it lacks the depth and excitement that poker should offer.
Regardless of the public opinion, short stacking remains a viable poker strategy, especially in online settings. As with any approach, the key to success lies in understanding its strengths and weaknesses, and adapting it to the specific game conditions you face. If done correctly, short stacking can not only be a profitable strategy but also a stepping stone to mastering the more complex aspects of poker.
So, the next time you find yourself short stacked, either by choice or circumstance, don’t despair. Embrace the challenge and the opportunity for what it is—a different way to engage with the endlessly fascinating game of poker.
For more about short stacking, check out my article called 10 Reasons to Try Playing Short Stack Poker in Cash Games.
Jim is the author of the best-selling book called Automatic Poker. He has been playing professionally for over 15 years and has helped countless people become winning poker players. Using a no-nonsense mathematical and logical approach to beating the games, Jim has helped demystify what it takes to win money in No-Limit Hold’em.