We see short stackers in poker all the time. If these shorties played a proper strategy, they would be killing the big stacks at the table with the death of a thousand slices.

Why does Hold’em favor the short stackers?

The reason short stackers have the math advantage is that short and deep stacks are playing fundamentally different games at the same table. Deep stacks at the table can play for the rare hands like straights, flushes, and sets with the hopes of catching another deep stack for a big score.

For instance, at a $1-$2 game, a deep stack is perfectly happy to make or call a $10 raise with a pair of Sevens. This set-miner knows that seven out of eight times he will not hit a set and likely just fold after the flop. He can do this because the one time he hits a set he can pay for those $70 dollars in missed sets plus quite a bit more.

In a similar way, a deep stacker will call the $10 raise with hands like 89s and other implied odds hands. The range of speculative hands is relatively weak and wide, but it makes sense to try and hit big hands when the potential pay-off is big.

The short stacker can take advantage of this by jamming the action when he has a hand that is ahead of these ranges. When a short stacker does this, they take away all the implied odds of the big stacker. For instance:


In the pictured situation, the short stacker is bullying the big stacks with a squeeze. The pair of Sevens is hoping for a coin flip against the short stack and is frequently against a bigger pocket pair. His set-mining odds are trashed if he has to put in 1/6 of the deep stacks pre-flop. This is a bad situation for him. The suited connector also had his implied odds shattered and he knows he is behind all reasonable hands that the short stacker can have, It looks like the short stacker is going to pick-up $20 in this hand. This is 40% of his stack. This is why short stackers can be such a pain in the neck.

The question on the poker forum was how do you play against short stackers?

You need to realize that when you are in a hand with a short stacker, you are also a short stacker and should choose your range appropriately. The good news is that most short stackers are completely oblivious to the proper strategy and are using a flawed logic something like this:

  • I like to win pots
  • This suited connector can flop lots of good things, so I am going to limp or raise to get into this pot
  • If I hit a draw, I can just jam it in and see the rest of the cards

This is great and all true, but it is fatally flawed because usually the flop will not bring a draw and the money they put into the pot pre-flop will not justify the odds of winning. In short, to beat short stackers, you need to be a better short stacker than them. How do you know they are a bad short stacker?

  • Limping in with a short stack and folding to raises
  • Entering pots with hands like suited connectors and small pocket pairs
  • Calling raises instead of 3-bet jamming

The good news is most short stackers do this, or find themselves short stacked because they lost a big pot and are looking to gamble before they rebuy.

Go out there and out short-stack the short stackers and you will be fine.

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Showing 2 comments
  • persuadeo

    An extremely relevant article for all those who play in cap games.

  • Arjan de Groot

    I disagree that a shortstack can not limp fold. They should have a limp fold range and a limp raise range, depending on the table. The big difference is that the range is a lot narrower compared to a regular stacked player.

    Where you raise 8% and call 20% on a full ring, you call only with a range of 6-8% and you will be looking to jam with 4% depending on the situation!

    For example, KQs in late position could be a limp fold in an unopened pot with multiple limpers. You can’t go all in against a raise (unless he is a nutter) but you still have some implied odds that justifies the limp. It is a speculative hand since any A has you beat preflop and you will only be called by better if you jam. If you get raised however, on average you will be at least a small dog, posibly a big one, and you can’t justify it because 2\3 of the time you will have to fold on the flop.

    Furthermore, showing that you play hands you have to fold makes you a lot harder to play against, because the regular stacks will be unsure to raise or check. This will make it less likely for the regular stacks to adjust their ranges against you, which is what you want.

    I played 2-2 euros in redicoulous rake settings (10% 10cap) profitably as a short stack, and it is all to do with knowing what ranges you have to play, and where to jam and where to fold your AQo.

    The money made lies in the huge amount of dead money that you find in these pots and stupid players that think they still have odds with their small pp or KQs, ATs and call and you on average got dominated.