How to Play Against Short Stackers

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playing against the short stack
When you buy in for the minimum amount, it is referred to as short stacking. In PokerStars, this amounts to 20 big blinds. Therefore, if you are playing in a no limits 100 Hold’em cash game, 100 big blinds will be the maximum buy in, i.e. $100; $60 will be the average stack; and the short stacks will have $20.

Short stackers can be of two types: the first types are the beginners or novices whose aim is to reduce their risks and learn the ropes of the game. Beginners are always advised to buy in for the minimum at first. Only after that should they try to adapt themselves to the innumerable poker traps they may encounter.

The second type of short stackers is very systematic and they come armed with various skills. They are pretty robotic as players. Today’s article is dedicated to these advanced short stackers and how you should handle or play against these types.

Getting into the Inner Psyche of Short Stackers

Short stackers play like human robots — monotonously and systematically — without applying brains. In most cases pushing all in preflop or playing a fold is their preferred strategy. These types rarely ever check and prefer to bet or fold the whole of their stack.

Usually they don’t call a bet at all. That means the burden of taking tough decisions is passed on to your shoulders, and the game’s strategic aspect is largely eliminated for them.

Short stacking players are looked upon as extremely annoying in online poker circles. Let me explain why: suppose a short stacker goes in for an additional 16 big blinds and raises a player all in, and the latter has either raised or has been limping with four big blinds preflop before our short stacker. In such a situation, this latter player will feel forced to get into a big gamble or forego his bet. Obviously, he will not choose to go all in unless he has a really strong hand.

Thus, short stackers often create high reward vs. high risk situations for other opponents. And these precarious situations often transform into coin flipping scenarios for 20 big blinds. Normal players, however, choose the standard style of playing affordable flops before committing so many chips, as that is safer. That’s one more reason why short stackers are perceived as so annoying.

Another reason why short stackers are universally disliked is that they use the minimum amount to buy in and the moment they double their money, they choose to leave the table. This basically means, after winning an all in bet, short stackers take to their heels. And the opponent playing against him never gets another chance to reclaim his money back!

You can never really win huge amounts of money from a short stacker; after all, their “all in” amount too is just the minimum buy in. By the same virtue, they can’t put a dent in the chip stack of a deep stacker either, however, many players still aren’t comfortable handling such players.

If you were to ever come against such a player, here are a few tips that might come in handy.

How to Play Against Short Stackers?

Short stackers sometimes use a bit of variation in their strategy. So they either aim for pushing all in at the flop or they choose to call or raise preflop. Their strange strategies often turn out to be winners. Do you know why? Because short stackers use fold equity as their source of profits. On top of that, careful players who don’t wish to gamble away 20 big blinds also tend to fold a bit too much.

However, folding may not always be the right option. You see, short stackers don’t always calculate their chances well. Just like maniacs (maniac poker players, not the really mentally retarded ones), each short stacker too is different and unique and possesses different ranges.

Therefore, you should always take the help of VPIP/PFR statistics to determine your opponent’s range. When VPIP/PFR = 6/6, {AJ +, TT+} (VPIP = 5.88%) will be the likely range. {AT +, 88 +} is the likely range when 8/8 is the VPIP/PFR.

Usually a reference all in range {AJ +, TT +} is used by a skilled short stacker to pull his VPIP/PFR up to 7% or 8%. In doing so, the short stacker will also try to add flexibility to the reference all-in range. He will also try to loosen himself up when the opportunity is ripe.

Suppose you are in a situation where you raise four big blinds at preflop. The short stacker on the other hand 3 bets you all in. It is assumed that the pot contains 25.5 big blinds, the hand does not involve any other player, and you have to call 16 big blinds. In this situation, you can use any hand that has a 38.55% equity or greater to call. Also, let’s assume {AJ +, TT+} is the short stacker’s all in range.

You can use PokerStove to find out that {AQ +, 22 +} is the range to which all these hands correspond (when their equity > 38.5% vs. all in range). If this short stacker has a loose shoving range, for e.g. {AT +, 88+}, {AJ +, 33 +} will be his calling range. A tighter range of {AQ +, JJ +} will boast of a calling range of {AK +, 55 +}. You should ideally call with top aces or pocket pairs but discard the extremely low ones.

So you see, short stackers may be annoying, but there is a systematic way of handling their game, and even beating them when your cards permit it.


While understanding and figuring out each and every opponent is a major challenge, it is also one of the most interesting aspects of professional poker. If you enjoy this process and know how to learn from your mistakes, this world is for you. I hope this article helped you a bit further in your quest for poker success. Until next time, ciao!

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