Of all the variables you need to pay attention to when playing poker, your opponent’s stack size is among the most important.
Put simply: people play differently based on how many chips they have. A good general principle to follow is that the more chips someone has, the wider their range for playable hands will be.
In this article, we’ll examine how to play against opponents who have short stacks. In cash games, a short stack is usually under 40 big blinds. In tournaments, a short stack is usually less than 20 big blinds.
It’s important to differentiate between a tournament and a cash game. In a cash game, players are allowed to rebuy or reload so you have to determine whether the opponent is going to do that. If they’re not going to do that, you can treat these situations like a tournament because if you lose all of your chips in a tournament, you are eliminated.
Here are some tips for playing against short stackers.
Understand their desperation
Not everybody deals with being a short stack the same. If a player is more patient, they’re going to wait for better hands or better spots to get all of their money in. If a player hates playing with a short stack, they might try to double up as soon as possible. Once you understand how they react in these situations, it will be easier to play against them.
Raise if you are on the button when the short stacker is in the blinds
It is more tempting for a short stacker to move all-in if there is a good chance all other players will fold because that’s a chance to win chips without a showdown. Players who limp in are usually weak, so sometimes that doesn’t even deter a short stacker from moving all-in. To limit the short stacker’s ability to do that, you should raise. When you have more money in the pot, you are more likely to call when they move all-in, and that goes against what the short stacker wants. It will take a better hand for them to do it.
Raise if you are in the blinds with a short stacker
This is similar to No. 2 in that there are not many players left in the hand so may not have to worry about other opponents. If you’re in the big blind, and the short stacker limps in from the small blind, you should raise every time. If you are in the small blind, and the short stacker is in the big blind, you should never call. You should always raise or fold.
Trap the short stackers if you have a big hand
Because most players view preflop limping as weak, you can use that against them. Let’s say you have pocket aces on the button. If you raise, you might catch the short stacker with a bad hand. In that case, they’re probably going to fold. If you limp in and make them think you are weak, however, they might take a stab at the pot. If they do that, your huge hand will have them crushed.
Don’t call with weak hands
As long as a player has a short stack, they are vulnerable. If they score a double-up they likely are no longer vulnerable. That happens a lot, but you should make them work for it. If they shove in front of you, and you have a bad hand, it is OK to fold. The last thing you want to do is to give them a relatively easy double-up.
This also works if you have raised, and the short stacker shoves over the top. If you raised with a moderate holding, and the price to call is a little steep, you should fold because they’re probably not doing that with a bad hand.
Shove over the top of callers
If a short stacker has moved all-in and has received a caller or two, there is a good chance those players do not have super strong hands. They’re likely only calling because they want to knock out the short stacker. Use that situation to your advantage by raising a large amount because if you can get the callers to fold so that you are heads up with the short stacker, there will be some dead money in the pot and you only have to beat one hand.
If you see a flop with a short stacker, it is important to understand their range may open up. For example, if they have a big stack and they flop a straight draw, they may be more likely to check and call a bet because they don’t feel like they need the chips. If they have a short stack, though, even adding a little bit to their stack is beneficial so they might be more willing to push an edge. Therefore, if you have even a little bit of something on a draw-heavy flop, you might want to call a higher percentage of the time.