Many poker players who play cash games are generally playing with a lot of big blinds and don’t have to worry about short stacks. They usually have stacks which are 100 big blinds deep. Players who only have experience in these games often find themselves confused when they play poker tournaments with considerably shorter stacks. With under 20 BBs, such players can generally get by with one of the many push-fold charts available online, but these charts don’t help much with stacks between 20-30 BBs. Being in a position of 20-30 BBs is one of the toughest to deal with and certainly one of the most important ones to learn since this is the range of average stack sizes of players when big money is on the line.
Let’s get into 5 tips on how to deal with your short stack, win more hands and play better poker!
Open Big and Premium Hands, Fewer Small Hands
One of the most basic things about having a short stack is that you don’t want to be playing small cards. It’s better to have big and premium hands in your range because you simply do not have the chips to play a hand with something like 5-4 suited. When stacks are deep, a hand like K-J offsuit suffers from terrible reverse implied odds. This means that even if you flop a pair, the opponent is not going to give you the pot very easily and would be willing to play all three streets when they have your hand beat! However, when you are short stacked, K-J offsuit is an easy shove if you flop a pair with a stack of around 20-25 BBs.
Polarizing C-Betting Ranges
When you open from early position and get called by the big blind, you have a massive range advantage over that player. Most likely, you’ll have a profitable continuation bet with your entire range. This doesn’t happen when the effective stack is short because there are many good, but marginal hands in your range that cannot stand a check raise all in.
For this reason, your c-betting range should look something like this:-
- Top pair,
- Top kicker,
- Combo draws that don’t mind calling a shove,
- Bottom pairs or gutshots that don’t mind folding to a shove.
You should most likely be checking back marginal hands like weak draws or second pairs on the flop and often calling the turn raise in order to get to showdown and realize your equity. You always have the option of betting the river as a bluff if you don’t think that you can win at showdown or betting for value once you become less concerned about a check-raise.
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Shoving Small Pairs
If you’re in a position where you have a small pair like 2-2 through 7-7 in late position, you’ll most likely be ahead in the hand and you should almost never be flatting to see a flop or play it post-flop. Consider open shoving with them for 20-25 BBs stacks and three-bet shoving with them for 25-30 BB stacks.
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These hands lose a considerable amount of value on the flop. When they are ahead, they rarely hold up on later streets and when they are behind, they do not make good bluffing candidates due to only having two outs.
Also, smaller pairs like 2-2, 3-3 work well as pre-flop shoves because they sometimes fold out hands like 4-4 or 5-5 but also retain good equity against calling hands like A-K or A-Q.
Exploiting In-Position Calling Ranges
Imagine you have around 25 BBs and open from middle position and called by a player in-position. This will most likely mean that they have a Broadway hand.
In this spot, you can choose your bluffs or value bets much more effectively. For example, K-Q on a queen-high board is a monster in this situation because the villain’s range can contain a lot of Q-J and Q-T type hands, but A-Q often 3-bets pre-flop in this situation.
Also, on lower high card boards like 7-high boards, you can easily fire multiple streets because the opponent is not likely to have something like K-7 or 8-8+ in their flatting range and hands like 2-2 through 6-6 will have a hard time calling later streets as over cards turn up on the board!
Limping When Short Stacked
One of the basic things we learn as a poker player is that you must never consider open-limping.
While this is true, it can have its merits once your stack becomes small. With a stack of 25 BBs, you might want to open a hand like J-9 or J-T suited from the button but fear getting a 3-bet shove from aggressive players in the blinds. Using a limping strategy can allow you to increase your chances of seeing the flop in a spot like this one. Of course, you will have to have some strong hands in your limping hands as well. You could even try to use a limp-only strategy in the right scenario. It isn’t something you need to do against all opponent types, but it can be a powerful weapon to have in your tool belt if you know when to use it.
There are a lot of players, even experienced players, who make critical mistakes with stacks of 20-30 BBs. Many of them are good cash players who do not have the experience of playing tournament poker. Others are recreational players who come in with the primary goal of playing a lot of hands and hoping to hit the board without calculating the risks. If you fall in any of the categories, I hope that this strategy blog will help in improving your game and run deep in tournaments!