Poker Wiki

A short stack is a stack of chips that is much smaller (in currency units, not the number of chips) than the others at the table. The term short stack may also be used in adjective form, as in "Mary is short-stacked at the table". The opposite of a short stack is a deep stack.

A short stack usually only has meaning in the context of a big bet poker game, either no-limit or pot-limit. A short-stacked player in a tournament situation is in danger of busting out. Short-stacked players in a ring game often have some advantage as they will usually be all-in early and be able to see the entire hand without having to make any difficult decisions on the later streets.

Short stack or deep stack?

In Getting Started in Hold 'em, Ed Miller suggests that NLHE beginners intentionally buy in for a "small stack" (less than 25 big blinds) and play a simplified strategy that focuses on waiting for strong starting hands and using all-in play to avoid tough decisions on the turn and river.

Reasons to play a short-stack strategy as a beginner:

  • This strategy allows beginners to achieve a positive (but not maximal) EV with very little preparation. The relevant section in GSIH is about ten pages.
  • Short stacks reduce the number of tough decisions that no-limit beginners are faced with -- in particular, there are virtually no turn and river decisions.
  • No doubt a short stack reduces the implied odds that its owner can get from hitting monster hands, but it also reduces the implied odds that he is offering to his opponents. Beginners will tend to pay off better hands more often than they get paid off by worse hands.
  • You may wish to play short-stacked as you move up stakes in order to assess the skill level of the game without taking the worst of it. (See No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice.)
  • You may wish to play short-stacked as you enter a new game for the same reason. (See No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice.)
  • Micro-stakes don't exist in brick-and-mortar poker, so you may not be able to learn to play deep stacks at stakes that are comfortable for you.

Reasons to avoid a short-stack strategy:

  • Without a doubt, experienced players playing against weaker postflop opponents will sacrifice expected value by play this strategy unneccessarily. Their reduced implied odds will negate their superior postflop play. Miller clearly intends GSIHE and this specific strategy primarily for beginners, so experienced and skilled players shouldn't apply it without reason.
  • Deep-stack postflop play is largely learned through experience. The way to gain that experience is by playing deep stacks. With online micro-stakes, any player can buy in for $10 or less and play a standard 100 big blind stack.
  • With very little implied odds, you must play extremely tight. This is frankly pretty boring, even for players who realize that solid play means folding most of their starting hands. It's emotionally draining to have to fold 55 from under the gun then realize that you would have quarupled up by flopping a set.
  • In the short term short stacking is much more risky compared to playing a deeper stack of equal value at smaller stakes. Even pocket aces will not win every time. While good short stack stategy will usually pay off over time on account of the law of averages there is still the risk of substantial loss if the cards don't go your way whilst playing for large stakes.
  • Winning meaningful amounts of money by constantly play short stacked in live play is not very feasible since once you double up your short stack you must either continue play with the larger stack or leave the game (ratholing is illegal under the principles of table stakes). Moving between live tables so as to be able to keep playing short stacked would be very time-consuming even in Las Vegas let alone places where there aren't many live poker tables. This limitation does not apply to online poker where shifting between tables is easy.

A good post on why playing shortstacked is better:

"100 bb buy in: Winrate: X PTBB/100 StDev: 40 PTBB/100 Bankroll: 800*ln®/X

20 bb buy in: Winrate: Y PTBB/100 StDev: 20 PTBB/100 Bankroll: 200*ln®/Y

The whole point of playing shortstacked is that it gives higher risk-adjusted returns.

With $7,000, a 5 PTBB/100 winrate, and a .005 risk of ruin, a deepstacked player will be forced to play at $3/$6 by bankroll constraints. A shortstacked player can play $10/20 NL. At those limits, the deepstacked player would earn $60 per 100 hands and the shortstacked player would earn $200 per 100 hands.

Ponder this: You have a $100 buy in. You sit in a game against 8 other players who are worse than you. What blinds optimize your absolute winrate? With blinds of $0.01/$0.02, you’ll be deepstacked but earning very little. With blinds of $3/6, you’ll be earning significantly more, despite being shortstacked.

Conclusion: If your deepstacked winrate (measured in PTBB/100) is N times higher than your shortstacked winrate (where N is the ratio of your deepstacked standard deviation to your shortstacked standard deviation all squared), then play deepstacked. Otherwise, play shortstacked.

Considering that a winrate of 5 PTBB/100 is achievable with a shortstack strategy (tested up to $5/$10), you need to be winning more than 20 PTBB/100 deepstacked to justify playing deepstacked.

Additionally, there’s another relevant argument that I’ve omitted from my calculations. Because playing shortstacked is so formulaic, it’s relatively simple to play six tables at once, sextupling your hourly winrate. Playing deepstacked, it’s difficult to play many tables at once, especially at higher stakes."

The pedagogical issue

This is raw content, possibly from a cross-post licensed by its author, that needs to be cleaned up.

The following is the point of view of one wiki author, and by no means represents established consensus:

Upon reflection, I should probably try harder to articulate why this view, though not without merit, is in my opinion a suboptimal approach to learning NLHE:

(Snip excerpt.)

First, to reiterate, no one's saying that beginners should aim to spend the next 20 years and 500 thousand hands playing short stacks. It is indeed a crutch, and wise people use a crutch to support themselves until they've built up the ability to walk on their own.

Now, I'm not a trained educator, so I have to fall back on comparisons with poker to other more established disciplines with a similarly large body of knowledge. So let's look at how you might choose to go about learning Spanish, or how you'd learn to play piano.

Perhaps your goal is to become an expert in the language of Cervantes and Neruda. You might decide that the way to appreciate its beauties is to dive right into Don Quijote or at least into a daily newspaper. So you'd get a nice thick dictionary and possibly hire a tutor to explain some grammatical nuances, and if you didn't give up out of frustration eventually you'd get pretty good at reading written Spanish. Likewise, you could dive right into conversations or watching TV, and slowly you'd improve your listening comprehension.

But that's not what you find in an introductory Spanish class. Instead you find a controlled vocabulary and grammar, maybe 500 words and the present tense in a college semester. Although no one would argue that 500 words will make you a near-native speaker, it's enough to give you some benefit. Then if you're motivated, you'll move on to more advanced courses. You could certainly take on the whole language from the start, but most human beings learn from taking a smaller body of knowledge, reinforcing it, and then building it out incrementally.

Likewise, if you want to learn piano, you could pick up a score for the Rach 3 and pluck it out, note by note. With practice you might get pretty good. But a trained piano teacher isn't going to teach you that way; instead you're going to learn the basics like scales (thanks NLHE:TAP!) and simple songs. You won't be the life of the party playing "My Clever Pup" or "Yankee Doodle Drum", but the idea is that reinforcing the fundamentals will put you in great position should you decide to move forward.

So in other areas we accept that human beings don't thrive by attacking an entire body of knowledge. But for some reason, in poker gradualism will "subvert [the] learning process" and "cost you much in the long run." This isn't some minority opinion held by Pokey; this is the established consensus of the 2+2 NLHE forums!

Think about it: start with "Un Coca-Cola por favor, y uno, dos, tres cafés," and once you've experienced some success, you'll likely be motivated to press on to the Quijote.[1]

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