The Advantages Of Playing A Short Stack

It is my opinion that buying in short provides a very good starting point for someone fairly new to NL Hold’em cash games. This is because playing a smaller effective stack solves a lot of problems beginner and intermediate players face. In fact, it solves a lot of problems all players face.

For short stackers, most situations are fairly straightforward, and commitment decisions on the flop become considerably less complicated. Since stack-to-pot ratios will always be lower, one can confidently commit with a wide range of hands. When you flop top pair or an over pair as a short stack, you are almost always committed. In fact, you want to get raised! Let them fire away because you can profitably call it off with confidence.

Small stacking offers a simpler, crisper decision-making process. It seems to me that in any endeavor, we should be more inclined to make things less complicated, not more so. It is much better to play a simple strategy well than a complicated one poorly. Almost every decision one makes at the poker table is much clearer when wielding less chips. Once armed with the right information, a skilled small-stacking player will find that he can make decisions faster, play more tables, and increase his hourly rate. This is all done in a more stress-free poker environment that is conducive to less variance due to a relatively smaller amount of money being in play.

Beyond tactical considerations, short stacking has many other passive benefits that occur without your having to actively do anything. Just sitting in with a small stack significantly alters the dynamics of a table. This is a double-edged sword in the way it inherently affects the games of both you and your opponents. By being able to avoid many of the complicated situations that a full stack is forced to deal with, a lot of potential leaks are inevitably removed from a short stacker’s game. It also tends to create leaks in opponents who fail to correctly adjust. Here are nine reasons buying in short is inherently advantageous:

Reason #1: Your Strategy Is a Mystery

Full stackers generally spend all of their time trying to figure out what other full stackers are doing. Because of this, a lot of regular 100 big-blind players will view you solely as a nuisance. One cannot really blame them. No-limit hold’em is a difficult game, and trying to “master” full-stack play is all they want to focus on. They feel that spending time understanding a short-stack strategy would detract from their learning process. To them, you are just another annoying shove bot.

Usually, even skilled full-stack players are either too lazy to try to figure out what you are doing or do not see any merit in doing so. Their focus is solely on deep-stacked poker. That’s their story, and they’re stickin’ to it. So, the majority of the time regulars will play pot after pot incorrectly against you. Even if they do attempt to adjust, much of the time it will be in the wrong manner, and even more money will be spewed your way.

Reason #2: Mistakes are less punitive

During the learning process, a novice is bound to make numerous errors, so paying less for each blunder is a nice side effect of short stacking. And because the costs of mistakes are diminished, a novice can more freely and confidently make the difficult decisions he or she faces. One also no longer has to worry about a single “bad beat” ruining an entire session. Having KK run into AA or having someone flop a set against your top pair hurts a lot less when it’s only for 30 big blinds.

Reason #3: You Face Fewer Difficult Decisions

Having decisions become much more straightforward and obvious is a positive thing in almost every endeavor in the world, so why not in poker? If you normally play a 100 big blind stack, how often have you had to fold to a river raise or shove and wonder whether or not you were bluffed? How often have you hesitated to value bet the turn, because you were afraid of the pot getting too big by the river?

We have all been in this kind of spot. You flop top pair or an over pair and get raised on the turn. Did he just make a straight? Did he flop a set? Is he bluffing or semi-bluffing? Is it worth another 70 or 80 big blinds to find out? While playing a traditional 100 big blind stack, most sessions include multiple “tough” decisions like this.

Take these two examples. They are exactly the same hand, but played wielding two different size stacks.

Example #2.1: Difficult Button Situation With 100 Big Blinds Effective

No-Limit Hold’em, $0.20 BB (5 handed)

HJ ($2.31)
CO($10.76)
Hero (Button) ($20)100 Big Blinds SB ($20)
BB ($19.81)

Preflop: Hero is Button with 5♣, 6♣
2 folds, Hero bets $0.40, SB calls $0.30, 1 fold

Flop: ($1) 9♣, 2♦, Q♣ (2 players)

SB checks, Hero bets $0.50, SB calls $0.50

Turn: ($2) A♣ (2 players)

SB checks, Hero bets $1, SB calls $1

River: ($4) Q♠ (2 players)
SB checks, Hero bets $2, SB raises $16.10, Hero folds Total pot: $8

Re sults:
SB didn’t show.

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Example #2.2: Now this time Hero has about 42 big blinds
No-Limit Hold’em, $0.20 BB (5 handed)

HJ ($2.31)
CO ($10.76)
Hero (Button) ($8.50)42.5 Big Blinds SB ($20)
BB ($19.81)

Preflop: Hero is Button with 5♣, 6♣
2 folds, Hero bets $0.40, SB calls $0.30,1 fold

Flop: ($1) 9♣, 2♦, Q♣ (2 players)

SB checks, Hero bets $0.50, SB calls $0.50

Turn: ($2) A♣ (2 players)

SB checks, Hero bets $1, SB calls $1

River: ($4) Q♠ (2 players)

SB checks, Hero bets $2, SB raises $16.10, Hero calls $4.60 (All-In) Total pot: $17.20

Re sults:
Hero had 5♣, 6♣ (flush, Ace high).
SB had 9♦, A♦ (two pair, Aces and Queens).
Outcome: Hero won $17.20.

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What went wrong the first time? Value betting the river was definitely the right play, but once raised all in, Hero’s baby flush shrinks considerably. The board paired, so did he make a full house? Or does he potentially have a better flush?

In the second example, since Hero had only 42 big blinds to start the hand, he was committed once he made the flush on the turn. The only card that could have changed things on the river was another club, and in position, we would be more inclined to check back rather than value bet anyway.

You will encounter situations like this multiple times per session, and while deep-stacked players are racking their brains and spewing chips, you are insta-committing and moving on to the next hand.

Reason #4: The ever-present threat of an all-in bet

On all streets, short stacks wield the threat of an all-in bet that can come at any time. Well-timed reraise shoves cause multiple headaches for your competition. Most players will not know how to correctly react and will concede a latent edge to you each time you stick all your chips in.

Before the flop, 3-bet shoving is a decisive weapon. If your opponents are not well versed in the nuances of range battles, you will be at a significant advantage anytime you sit down with them. An expert 3-bet shoving strategy seeks to take advantage of multiple tactical mistakes that unskilled playerscommonlymake. Amongthemare:

Opening raises that are too large, especially from late position:

Open raising too large while we are sitting behind them can be a giant leak for our opponents. We exploit their incorrect opening raise size by widening our 3-bet ranges based on the size of

their bet. If they do not similarly adjust their calling ranges, we profit.

Loose opening ranges coupled with tight all-in calling ranges:
Calling our shoves too tightly will cause money to leak away from this type of opponent in the formofnon-showdownearnings. Inotherwords,thedeadmoneywewinwhenweshoveand are not called, more than makes up for the few times we get called and have inferior equity.

All-in calling ranges that are too loose:

Our superior equity versus loose calling ranges yields a net profit via showdown winnings. We just have to make sure we do not 3-bet light against these players and that our shoves are for value.

An incorrect interpretation of Hero’s 3-Bet range:

Opponents who are employing a HUD will often fail to realize that we are 3-betting a different range against various players. For example, we may have a raw 3-bet stat of 8% against the field but 3-bet much higher against certain opponents. If those players base their actions on a range of 8%, the profit over time will be immense.

After the flop, a short stack’s commitment range is generally much wider than it is for a full-stacked player. Unskilled players will tend to fold many times tighter or looser than is correct due to their inability to comprehend commitment decisions. Clever players will think they need to call your all-in bets with weaker holdings, as they may assume you are stacking off lighter in any given situation than you really are. This provides more abundant opportunities for you to get paid off on your strong hands. As long as we take note of our opponents’ commitment ranges based on their HUD stats or through keen observation, we can fairly easily exploit them through minor adjustments.

Profit in poker comes from our ability to consistently make decisions superior to what the field is making. Therefore, we should create as many opportunities for them to make mistakes as we can. The frequent barrage of all-in decisions coupled with our wide opening range and constant aggression otherwise, guarantees more profitable opportunities per hour than our counterparts can muster.

Reason #5: An inherent beneficial image

Opponents maintaining a prejudice against short stackers is a major leak from which we frequently benefit. Many players seem to become blinded to key factors during the course of play because they dismiss, underestimate, or undervalue an opponent based solely on their chosen buy-in amount. You will find players doing crazy -EV things against you because of their hatred of short stackers.

Among strong players, the prevalent myth out there is that anyone playing a short stack is not a skilled player. Many feel that if a person were any good at all, he wouldn’t have to resort to short stacking and could just buy in full. So regulars will often play against you as if you were a fish. This type of image is advantageous and benefits you in many ways.

Additionally, because of your wide stealing range and somewhat frequent 3-bet shoves, some players will inevitably view you as a maniac. In my opinion, this is the most beneficial image you can obtain. It is human nature that some players will become annoyed when an opponent seems to be raisingeveryhand. Byseeminglyplayingawide-opengame,youwillinevitablygetplayedbackat, and the value of your strong hands will soar. To illustrate this point, take a look at this hand played against a solid regular.

Example #2.3: Opponent makes a calling error

No-Limit Hold’em, $0.50 BB (6 handed)

UTG ($42.40)
HJ ($47.08) 16% Hijack opening range CO ($29.95)
Hero (Button) ($17.25) 34.5bbs
SB ($50.27)
BB ($26.59)

Preflop: Hero is Button with A♣, Q♣
1 fold, MP bets $1.50,1 fold, Hero raises to $17.25 (All-In),2 folds, MP calls $15.75 (All-In)
This is not a slam dunk shove from the button but should certainly show a profit against an average calling range of 77+, AJ+.

Flop: ($35.25) 3♥, 10♠, 9♠ (2 players, 2 all-in) Turn: ($35.25) 2♦ (2 players, 2 all-in)

River: ($35.25) 9♦ (2 players, 2 all-in) Total pot: $35.25

Re sults:
Hero had A♣, Q♣ (one pair, nines).
MP had A♥, 8♥ (one pair, nines).
O ut c o me :
Hero won $35.25.
It is doubtful that my opponent would have often called a 3-bet or 4-bet against me if I had 100 big blinds. Yet, he somehow decides to call off 35 big blinds with a weak-suited ace. I would need to be 3-betting well over 20% for his call to be profitable. Clearly, I am never 3-betting that much against his Hijack range, which makes his play a gross error.

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Other players will react differently. They may not be comfortable loosening up their ranges, so they may do the opposite and begin nut camping to try and “trap” and “bust” you. When this occurs, the non-showdown earnings will flow into your account as you steal and c-bet bluff against them relentlessly.

An inherent image will also benefit you after the flop. Opponents will tend to call your unrelenting c- bets with weaker holdings and pay off your big hands with increased frequency. Since we can’t really “hurt” them or threaten their stack, they may call one or two streets with a weak holding, knowing they can’t really be put to a test. I never fail to be surprised at the trash with which players will call a three-barrel shove. Even your weaker hands increase in value because you gain the opportunity to profitably c-bet a lot lighter against many opponents.

Reason #6: Having a small stack size makes you less “bluffable”

Due to lower stack-to-pot ratios, any bet made by a short stack after the flop will appear more committing than it would for a deeper stacked player. Based on a sound strategy, once a large amount of the effective stack has been invested, it would be a big mistake to raise and then fold to a shove. This type of thinking is generally correct; however, what people widely misunderstand is that commitment works a bit differently for a loose aggressive short stack.

Bets made by a LAG are typically based more around pressure and the mathematical merit of winning the pot on a street-by-street basis rather than strictly on stack-to-pot ratios. As a consequence, commitment for a LAG really only comes into play on equity decisions. For example, we can often correctly stack off with draws on the turn when bigger stacks can’t. Favorable commitment scenarios with a flop bet-turn check/raise line are much easier to create with smaller stack sizes.

The way we exploit this miscalculation is simple. Since skilled players are less likely to bluff against opponents who appear committed, versus thinking players, you can comfortably bet-fold mediocre hands to re-raises and not be overly concerned about getting bluffed.

Reason #7: Players Cannot Effectively Set Mine You

There are players out there who have built their entire game around “set mining” or “nut camping.” Beyond waiting for premium holdings, their basic strategy is to wait for pocket pairs, call an opponent’s pre-flop raise, and then hope to get all of the money in when they hit a set.

The reason this can be effective is due to the implied potential to win a huge pot should they spike a set. For example, if a 100 big blind opponent opens for 3x, then the nut peddler is only investing a maximum of 3bbs with the potential to win the 97 still behind. Because 97/3=32.3, the nut peddler would be getting 32.3 to 1 implied odds when heads up. And since a set will be flopped by a player approximately every 1 in 8 times, if more than 8 times the initial investment is won on average when he hits a set, then the play will be profitable.

The general rule of thumb agreed upon by good players is that you need at least 20 to 1 implied odds in order to set mine against most players. The problem is, versus a min-raiser with a 30 big blind stack, the formula now becomes 28/2=14. As you can see, the play is now less than half as effective and will surely lose money over the long term.

Furthermore, no matter what someone’s stack size is, they should not be limiting their strategy to such a narrow path to profit. In NL Hold’em, you should be constantly attacking the table, not impotently sitting back waiting for the money to come to you. Set mining is passive poker, and passive poker is losing poker.

An erroneous set mining strategy is further exacerbated by attempting to do so against a wide opening range. Since there are a lot fewer flops that we will be willing to stack off on, the play is even less profitable. So anytime someone set mines you and the money happens to go in, even if you lose, just remember that you made a lot of long-term EV money due to your opponent’s bad play.

The naysayers will scoff and point out that the inability to set mine is a two-way street. It is true that short stacks have a difficult time obtaining the correct odds to ever set mine. Even so, at least we know it’s a losing play and can refrain from incorporating it into our game. All the while, many players who are just going through the motions will unprofitably try to set mine us again and again. Just by buying in short, you have completely destroyed their entire game plan. There is no way they can beat you, unless they completely overhaul their strategy against you.

Reason #8: The ability to play higher stakes with a smaller bankroll

Risk of ruin is defined as the likelihood of an individual losing so much of his bankroll that he cannot continue playing. Buying in for smaller amounts of money inherently lowers that risk and creates the potential for a more rapid ascent in stakes. Additionally, swings will typically not happen nearly as fast, so a player can confidently buy into a higher stake with much smaller risk and move up and down in limits, with ease.

Small-stacking players need about 1/4 of the bankroll in order to play the same stake that a full- stacked player does. So while intelligent 100 big-blind players are waiting for a bankroll of $2,500 or higher to play 50NL, you are already grinding it out at 100NL with only $1,200. The benefits of being able to more aggressively build a bankroll cannot be overstated.

Having a much smaller working bankroll is also nice, because in today’s volatile online poker climate, it is prudent not to have much money tied up in your account. One only needs to consider what happened to Full Tilt poker players on Black Friday to understand the importance of this. That fact alone makes short stacking a wise alternative for a professional poker player.

Reason #9: No More C Game

We all have days when we are not completely with it. Sometimes we probably should not be playing at all, but depending on how important poker income is to you, this may not be an option. One of the benefits of short stacking is that auto-piloting is a lot less detrimental to your win-rate. Not only are mistakes a lot less punitive, much more of your play is automatic compared to deep-stacked play, and there are not nearly as many mentally taxing situations encountered during a session.

Whether it is physical tiredness, lack of sleep, or something going on non-poker related, everyone has days where their mind is not firing on all cylinders. Regardless of the reason, it gives you peace of mind to know that even on your worst day, you can still at least play your B game and never have to worry about spewing too badly in your sessions.

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