Short Stack Poker Strategy – Tournament Tips For A Short Stack

Ending up short-stacked in a poker tournament is a situation many players fear. However, there is a way to survive this situation: Short stack poker strategy. You simply must know how to play optimally with a short stack, if you want to be a successful poker tournament player. As long as you have any chips left, you can still survive and rise again.

You have probably heard the famous term “a chip and a chair”. It originates from the World Series of Poker Main event in 1982, when Jack Straus thought he had lost all his chips, but he found a single $500 chip and was allowed to continue playing. He ended up winning the whole tournament! So, as long as you have a chip and a chair, you can still win.

Actually, short stack strategy is much more simple and easy than deep stack strategy. A short stack in a poker tournament can be defined as 25 big blinds or less. Playing with a 25 big blind stack is quite different from playing with a 10 big blind stack.

The first topic in today´s post will be playing with a very short stack of 10 big blinds or less. Next, I will talk about playing with a 12-25 big blind stack, which allows much more options than playing with a shorter stack. I will also discuss short-stacked tournaments, in which all players are short-stacked.

How To Play With 10 Big Blinds Or Less? – Go All-In.

In tournament poker, you need to change your range according to the stack you play with. There is not only one right range for each stack size, though. As usual in poker, you need to adjust. The exception is short-stacked play. If you have 10 big blinds or less, you can use the Nash Push/Fold chart, which you can find online for free. When you have less than 10 bb left, you don´t have other options available than to push all-in or fold.

The chart tells you which hands to push in each position and stack size up to 10 bb. You can also find push/call charts for short-stacked heads-up play on the same website. I do n´t get any comission from the website that keeps up the Nash Push/Fold chart, I just wanted to tell you where to find it, since the chart is very useful. I actually have a printed version on the wall in front of my desk, like many tournament players.

I Decorated My Nash Push/Fold Chart With Washi Tape

Pushing hands according to the Nash Push/Fold chart does NOT mean, that you will win every time. It simply means you will win money in a long run; you will win more often than you lose, so it is a + EV (expected value) move.

You can not limp with this stack size, because you do not have fold equity. Many weak players with 10 big blinds or less try to limp into the pot, which is a mistake. Even if you had pocket aces and you limp hoping other players to raise, it´s a terrible play. You are just giving your opponents a chance to hit the flop for free. Min raising is not any better. Just go all-in with the hands you should go all-in with, and fold the rest.

When you have a hand you should push, you just have to make the move and go all-in. The last thing you want is losing all your chips by blinding out. You may be called and be busted out of the tournament, but you may also double up.

What if someone has already raised before you? The hands you can 3-bet shove or call all-in with can be calculated using Hold´Em Resources.

12 – 25 Big Blinds – A Great Stack Size For A 3-Bet Shove

Having around 12 to 25 big blinds allows you much more options than having 10 big blinds or less. You can open raise hands all-in, but you can also just open raise, call and 3-bet. Especially when you play on the blinds, you can 3-bet shove against aggressive players with this stack size. Which hands should you 3-bet with? Against aggressive players opening from late position, any pair, suited Aces, Ace Ten offsuit or better and suited connectors (T9s+, J9s+, Q9s+, K9s+) work well as hands to 3-bet shove with.

Against a loose player it is also possible to defend the big blind with just calling with hands, that are not strong enough to 3-bet shove. Unsuited connectors that flop well, such as JTo and QTo are great hands to defend the big blind with.

If the blinds are tight and do n´t 3-bet a lot, you can even min raise steal with hands like K5s or Q7s. Against tight players on the blinds, you can even steal the blinds when you have only around 15 big blinds left!

Small 3-Bets And Limpinggreen-tournament-chips

When you have around 20 big blinds, you can make some moves playing very short-stacked does n´t allow. When you 3-bet with 20 big blinds, most of the time you should 3-bet all-in. However, in some situations you can just min 3-bet, either as a bluff or hoping to get more value for a premium hand. You may want to exploit a loose opponent, who folds to 3-bets too much, by making a small 3-bet as a bluff.

You can also min 3-bet with a premium hand, hoping for a call or a 4-bet. Opponents who want to see the flop, but would fold to a 3-bet shove, may happily call a small 3-bet. You also want to encourage a loose 4-better to 4-bet by min 3-betting your nuts.

Limping on the button or small blind with around 20 big blinds left, when the players on the blinds are very aggressive, is a profitable option. You have a hand that plays well, and you want to see the flop, but your hand is not strong enough to call a 3-bet. Let´s say you have JTs on the button, and the blinds 3-bet shove a lot. You can just limp with this hand, and call a small raise from the blinds.

The same move can also be done on the small blind, if the big blind is an aggressive player who likes to 3-bet shove. If the big blind just raises every time you limp on the small blind, you can limp 3-bet all-in with a hand that would be profitable to push against the big blind. That way you make more profit against this kind of player, than you would by just going all-in first.

Short-Stacked Tournaments

Some tournaments start short-stacked, or most of the players get short-stacked quickly because of the blind structure. Many hyper turbo MTT tournaments are this kind of tournaments. Hyper turbos with an opportunity to rebuy and add-on are common. For add-on tournaments the best strategy is to register when the rebuy period is ending, just before the add-on. You should just get the buy-in and the add-on.

The reason you should not register for these tournaments from the start is, that you just increase variance with all the gambling weak players and rapidly rising blinds in these tournaments. You might end up having to rebuy several times, which will cost you several buy-ins. Of course there are many weak players in these tournaments before the add-on, but it is still not very profitable to play these tournaments from the start.

When you get the buy-in and add-on, you typically start playing with just around 15 big blinds. When you play these tournaments on micro stakes, there are many weak players who have no idea how to play with a short stack. Almost everyone have a short stack, and they try to limp with weak hands to see the flop. Of course, you should not allow the limper to do this, but punish them by shoving all-in instead.

You have a big edge in these tournaments, even if you just push hands all-in as instructed in the Nash Push/Fold chart. The variance in hyper turbos is higher, but because of the simple strategy required in them, they are one of the easiest poker tournaments to beat.

Hyper turbos are my favorite games on days when I feel like my brain is not functioning well, and my ADD symptoms are taking over! Hyper turbos are a great option for those brain-foggy days also because they do n´t last very long.

Another very popular form of short stack tournament is Spins or Spin and Go. They are 3-handed hyper turbo sit and gos with a random prize pool. They normally start with a 25 big blind stack. You can play Spins on Party Poker. Spins have a very high variance, though, so pay attention to good bankroll management.


Final Neuroatypical Thoughts On Short Stack Poker

On many poker books you can read something like this: “Do n´t tilt about being busted from a tournament. If you had n´t ended up short-stacked, you would n´t been forced to go all-in in the first place.” I find this kind of annoying. Sure, you can mess up and play a hand horribly wrong, and end up short-stacked because of that. But you can also play perfectly well and just get unlucky in a bad beat poker hand, ending up short-stacked.

You can end up short-stacked in a tournament despite playing well, it happens quite a lot. In some tournaments, like hyper turbos, all players are short-stacked. Regardless of why you ended up with a short stack, short stack poker strategy is the key to survival.

With 10 big blinds or less, your only option is to go all-in or fold. Nash Push/Fold chart is a great help for deciding which hands to push. With around 12-25 big blinds left, you have much more options. You can go all-in, open raise, call and 3-bet. 3-bet shoving with this stack size is especially profitable.

Against tight blinds you can steal the blinds by min raising with even just 15 big blinds left. With around 20 big blinds you can also min 3-bet as a bluff against players who fold to 3-bet too much. You can also min 3-bet with premium hands against players who want to see the flop, but will not call if you 3-bet all-in. This also works against players who like to 4-bet bluff.

With 20 big blinds you can also limp on the button and small blind against aggressive 3-betting opponents, when you want to see the flop. If your hand is strong enough to go all-in on the small blind, against a big blind who raises every time you limp on the small blind, you can limp 3-bet all-in.

When you still have 12-25 big blinds left, you may want to use these different short stack strategies to avoid ending up with 10 big blinds or less. If your stack gets that short, your only moves are folding or going all-in.

Do you find it easier to play with a short stack or a deep stack? Let me know about your experiences with playing short-stacked in the comment section below.

Comments 14

  • Poker is my favorite card game, and I believe that’s the only one I know how to play. I’ve been playing poker online but only for fun. I did find myself a few times in short stack situations where I couldn’t do much except go all in every turn until my stack either rises or it drains completely. However, I never went this much in-depth with short stack strategies. Cool article. Very helpful.

    • Hi Ivan,

      I´m happy to hear you found my article helpful. I recommend checking the Nash Push/Fold chart, in case you find yourself short-stacked on online poker tournament again. It´s free to access the chart online on the link I posted on this article. It´s super easy to just check on the chart which hands you should go all-in with, when your stack gets really short. Thank you for leaving a comment!

  • First of all, that is a lot of information to process for a complete beginner. Sure I’ve played poker some times at a night out with friends and small bets but to met it has always been just a social situation and a game of luck. I have couple friends that hove played somewhat seriously and they talked about this kind of stuff and strategies all the time. Needles to say I always lost to them eventually if we played together. All that said I just want to learn a bit more about the game so I don’t seem like the easiest target to rip off but I don’t have any other ambitions. Poker is definitely a game of strategy, patience and social skill. I lack the patience part :D. Still I managed to learn something, thanks!

    • Hi Jukka,

      That´s true, there is a lot of information on this post. Some of the strategies mentioned above are not even beginner´s strategies, but rather intermediate strategies, like the limp and min 3-bet tricks you can do with a 20 bb stack. I´m happy to hear you still learned something.

      For a complete beginner in poker, I would say the essential strategies to study first would be hand selection (range), odds and outs and bet sizes. I have written posts on those topics too, so check out some older posts on this website if you´re interested.

      I´m not very patient either, btw. 😀 I would say patience is not necessary in poker, you just need to work hard and have a passion for the game. If you have a passion, you are able to put in the work and study the strategies that make you a winning player.

  • I know very little, actually nothing to be honest, about poker, though I go to Vegas like once a month because Vegas is about 3 hrs away from where I live. When I go to Vegas for the entertainments, like magic shows, concerts and so on. I can’t gamble yet. The casinos here won’t allow anybody under 21 to gamble.

    Your post on poker is informative and I learned a few things that I never knew before. Tell me what’s the normal amount of money one has to have to play poker? I am not talking about those professional poker players, but for someone who’s just starting out. I would consider poker game when I reach 21 in 3 years .

    • Oh, you´re so lucky living that close to Vegas! Because I just love Vegas.

      When you are just starting out with poker, you do n´t need a lot of money. For online poker, you can start by depositing just around $50 and play $1 buy-in tournaments first.

      If you want to play live poker, you need a little more, but not too much. The smallest buy-in tournaments in Vegas are around $65, I have played those when I visited Vegas. 😀 There are many beginning players in those small tournaments in the Vegas casinos, so the skill level is not too high. If you want to try cash games, I think in Vegas the smallest buy-in for a cash table is $100.

      So if you have around $50 to $100 to spend, you can start poker, either online or live. Thank you for your comment!

  • Here were many good advice, yes, you still have opportunities you can utilize even if you are short stack, as you write. So no need to give up or go grazy without trying our best. Of course, it is more comfortable to play when you have a full stack, compared to the short stack.

    And, yes, bad luck you can have no matter how good you play. Fortunately, it will go ok / well over time if you know what to do ..

    • That´s right, you can run really bad short term, even if you´re a great player. You just need to keep in mind, that you will win in a long run, if you do things right. It is sure not fun being short-stacked, when other players have a big pile of chips, but with the short stack strategies you can take an advantage of your situation. For example, you can 3-bet all-in, which you can´t do with a deep stack.

  • Very informative post I personally don’t know anything about poker. I always thought that in order to play poker you needed a lot of money so I did not even bother learning about it.

    • Thank you! Yeah, that might be a common belief, that you need a lot of money to start playing poker, maybe because the world-class players earn millions. But that´s not the case, you can buy-in for both online tournaments and cash games with $1. Actually the smallest buy-in online tournaments have a buy-in of 1 cent.

  • I’m a casual player and I found the short-stack strategy interesting. I’ll give it a try next game and see what happens.

    • Happy to hear that! Please do try these strategies when you play short-stacked. Just keep in mind all winning poker strategies help you win in a long run (but you can still lose short term), so you need to keep playing for a while until you see what works for you.

  • I usually see the Hong Kong movie talking about playing poker game and just feel so interesting, Honestly, I thought the most important to win the game is only” Lucky”, but after reading your post, some strategic methods are also important too

    • Hi Charles,

      No, poker is a game of skill. There is luck involved too, but the skill aspect is higher. So if you are good, you can win money in a long run. That makes poker different from other casino games such as blackjack. Ok, maybe you can make some profit in blackjack too, but very marginal profit compared to poker.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *