Things to Keep in Mind Facing Short Stacks in No Limit Holdem

Jace Thomas

Players on a short stack can be some of your most frustrating opponents in no limit, simply because the complex style of play you have developed is pretty much useless against people without a lot of money in front of them. No limit is largely about the threat of taking someone’s money; when an opponent is short, that threat is small or nonexistent, since they have little to lose. A brief overview of some adjustments you have to consider making when you’re in a hand with a short stack [especially if you're heads up]:

1) Forget about fancy raising plays with draws. Raising with draws, checkraising with draws, betting the turn after you call the flop and your opponent checks – forget all of them. If your opponent has any type of reasonable hand and is short stacked, chances are you’ll be called – and almost all of the above mentioned moves are only successful because of the decent potential for you to take down the pot with just the bet.

2) Tighten up preflop against raises from the short stack. Especially with smaller drawing hands, just fold to preflop raises. Drawing hands are basically useless against a player who is likely to move all in on the flop. Stick to pairs and big cards, and don’t be afraid to reraise with these hands to isolate the short stack if they’ve been pulling the same trick a lot in recent rounds.

3) Bluffing isn’t going to work nearly as often. See #1.

4) Don’t make the mistake of connecting short stack with bad player. I see a lot of people give loose calls to bets from short stacks that they would never consider making in normal circumstances. The most common scenario goes something like this: Player ‘x’ has about $85 in a 2-5 NL game and raises to $20 preflop. Everyone folds to Player ‘Y’ in the BB who calls and flops bottom pair. Player ‘Y’ Checks, Player ‘X’ goes all in, and player ‘Y’ calls like a shot – even though he would almost NEVER call bottom pair at less than 2-1. If you sense a short stack is desperate, fine. But just because someone is low on chips, don’t completely abandon your usual calling standards. Short stacks get big pairs with the same frequency as players on large stacks.

5) If you’re to the right of a short stack who is tossing around some chips preflop, consider using them for a ’springboard’ raise when you hold AA or KK [even QQ - 10 10 and possibly AK works for this as well] in early position. Basically, you open for a smallish raise, enticing the short stack to reraise all in. More often than not, given the phenomenon described in #4, you’ll get players after the short stack calling, and then you can come over the top with a massive three bet, either taking down the pot right there or trapping another opponent into a call at unfavorable odds.

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