Short stack poker

In almost every type of poker game or tournament that you will buy into, there’s three types of “stacks” (the number of chips one has in front of them). Yes, tournaments start out with equal stacks but that changes quickly. So let’s pretend we’re halfway through a big tournament or cash game and consider our options playing against these different types of stacks -

Big Stack

Average Stack

Short Stack

Pretty self explanatory, right? Of course. Playing against those stacks isn’t. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to assume YOU are the short stack. Now let’s take a look at how to play your short stack against a hypothetical opponent.

Playing against the Big Stack

Big Stack players tend to push around smaller stacks. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition but for the most part, you will find this to be the case. The most basic strategy when faced with this type of opponent is to slow play your hand and let him do the betting. If he’s the original raiser and you peek down to find a pair of Tens or better, smooth call and play the flop accordingly. If it comes all rags and there’s no scare cards like an Ace or a King, use your read and go from there.

Playing against an Average Stack

Players with average stacks are looking to get a big stack, big surprise right? Instead of risking their stack by battling heads up with one of the larger stacks, they will often target the small stacks. It’s not a bad strategy and a great way to mitigate risk because even a bad read or a bad beat against a small stack will not wipe out all of their chips. Because of this it’s often easy to pick up pots against an average stack – it’s essentially the same philosophy as playing the Big Stacks, use your read and play accordingly. Pick your spot and get the chips in the middle of the table, if the cards fall your way this is perfect approach to building your stack like a high-rise in New York.


Playing against another Small Stack  

This is often a more difficult spot to play because their mindset is very likely similar to your own. While tournament players will play relatively tight at this point, cash game players can always rebuy and if Tilt is a factor they may shove with any two cards. In the tournament example you really want to get your money in good against a short stack with a premium starting hand BEFORE the flop. Put them to a decision right off the bat, don’t let them see a flop. The last thing you want to do is call off your remaining chips post-flop. The same logic applies to a cash game, it’s easy math.  


The scope of this article can’t possibly explore every situation that you will encounter when playing poker, whether it’s tournament play or cash game action. Rather it’s meant to give you a quick glimpse into the typical mindset of a player in this scenario. Good reads only come with time, as do good decisions. Use these tips as a foundation and put them into practice one step at a time, it’s not a guarantee so take baby steps. Don’t run until you can walk, learn from your mistakes and you’ll find that they are farther and farther apart. Remember, poker is a marathon not a sprint.  

Editors note: Cake Poker is a great site to try these tactics.

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