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Texas Holdem – Playing the Short Stack

A game of no limit Texas Holdem has been going on for quite some time.  Most of the original players have already lost their chips and left their seats.  You are left at the table with a small number of players that each have a relatively even stack (or perhaps there is a clear leader and a tie for second).  You, on the other hand, have a pitiful stack of chips in front of your seat that can’t amount to more than a handful of blinds.  You are definitely playing the short stack, so how should you be playing the short stack?

Playing the Short Stack

Desperate times call for desperate measures.  You need to do some creative playing (and also get a little lucky) to fight your way out of this hole you are in.  The main disadvantage that you have is that the other players can see your chip stack, and they know that you are desperate.  Bluffing when short stacked is actually not as wise as it may sound at this point.  Bluffs made by short stacked players tend to get called (especially all-in bets).  Another disadvantage you face is the fact that a single mistake or lucky fall of the cards can put you out of business, where the other players can afford to be a little looser and sweat a little less.  The only advantages you have are…exactly the same things that are your disadvantages.  The fact that they know you are desperate allows you to manipulate a few extra blinds out of them (as we will see in a moment), and there confidence can be their undoing if you are careful.  So, resigning yourself to the fact that you may be out just from bad luck, it is time to see how much havoc you can bring on your way out (and maybe even see if you can switch places with another player).

The first step in your strategy is to double up.  short stack chip

If you’re playing on a small number of blinds, you need to find the first acceptable hand you can and go all-in pre-flop.  You need to restore your stack a little before the other players notice your sorry condition.  Be smart about this.  Wait for decent cards based on hand strength and position, but don’t be afraid to go in. You need the chips to start rebuilding.  The second step is to buy some blinds.  If you are in a good, late position and not many players are in, an all-in bet can buy you a few extra blinds (provided no loose players are around to get lucky).

The biggest thing to remember is that slow and steady wins the race in almost every sport.  Poker is no exception, especially when your playing the short stack.  Trying to rebuild your stack with several consecutive doubling is more than likely a short road to bankruptcy.  Try to maximize your wins and minimize your losses and slowly get back on your feet.

My friend (I’ll call him Steve), had a habit of going all-in a little too loosely. It cost him a few games in the past, but there was a time he took advantage of his reputation and used it to work to his advantage when employing his short stacked poker strategy.

He was short stacked late in the game, and I was the chip leader.  He went all-in on the first hand that he was under ten blinds.  This is stereotypical of a decent poker player, and I suspected his cards weren’t actually great (they were probably decent).  I had a pocket pair of kings and called his bet.  He rolled pocket aces, and neither of us improved our hand.  He took a solid chunk out of my chip stack, and I eventually lost that game.

Take advantage of your opponents perceptions, make them sweat over whether they want to go all-in with you, and slowly use the correct poker strategy to fight your way back into the game.

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