Surviving a Short Poker Stack

Posted by Charles, June 4, 2013


poker stack

When you first hit the poker tables you may feel ready to take on the world and be the next Phil Ivey. Yet even the best players using superb strategy and intuition will inevitably face a short poker stack at the table. While more inexperienced players may panic when their chips start to dwindle, it is something every player will know at one time or another. There are a number of strategies one can use to survive the short stack, and while there is a great diversity in these playing styles, there are a few rules that should govern any short stack strategy.

Tighten Your Hand Selection
The first step on your path back to prominence is to tighten up your hand selection pre-flop. When you first begin a game and your stack is still healthy, it's easy to splash around with any hand that comes your way. Yet as the game wears on and flops just don't go your way, you will have to be more selective with the cards you choose to put your money behind. This can lead to some hard decisions, and in the end your hand choice shouldn't divert too much from your normal style of play. Over the course of the game you'll have developed a table image (i.e. aggressive, loose), and while working against type could be a great way to trap your opponents, most hands won't put you in much of a position to trap anyone.

Play Your Opponents as Well as Your Cards
This should be true of any play you make at the online poker table, but is especially important when you're facing a short stack. Always consider your opponents when making bets from a short stack, as there are a lot of issues that you could face. If there's an aggressive player to your right that keeps splashing the pot with a 2x or 3x raise, that should definitely weigh in on your decision to call, raise or fold. Are you confident you could chase these players out with a bet? Would you call a re-raise? How much of your stack are you willing to commit to this hand? It's a bit of a minefield, but it is one you'll have to navigate if you hope to get back to a healthy chip level.

Stay Aware of Your Stack
Another piece of advice that you would be wise to use at all times is to be mindful of precisely how many chips remain in your stack, as well as the current pot. This should be simpler in an online poker setting than a live game, but it's still easy to ignore this information when you're in the middle of a hand. Yet the importance of knowing what the stakes of each hand are cannot be oversold, particularly when a player is low on chips. Weigh the bet you will have to make to continue in a hand against the total amount of chips you have, as well as the total in the pot. Are you getting good odds on your investment? Would you be confident chasing the hand to the end knowing you'll have to commit even more of your stack? If it comes down to it, would you be willing to shove all of your chips in with this hand? These are all important things to consider before you so much as call the blinds in a hand while short stacked.

Don't Get Crazy, but Don't Be Afraid to Go Big
When watching their stack dwindle, most players fall into one of two categories. Either they decide to take the "cowboy" approach and bet wildly in an effort to go out in a blaze of glory, or they opt for the "turtle" method, wherein they don't put in a dime and watch their chips slowly erode away. Obviously, there are huge issues with both strategies, so it is wise to find an option that combines both. There's no shame in holding out for a stronger hand, but as your chips start to fall, you'll want to make a move before you have too few to make any kind of difference.

Move Fast to Chase off the Fish
When playing from a short stack, it is in your best interest to end each hand quickly and decisively. As you've run through most of the chips, you won't be able to scare people off of made hands on the turn or river. As such, you'll want to bet big early to drive away your competitors and steal a few blinds here and there. While grinding your way back to prominence isn't as fun or glamorous as tripling up on a pair of pocket aces, it is a tried and true strategy that should be in every player's arsenal.

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