Getting Started Playing

In this section, I will provide all the information you need to get started short stacking. Even if you are an experienced player who is new only to playing a small stack, I recommend using the basic strategy for at least a few thousand hands before moving on.

If you are a less-experienced player, I strongly advocate that you spend a considerable amount of time learning the basic strategy and getting used to a style of play that may be very foreign to you. I suggest that a minimum of 10,000 hands be spent learning the basic charts or as much time as needed to have them committed to memory while you play. The pre-flop opening and 3-betting ranges should, at least, be completely automatic before you move on.

More reasons not to skip the basic strategy:

  1. It will familiarize you with how my charts are set up going forward.
  2. It allows you to gradually transition into positional play.
  3. You will get used to how players are reacting to short stacks in a simpler environment.
  4. There is less “culture shock” if you have never played a LAG (loose-aggressive) style. The beginner strategy is only selectively “laggy” and will prepare you for the looser opening ranges found in the intermediate strategy.

To make things as clear and as easy as possible for you, the rest of this chapter will be dedicated as a step-by-step guide to getting started playing. These three simple steps will serve you all the way through learning the intermediate strategy. First, I will discuss choosing and depositing on a poker site. Next, I will show you how to manage your sessions and table select. Last, I will put it all together and provide you with all the tools you need to have both successful sessions and a strong start to your short stacking poker career.

Step #1: Choose A Poker Site

Before you can begin playing, you will need to get some money on a poker site. For most sites, you will want to sign up through an affiliate which will allow you to obtain rakeback. I will not recommend one as I am not an expert when it comes to the subject. Do your own research and pick the one on which you feel the most comfortable.

The rakeback affiliate will walk you through the process of signing up with your chosen Poker site. As of the writing of this book, US players have limited options for where they can play due to the shutdown by the Department of Justice of three of the major sites that serviced Americans prior to Black Friday. However, there are still some viable choices out there. Among them are the Merge and Revolution networks which continue to allow Americans to play. I currently play on both. There is also the Winning Poker Network and the independent site, Bovada. If you live outside the US, you have a plethora of choices in poker sites that offer either direct rakeback or some rakeback equivalent based on a VIP system.

Once you have settled on a site, you will need to choose an appropriate amount to deposit. I recommend depositing no less than $50 and no more than $100. This will have you starting at 4NL, 5NL, and/or 10NL, and will give you a bit of time to get used to the strategies before you start competing for more substantial amounts of money. Since you will be starting at the micro-stakes, do not be too concerned with taking advantage of the maximum deposit bonus. They are extremely difficult to clear at stakes below 200NL and are really not worth fooling with yet. Eventually, you will want to take advantage of reload bonuses.

Do not fall into the trap of thinking that these stakes are too low for you to take seriously. Poker is poker, no matter what the dollar amounts are. While learning, you want the price of your education to be as inexpensive as possible. Besides, starting at the smallest stake possible will allow you to see horrible poker at its finest. You will be able to see a steady progression of the quality of play as you move up in stakes. And having the ability to recognize bad play will help you master table selection, which is a defining skill of great players.

Step #2: Create Your Setup

Before you begin playing, you will want to have the charts readily available for use. I recommend using the condensed versions of my charts found at the end of this chapter as shown in the next screenshotbelow. Youcaneitherprintthemoutorconvertthemtodigitalformasanimagefileor PDF. I recommend that you keep them on your computer desk top under the tables as you play. This will allow you to stay focused on your computer screen at all times.

When you begin a session, you will want to choose your tables wisely. For now, I suggest just taking a seat at the table(s) with the highest average VPIP available. Depending on the traffic, you may need to join a few wait lists. Once you fire the tables up, you will want to put them either side-by-side or one on top of the other. I use the former as it seems to fit my eye better. It is up to you to find the setup that works best for you.

There are multiple options for setting up your tables. They include tiling, cascading, and stacking. Tiling means your tables are side-by-side with no overlap. Cascading means that the tables are side- by-side but have overlap in varying degrees. Stacking means all of your tables are on top of each other, and you can only see one table at a time. I cover the pros and cons of all three setups in Chapter 16. For now I recommend only tiling. It is extremely important that you learn to follow the action, and tiling gives you the best chance to do so.

Step #3: Begin Playing

Now that you have money on a poker site and are set up with a rakeback affiliate (unless it is a VIP site), it is time for you to dive right into actual play. During your sessions, you will want to adhere to a few guidelines which will help to maximize the efficiency of the learning process going forward.

1. Follow the charts

While learning my basic short-stacking strategy, I advise you to follow the charts exactly. Once you move on to the intermediate strategy, you will begin incorporating more judgment-based decisions into your play.

2. Do not play more than two tables at once

Playing two tables will allow you to play between 150 and 200 hands per hour at 6-max. While learning the basic strategy, this is more than enough hands to keep you busy and prevent boredom. If you are completely new to online poker, then I recommend starting with one table only. This is not a race, and you need to be more worried about making accurate decisions rather than being a mass multi-tabler.

3. Practice Sound Bankroll Management

It is important to remain disciplined and only play at the level you have the necessary bankroll for. Violating this principle puts you at a considerable risk of going broke. I will discuss bankroll management at length in Chapter 17. For the basic strategy, you will want to adhere to the following guidelines:

When you have less than $100, play no higher than 5NL. When you hit $100, you can start playing at 10NL.

At$250,youcanplay20NLor25NLwith$300. Idonotrecommendmovingbeyond25NL until you are using the intermediate strategy.

4. Leave a table once you hit 45 big blinds

My strategies are not designed to be used with more than 45 big blinds. When your stack hits that threshold, you will want to go into lockdown mode and sit out once the next big blind gets to you. By lockdown mode, I mean you should only play premium hands for the remainder of your time on the table. I would suggest solely playing the range of QQ+ and AK. Most poker sites have a feature that allows you to auto sit out when the next big blind gets to you. If not, unclick “auto post blinds,” or your site’s equivalent, and then sit out manually once the big blind gets to you. Once off the table, pull up a new one or get on the wait list for tables with the highest VPIP available.

5. Play short sessions

It is good to get in the habit of playing multiple short sessions rather than fewer extended ones. After about an hour, the human mind’s ability to concentrate 100% on a task begins to atrophy. Assuming you can keep up with the decisions, this will not affect your win-rate while you are following charts.

However, once you move to higher stakes and are required to think through complicated decisions, it will. Now is the time to build good habits for the future of your poker career. After playing for an hour, it is wise to get up and do something else for a while. Go exercise, spend time with friends or family, watch a movie, or do anything non-poker related to reinvigorate your mind.

6. Play on the highest VPIP tables available

At the beginning of each session, you will want to filter the available tables by VPIP. Either sit at the tables with the highest VPIP, or join the wait list on a few of the higher VPIP tables. For the basic strategy, you do not need to be concerned with looking at the actual players on each table when you are making your selections. All you should be doing is filtering the player list and trying to find the overall loosest tables as illustrated below.

In the above example, I would immediately join the 5th table down in the list and then join the wait list for the first four tables. Once I had my desired two tables up, I would remove myself from the wait lists until ready for a fresh table. I find this method is optimal, as it has you playing the loosest tables on average, which is inherently advantageous to your win-rate. I will cover table selection much more extensively in Chapter 16. For now, I recommend that you keep things simple.


Most poker sites have a clickable menu like this one. You always want the list filtered with the highest VPIP tables at the top.

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