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Watch this video for instructions on how to utilize your Sklansky-Chubukov chart.
No-Limit Texas Hold ’em: Short-Stack Strategy (Especially for Cash Games)
The short-stack strategy (SSS) is a hit-and-run, raise-or-fold, super tight-aggressive approach to the no-limit game. It is the only way a novice or recreational player can consistently beat experienced, highly skilled players. Unfortunately, most online poker rooms now have a minimum buy-in per cash-game table of 30-40 big blinds (BBs), which makes the use of this strategy only possible when your stack drops below 26 BBs. However, there are still a few online casinos out there that allow you to buy in for 20 BBs, which means that this strategy is still at your disposal at some online card rooms.
When playing in brick-and-mortar poker games (i.e., at casinos, live card rooms or home games), you can also use this strategy to “test the waters” while misleading your opposition into believing that you’re probably a fish or on “scared money.” For example, if you’re at a no-limit Texas Hold ’em table with a big blind of $10, you could buy in for $200 and utilize this strategy until you pass the critical 26 BBs threshold, where you would need to adjust your starting-hand requirements (i.e., “ranges”) and start incorporating a “hybrid” or mid-stack strategy into your game or buy up to 100 BBs and implement the big-stack strategy or deep-stack strategy as the total BBs in your stack approaches 150 or more. All of these strategies will be sent to new members via e-mail over the coming weeks.
The brilliance of the short-stack strategy in a cash-game setting is that even if your opponents know that you’re not a fish and that you’re using this strategy, there’s not a thing they can do to counter it … other than getting upset and insulting you in the hope that you change tables. However, properly understanding this strategy (even for those who detest it) can greatly benefit your overall cash game, and it is especially useful practice for late-phase tournament play.
The following information will provide you with the essential information and a few downloadable tools needed to master this strategy within a very short amount of time.
Although this strategy is functional at 6-max, i.e., “short-handed” poker tables, most beginning players using this strategy should only play at full-ring poker tables (7-10 players). Most of the following information is based on full-ring play.
Using the short-stack strategy, you buy in for 20 BBs and leave the table when you have over 25 BBs. You should normally rebuy up to 20 BBs when your stack is reduced to 15 or less, but you don’t have to. You can also play on with fewer BBs in your stack, especially in accordance with the “Sklansky-Chubokov” open-push ranges when you’re in late position.
Always base your decisions on the “player types” you’re facing, which is directly correlated to the number of players at your table (when facing relatively decent competition). When playing online, player type(s) or their “poker image” will be very clear from the statistics you see; when playing at live casinos, you’ll have a very good idea of what you’re dealing with after 30 minutes of play (see our poker tells and poker math pages for additional details).
In general, calling is strictly forbidden in the short-stack strategy. However, you can (from time to very rare time) over limp in late position or when “completing” from the small blind after multiple limpers or over cold call vs. an open raiser followed by 2+ (preferably 3+) cold callers when you hold speculative hands such as max-stretch suited connectors (45s-TJs), small and middle pocket pairs (22-TT) and suited low Ax hands (so-called “baby aces”), which are not in the standard starting-hands chart for short-stack play. Versus an extremely tight raiser in early position (EP) and multiple cold callers, you can even over call with JJ and QQ in some spots. This is to say, that there is no definitive “must” or “right or wrong” while using any strategy because table conditions and pot odds often open the door to many opportunities where you can and often should deviate from the standard line of play.
The bigger the raise, the greater your “fold equity” will be. Keep the initiative and fold/fear equity on your side. “Pushing/Jamming” (i.e., going all-in) creates maximum fold equity and nullifies postflop skill differences (“edge”).
As always, any time a bet or raise is greater than or equal to (=>) approximately 50% of your stack or will make you pot committed on the next betting round (i.e., generally where your stack <= pot size), push or fold directly!
Full-Ring No-Limit Texas Hold ’em Cash Games
So now that you have an general overview of the short-stack strategy, we need to analyze the starting hands you can actually play when using this strategy as well as the size of your raises when you don’t fold or push all-in. Preflop Open Raising = 4 big blinds (BBs) + 1 per limper. What this means is that if you are the first to raise in a hand (“open raise”), then your bet size should be 4 BBs +1 BB per ‘limper’ before you.
Example 1: If the big blind is 2 dollars and 2 people call the big blind (i.e., limp into the pot) before you, and you decide to raise rather than push all in, you would open raise to $12.
The raises are sized in this way when you are small stacked to ensure you are not giving your opponents better than necessary pot odds to call you. If you started the hand above with 20 BBs or $40, your remaining stack (after your raise) would only be $28 or 14 BBs. Someone cold-calling behind you in order to flop a set, “set mining,” with small and middle pocket pairs needs 7.5:1 pot odds to make a profitable call in the long run, but his call with your raise to 6 BBs (including the dead money from the limpers and blinds as well as your remaining stack for his “implied odds”) is only 33.5 BBs (the pot + your remaining stack) to 6 BBs (his call) >> 5.6 : 1. Principle: The tighter the range of hands you are playing is, the bigger you should bet and raise in general.
Example 2: If you only min-raise to 2 BBs in the limped pot above, you would have a remaining stack of 18 BBs, which is more than enough for people behind you to “set mine” with most small and middle pocket pairs, not to mention that the open limpers will almost certainly limp/call given the amazing pot odds you’re giving them … even if the player in the small blind folds: the pot odds you’re giving the player in the big blind, who would only have to call 1 BB, are 5.5:1, for the first limper 6.5:1 and for the second limper 7.5:1; this would mean that they would only have to hit a playable flop (their “break-even equities” respectively if calling all-in) 15.4%, 13.3% and 11.8% of the time.
Remember: If the player before you makes an open raise instead of limping into the pot, in almost all cases you will either be pushing all-in or folding when short stacked in both cash games and tournaments.
Your decision on whether to fold, raise/push will be based on a number of different factors which are explained both above and below this section; but the first thing you’ll consider is the hand you’re dealt and your current position at the table.
Your hand is listed in the starting-hand ranges below per position. That means that if you check the hole cards you’re dealt from early position (EP), middle position (MP), late position (LP) or the blinds and you don’t see a hand on that list, in general, you fold. The percentage listed after the range indicates the amount of all possible Texas Hold ‘em hands that range comprises (Ex.: JJ or better, and AK comprise 3.02% of all possible Holdem hands).
Your Starting-Hand Ranges for the Short-Stack Strategy: 4BBs + 1 per limper
EP: JJ+, AK (3.02%)
MP: 99+, AQ+ (5.13%)
LP (CO, BU & Blinds): 77+, AJ+, KQ (8.45%); 2.5-3.5 BBs as a “steal”–open raise from CO, BU, SB (your steal range can be much wider depending on the players in the blinds.)
Note: the following recommendations are general guidelines for playing a small-stack strategy at Full-Ring No-Limit Texas Holdem Cash-Game Tables and must always be adjusted and sometimes markedly altered according to table conditions, the respective limit, effective stack-sizes, player profiling, respective positions at the table, etc. If you would like ALL the details on starting hands for Texas hold ’em cash games, click the button below.
3bet push vs. one open raise before you with JJ+, AK (3.02%).
Ex.: A player to your right makes a “2bet” (the first raise preflop) to 4 BBs; pot = 5.5 BBs. Your normal 3bet amount of three times the open raise would be 12BBs (3x the 2bet amount plus 1 per cold caller), which is more than 50% of your 20 BBs stack, so you go all-in (“push”) directly! If the open raiser were the only player to call your 12 BBs 3bet, the pot would be 25.5 BBs on the flop, and your remaining stack would only be 8 BBs (only 13 BBs if you had begun the hand with 25BBs). When you call any flop bet with 8 BBs, you would only need ~19% equity to break even in the long run, hence the preflop push-or-fold to an open raise approach when short stacked.
3bet push vs. 2 or more raises before you only with KK or AA (0.9%) and occasionally with QQ,
but fold everything else unless you have very good reads on your opposition!
4bet push to 1 or more raises (3bets or 4bets from opponents) behind you with TT+, AQ+ (4.68%).
Example: You open-raised to 4 BBs + 1 BB per limper, and you are reraised by one or more players behind you. In this scenario, you would push all-in if you’re holding a pair of Tens or better, or Ace-Queen or better; otherwise you fold.
Note: Adjust your all-in ranges here according to your opponents’ 2bet/3bet/4bet ranges and your remaining stack size. You can even push all SSS hands (77+, AJ+, KQ) you open raised with from late position (LP) when your remaining-stack to open-raise ratio is <= 2.5:1.
In steal/resteal scenarios and blind-battles, play according to the respective charts, and be willing to open push the Sklansky-Chubokov list, especially with holdings that are likely to lose huge amounts of equity on most flops (i.e., most Ax hands, small and middle pairs). Also be aware of the break-even equity you need to make certain calls; when playing the short-stack strategy some “light calls” (i.e., calling with a wider range of hands) are definitely possible and also profitable vs. looser players.
Example: You are in the cut-off position (CO), look at your hole cards and see 77, which is on your open-raise range for late-position (LP). You had played a couple of orbits and folded all hands you were dealt, including 3 BBs (1.5 BBs per orbit); your current stack size is 17 BBs and you decide to make a normal 3.5x raise instead of pushing all-in (which the Sklansky-Chubokov chart indicates you could do profitably in the long run). A somewhat more tight-aggressive player (TAG) in the small bind makes a resteal (3bet) push vs. your open steal raise (2bet). The ratio of your 2bet raise (3.5) to remaining stack of (13.5) is 3.86, so you fold in this “blind battle.” Vs. a loose-aggressive player (LAG) or maniac, some people might find a call in that spot given the opponent’s assumed wider resteal ranges …HOWEVER, always consider your “image” at the table! You just folded 22 hands consecutively, finally make a move, and your opponent’s response is a 3bet reraise all-in. Do you think he or she will be weak very often given your “rock” image? Even if you give the villain a resteal range of TT+ or AQ+ (see table below), you can only call with TT+ or AK in order to have your necessary 39% equity vs. his range to break even in the long run.
Here’s the breakdown of this scenario using our pot-odds and break-even equity calculator (explained in greater detail below) in a game with a big blind of $10. Your start the hand with $170, and the remaining “Effective Stack” is yours after you make the $35 steal raise.
Let’s assume the same scenario above but you don’t start the hand with 17 BBs rather 12BBs. Here after folding two orbits, I would generally recommend a direct push. But for example purposes, you make the same raise of $35, the player in the small blind reraises all-in, and now your raise : remaining stack ratio is 35:85 = 2.49, so you call. Again, you should consider your tight image even with this small stack size and potentially consider a fold vs. a very tight reraiser. Here’s the breakdown, which shows that you only need 34% vs. his resteal range to make a profitable call in a cash game. Vs. the TT+, AQ+ range above you’ve got 37.2% equity and you’re even only a slightly negative EV spot with 33.3 equity vs. a resteal range of JJ+ or AK.
Speaking of equity, it is now time to analyze how your starting hands stack up against your opponents starting-hand ranges, and how we can use those percentages to make the best possible decisions.
Here is a table illustrating your chances of winning (i.e., “equity” or share of the pot) when you 3bet push (i.e., reraise all-in) when holding any of the preflop starting hands generally advised for short-stack strategy players vs. various preflop open-raising ranges. The following hand vs. ranges match-ups were produced using the program pokerstove. Your hand is in the left column, and your (one) opponent’s estimated preflop raise (PFR) ranges are in the top row expressed as a percentage of all Texas Hold ’em hands and as the specific hands that comprise that percentage.
|Equity vs. PFR% of One Villain||1.4%||3.0%||3.5%||4.7%||7.5%||9.2%||14.9%||17.8%|
|–||AK||AK||AQ+||AJ, KQ||AT, KQ||A8, KT||KT, QJ|
How Do You Apply the Numbers in the Above Table?
Let’s say you get dealt a pocket pair of jacks (JJ) in middle position at a full-ring poker table. A player who hasn’t done anything for three full orbits of the dealer button, i.e., he has not played a single hand in the last 30 deals, and all of a sudden he leans forward in his seat and makes an open raise from the earliest “under the gun” (UTG) position. In the live environment, you don’t see his PFR percentage as you will when playing online using poker-tracking software such as Holdem Manager. However, 1/30 = 3.3% so you assume he’s on a 1.4% to 3.5% PFR range as defined in the table above, probably JJ, QQ, KK, AA or AK; the widest range you would give him here would be a pair of tens or better (TT+) or ace queen or better (AQ+ = AQ and AK suited and off-suited: AQo, AQs, AKo, AKs). You find your hand (JJ) in the left column above and see that you only have 36.6% equity or chance of winning vs. the 3% range of JJ+, AK, and even against the widest range you could give him, your equity is only 46.9% vs. a 4.7% PFR range … so you fold your JJ vs. that “rock,” i.e., super tight player.
What if you have the same hand on the button and a loose player from middle position who has played 10 hands from all positions during the last three orbits makes the same 2bet to 4 BBs? You can assume he’s open raising (2betting) at least 15% and probably much wider from that position in general. Even against the tightest 2bet range you would give this loose player, 9.2% defined as 88+, AT-AK and KQ, your equity when holding JJ is 57% if he never folds vs. your 3bet (reraise), so you push your entire stack of 20 BBs all-in. Note: This equity advantage vs. the opponent’s entire range does not mean you will win that specific pot when called, but in the long run you are in a very profitable spot with very positive expected value (EV).
In the latter example, let’s assume you’re in an NL1000 Texas Holdem poker game (where the small blind is $5 and the big blind is $10). You make the 3bet all-in move, and your loose opponent calls you with a pair of tens (TT). Your equity vs. that hand is approximately 80% (81.99% without considering the suits to be exact). You moved all-in for $200, he called the $200 and there was also the “dead money” from the blind positions of $15. The total pot is $415 and your equity is .8199. Your share of the pot or “equity” in that spot is (415 – 10) x .8199 = $332.06 after subtracting the rake of $10. To win that $332.06 you only had to invest $200, so your (very simplified) expected return on investment (ROI) is $132.06 … but that’s in the long run! Poker is a sum-0 game, which means in these preflop all-in pots, it’s an 100% return (your $200 plus another $205 on top) or 0%.
Let’s say your opponent gets lucky and a ten falls on the river, giving him a “set” of tens (three of a kind) vs. your unimproved pair of jacks. That would be an example of extreme “variance.” The thought process of a professional or expert player after taking that “bad beat” would absolutely not be, “I should have folded my jacks in that spot because I lost the hand” rather, “I’m glad that I got my money across the line in such a huge positive expected value situation (EV+) and that I have such a loose player directly to my right at this poker table.”
In this and the following advanced-strategy articles you’ll learn to think in big blinds and base your decisions on reasonable assessments of our opposition and the strength of your holding vs. his or her entire possible range of hands rather than a random assumption of only one hand you think the opponent might hold in that specific instance.
This was a simple way of analyzing that poker hand, but in reality, you won’t know exactly what your opponent holds; with a 9.2% range he could be on ATo (ace ten off-suit), a pair of eights or even pocket aces (AA). However, if you continue hanging out with us here at www.winnerinaweek.com, you’ll learn how to correctly put your opponent on an entire range. Concerning exact EV calculations, you must always consider the probability that your opponent will fold (your so-called “fold equity” abbreviated below as “FE”), and you should also have a decent idea of where your break-even equity percentage is when the opponent never folds any hands in the range you assume she or he is either raising and/or calling. For this we’ve created many calculators to make complicated EV analyses very easy for you. All you have to do is input the yellow cells in our downloadable Excel calculators, and our formulas do the rest for you.
Here’s a detailed EV analysis of an all-in move vs. a loose player (you are the “Hero” or “H” in the screenshot below and your opponent is the “Villain” or “V”):
- If the villain never folds vs. your 3bet push for 20 BBs in a NL1000 poker game, you need 49.38% equity to break even in the long run when the casino is taking a maximum rake of $10 per pot. You see this percentage at the end of the “BE EQ w/Rake” (break-even equity % when you account for rake) in the screenshot of the equity calculator below.
- Based on the table above, you put him on an open-raise (2bet) PFR range of 14.9%, but you don’t expect him to call your all-in with all hands in that range.
- You assume he will fold only about half of those hands and call your 3bet push with a range of 7.5% (99+, AJ+, KQ).
- Versus a 3bet-calling range of 7.5%, you see in the table above that your equity will be 52.9% on average.
- Given the strength of your hand vs. his 2bet range, in this case you actually don’t need him to fold at all to be in a positive EV spot when you’re holding JJ, but assuming these PFR and calling ranges, you can expect to make $34.62 or 3.6 BBs every time you make this move vs. that player in that spot.
Principle: The wider your opponents open raise when you are sitting to their left, and the wider (i.e., “lighter”) they call you down when you make a small-stack 3bet push with JJ, the greater your EV and ROI will be in the long run.
For example, if the villain above were to raise you and call vs. your 3bet with every hand in his or her 14.9% 2bet range, your equity would be 62.9% and your fold equity would be 0% (i.e., you assume your opponent will never fold any hands in his initial open-raising range). In this case your EV would be much higher at $54.75 or 5.5 BBs:
And finally, let’s take a look at a situation where you are behind a tight opponent’s open-raise range when you are holding JJ and need the opponent to fold in order to be in a EV+ situation. One of the great features of our EV and equity calculator is that you see how often the villain has to fold in order for you to be in a +/-$0 situation; this is the “Min FE for EV=$0″ field in the bottom right corner of the calculator. The following screenshot shows that against a player who open raises at 3% and never folds vs. your reraise, your equity would only be 36.6% and you will loose 5.18 BBs on average every time you move all-in against him with JJ.
This screenshot shows you the exact same equity when called by the 3% range but includes fold equity, the percentage of his open range that you think he will fold vs. your 3bet all-in. In order for you to break even in this scenario, the opponent needs to fold 48.49% of his open range, for example a 6.2% range of 88+, AJs+, AQo+ and KQs and then only call your 3bet with the 3% range of JJ+, AK.
Postflop play when using the short-stack strategy is very simple because in the great majority of the hands you’ll play, you’ll already be all-in before the flop. In the cases where you’re not all-in preflop (e.g., where you open raised and nobody 3bet you), then you will have a question to answer on the flop.
The general short-stack strategy approach on the flop is “fit-or-fold,” which means if you flop top pair or an over pair, you push directly and typically check/fold everything else.
However, if you were the last preflop aggressor and raised in late position, when it’s checked to you, you generally want to push on the flop with all flush or open-ended straight draws; also consider going all-in (from time to time) when you flop over cards on non-suited, “rainbow” flops. The specifics of post-flop, short-stack strategy play will be covered in future poker-strategy blogs, but this should suffice for now.
Other Useful Tools for Maximizing Your Profit
Strategy Recap and What’s to Come for Our Members
The short-stack strategy (SSS) is not the most exciting strategy, because as you’ve seen above, you only play very tight ranges and are folding most of the hands you’ll be dealt. However, if you have the patience to play that tight, you will be able to take down pots from even expert players who may be far more experienced simply because the math is on your side. Especially when playing online poker where you can play multiple tables at the same time, this strategy is a great way to begin your poker career and/or continue your study of the game on a deeper level. Again, understanding the short-stack strategy is also crucial for optimal play in the late phases of poker tournaments.
For our members, the next e-mail you’ll receive will be for how to play when big stacked (80 to 150 BBs). Most players buy in at any live or online table for 100 BBs, and this strategy gives you the fundamental information you’ll need to be ahead of the curve. Keep an eye on your inbox, and feel free to comment to this page below and drop us a line in the meantime if you have any questions.