Short Stack Strategy

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Short Stack Strategy in NL Cash Games

It is a common misconception that short stack poker induces a simpler, more profitable experience for the beginner. Where as buying in for less than the maximum has its merits – it can be less damaging in the short-term for your bankroll and be a real money-spinner if your opponents fail to adjust – this article will address the fundamental flaws of short-stack poker. There’s a feeling that short-stack poker betrays some of the ‘essence’ of the game – from the 3-barrel bluffs to the changing of gears. It is somewhat reductionist, in the sense it limits the game to push/fold.

Main myth: Short stack strategy gives you the upper hand

Fundamental one: always assume, as students of the game, we have an edge over our opponents. Whilst that edge can be realised to an extent pre-flop, it can be much more potent on later streets. Why? Pre-flop encounters are subject to a lot more variance – a lot of heads-up play boils down to coin flips (pair v overcards – 99 v AK, unless your opponent is some LAG maniac who 4-bets with A9/o) . Even AQ v A5, you are only about 70% favourite. And yes, even AA v 22 you’re only a 4-1 favourite. So, from a financial perspective, playing all-in poker isn’t going to reap rewards against a half-decent opponent.

 If you actually ‘play some poker’ and let the game unfold over several streets, you can maximise your edge. You can punish your opponent for chasing non-nut draws, and easily become as much as a 90%+ favourite if you flop a set to your opponent’s top pair, top kicker. You can also have him drawing dead with a higher flush / straight. Regarding the financial intricacies, our $ values increase on later-street bets, with river bets typically ten times larger than pre-flop wagers. For example;

You wake up to pocket queens on the button in a NL25 game, and boost it up to $1 pre-flop. The big blind flats with AJ/o, making you a 72% favourite and earning you approximately $0.33. The flop comes J T 3 rainbow, and you fire a pot sized bet – $2 into a $2 pot. Now an 80% favourite, this bet rakes you in $1.20.

 A 3 bricks on the turn, and you bet $5 into a $6 pot, with your opponent electing to flat. Currently, you are 89% favourite and the bet earns you $3.90. The river is another 3, you move all in for $17, and your opponent calls. You win his remaining stack, $17.

So what are we saying? By playing out all the streets, you maximise your winnings – your pre-flop bets wins you only $0.33 but your river bet snaffles his stack. If you pushed pre-flop, your only expected to win $11, because of the chance of a suckout (by the river, there is no chance of this). So to conclude, deep stack poker, and playing all streets, enables you to extract maximum value from your premium hands and punish your opponent.

Other Points to Note:

Short-stack poker hinders your development as a player. The aspiration of any player should be to play deep-stack poker, where he can utilise more sophisticated plays, like 3-barrel bluffs, floats etc. It’s startling how many opponents crumble to even the most basic plays associated with deep-stack poker, i.e. the firm continuation bet. You can’t do this effectively as a short-stack. Deep-stack poker enables you to tell a story and outplay your opponents.

Furthermore, short-stack poker is higher variance, and acts as a greater tilt instigator. Psychologically, losing 5 buy-ins of NL50 can be much more damaging than losing a single $50 buy-in. It can also make you more frustrated, particularly in heads-up cash play. If you are card dead and your opponent is 3-betting you constantly pre-flop – when do you make a stand? In the end you have to make a stand with something raggy A6/o, and sod’s law dictates you are dominated.

There are, of course, still merits to playing short stack poker. It is ideal for ‘taking shots’ at a limit you aren’t properly rolled for. It can also be very aggravating for deep-stack players on a full ring table who can’t adapt. But if you want to become a proper scholar of the game, stick to deep-stack poker.

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