The Truth About Short Stacking

The first lesson I am going to teach you is to forget everything you know about a so-called “correct” buy-in amount. There is no reason that you have to sit down at the table with the maximum allowed in order to succeed at poker. Your goal should be to make money, not try to adhere to an arbitrary set of rules.

There is a popular misconception that short-stacking players are relying solely on some kind of pre- flop shoving chart or “system” that has been purchased and downloaded from the Internet. Therefore, the prevailing belief among “mainstream” players is that all short stackers have no skill or talent and are generally dismissed as nothing but an annoyance.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Short stacking is really just a microcosm of deeper-stacked play, and top small stackers are skilled poker players in their own right. They are just playing a different strategy based on buying in for less money. And while stack size fluctuations necessarily affect everyone’s strategy, we are all effectively playing the same game.

Short stackers play by the same rules and post the same size blinds as everyone else. They can raise, fold, check, and call. They use math to make their decisions and plan hands just like deeper-stacked players do. It is still poker, no matter what your chosen buy-in is. A distinct skill set is needed for playing various stack sizes, and strategy must change as a stack grows or shrinks. As a consequence, shorter-stacked players typically have more competence when it comes to adjusting to varying stack sizes than 100 big blind players who always keep their stack topped off.

And contrary to popular belief, while there are much fewer difficult decisions, small-stack play is not purely a “shove fest,” and still requires a great deal of finesse. With 30 big blinds, you have plenty of room to maneuver both pre-flop and post-flop. Just like deeper stacked play, short stacking requires planning every single hand based upon your opponent’s range and tendencies as well as your commitment level.

Why 30 big blinds?

Short stacking is so misunderstood that even the amount which constitutes a short stack is up for debate. Some people feel that anything under 50 big blinds is a short stack, while others feel that a “true” short stacker sits down with 20 big blinds. Among knowledgeable poker players, it seems that most are in the camp that less than 40 big blinds is a short stack, 40-80 big blinds is a mid stack, 80- 150 big blinds is a full stack, and anything greater than 150 big blinds would be considered deep stacked.

Most short-stacking “systems” concentrate on 20 big blind play. In this book I have focused on playing any stack size under 45 big blinds and suggest a buy-in of 30. After experimenting with many different stack sizes, I have concluded that 30 big blinds seem to provide the perfect balance between allowing for three streets of poker while remaining small enough that a player can comfortably 3-bet shove a wide range before the flop. Having 3-betting and 4-betting simplified during the learning process cannot be understated.

Another good reason for learning with a 30 big blind stack is that a 20 big blind buy-in is no longer an option on many poker sites. In the last couple of years, many sites have raised their minimum buy- in from 20 big blinds up to 30, 35, or even 40 big blinds. The changes were made mainly to appease full-stacked players who are intolerant of players who use a short-stack strategy, because they collectively have trouble beating them. They do not want to have to spend time learning how to beat short stackers and would rather segregate themselves from them altogether.

And when “forced” to play against anyone with less than a full buy-in, full-stacked players are often quite open about how they feel about who they describe as the scum of the earth. It’s rather unfortunate that a player’s chosen starting stack can be such an object of contempt. In fact, sitting down with less than the “standard” buy-in has become such an anathema, that if you post a hand on an online poker forum that has you starting with less than 100 big blinds, you will likely be ridiculed to no end and receive no advice on the hand itself. Some of the vitriol spewed is so intense that you would think short stacking is against the rules.

My thought on the subject is that a lot of these bitter feelings are a carry-over from the “old days.” A generation ago, the thought of buying in for a short stack would have been unthinkable for a good poker player. Before the advent of online poker, a top professional always wanted to have more money in his stack than less-skilled players. This allowed him to wield the full force of his “skill” against them.

Additionally, such a strategy would simply not work in live poker rooms. Once you obtained more than 50 or 60 big blinds, a shift in strategy would have to occur. And sitting out and getting back on a waiting list would not work as a solution. Not only is it a waste of valuable time, it would likely be frowned upon by opponents and the poker room as a form of “going South.”

Today, online players have the ability to come and go as they please, with no such rules of etiquette in place. With the ability to play multiple tables at once, leaving once you hit a goal amount of money is now a viable option. You can simply bring in a new table and start fresh with your chosen starting stack size.

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