So what is the best small stack poker strategy? Although its always much more enjoyable to have a huge stack of chips in front of you at the poker table, there will be times during your career that you will be low on chips and short stacked. In such situations, you will have to adjust your play and utilize an effective short stack strategy due to the lack of wiggle room in making various plays because of your low chip count.
A short stack in either tournament play or cash games is typically 40 big blinds or less. However, there is a difference between having 40 big blinds and 10 big blinds. The latter would require a mindset or strategy that takes into account an even lower number of chips or money to work with. Also, keep in mind that short stack strategy is in relation to the number of blinds left to play at the current level and not determined in comparison with the stacks of other players at the table. If you have 33 big blinds and your opponent has 20, you should still be playing in short stack mode.
Being short stacked severely limits your maneuvers at the table. Attempting such ploys as bluffs and blind steals are reduced and perhaps eliminated as your low chip count hampers the ability to pull off such plays that are used to build chip stacks.
No-limit Texas Hold ‘Em is structured so that larger bets are typically made on both the turn and river cards. The pre-flop and post-flop rounds normally set up the action for the later rounds. Having a short stack will often mean that your betting will be completed after the flop. You either won’t have enough chips to keep playing the hand or will shove all-in if you think your chance of winning is good at that stage.
The lack of moves available from being short stacked requires you to shorten your range and to play only the best hands, instead of hands that have the potential of winning that you normally would play if you were blessed with a larger chip stack. Suited connectors and low pocket pairs are best played with larger stacks that allow for the ability to outplay your opponents. With a small stack, its most favorable to be involved in pots while holding high suited cards that can pair up or better on the flop. However, the various degrees of the sizes of short stacks may allow for some flexibility in selecting starting hands and continuing to play post-flop. In other words, you can make more moves with 40 big blinds than you can with 10. For instance, you wouldn’t necessarily play Q-J with 40 big blinds, but with only 10 big blinds, you may almost have to.
The smaller your stack, the greater range of hands you are forced to play. You don’t want to wait around for a better hand that may never come and get blinded out in the process. As an example, Ace-rag is not recommended to be played in early position with 40 blinds remaining. However, the same hand with only 10 blinds left is considered highly playable. Remember, the betting on fourth and fifth streets may be non-existent due to your lack of chips, so get your remaining money in the pot if you happen to connect with a high pair on the flop.
Whenever you are dealt a premium hand pre-flop while short stacked, you should be raising. With 10 big blinds or more, its advisable to raise three or four times the big blind if you are the first player acting. With less than 10 big blinds, just push all your chips into the pot because a four times big blind raise will commit you to the pot anyway. Post-flop, you will often be either folding or going all-in. Going all-in when first to act is sometimes your only weapon when short stacked. The smaller your stack, the greater your commitment to the pot, as you won’t have many chips left to play the next hand anyway. At the range of 30-40 big blinds, you are still afforded a bit of selection in deciding whether to make your move on the current hand or perhaps wait for a better opportunity.
Effective strategy while playing short stacked is dependent upon adjusting your play to the situation at hand. Basically, you want to get your chips in the pot when you believe you have the best chance of winning. If you select the correct times to make your move, two or three double-ups can get you right back into the tournament. Ultimately, that is your goal. Remember to play basic Poker 101, folding marginal or potential winning hands to play only the best ones. Avoid bluffs and playing small pairs and suited connectors, the hands you love to play when your stack is deep. Make strong raises pre-flop when you have the cards to do so and be prepared to shove all-in before or after the flop depending on your stack size.
Keep in mind that the 1982 World Series of Poker Main Event was won by poker Hall of Famer Jack “Treetop” Straus, who had only one chip remaining at one point in the tournament. He won the most prestigious event in poker history coming back from having the shortest stack imaginable – only one chip. Your tournament is not over until all your chips are gone. Small stacks can and do win sometimes.