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The Short Stackers’ Bread And Butter Play

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Short StackQuite a few short stackers play in the $2-$4 and higher online 6-max no-limit games. Many of them play a strategy that seems likely to me to be profitable. I think a decent chunk of their profit comes from a play that I see them make repeatedly that I think many full-stacked regulars don’t handle very well. Here it is:

It’s a fourhanded $2-$4 6-max game on FullTiltPoker. The cutoff folds. The button, with an $80 stack, has 7 :heart: 3 :heart: . He raises to $10 and wins the blinds.

I think a lot of these short stackers are stealing more than their share of blinds.

Theoretically speaking, it should be harder for a short stacker to steal the blinds from the button than it is for a full stacker. Short stacks blunt positional advantage, so the out of position blind players should be able to defend more frequently.

For instance, say you’re in the big blind in a $2-$4 game with a $400 stack. Consider two scenarios. First, a strong player with $400 opens for $14 on the button and the small blind folds. Second, a good short stacker with $80 opens for $10 on the button and the small blind folds.

Overall, the second scenario is significantly more favorable for you, and you should be able to play a wider range of hands profitably. Apart from the fact that it’s $10 to call in the first scenario and only $6 in the second (a not at all insignificant difference), the short stacker will have less positional leverage and many fewer opportunities to outplay you postflop.

In practice, it appears that many full-stacked regulars don’t alter their blind strategy much between the two scenarios, and they tend to err on the conservative side. That fact allows short stackers to slurp up far more than their share of the blind money.

When you’re threehanded and playing effectively 20BB stacks, theoretically speaking, the money should be flying. There should be liberal three-betting and four-bet shoving, and liberal flop check-shoving and calling. The blind money is large enough compared to the stack sizes that you can frequently get your stack in “light” (I put it in quotes because it only seems light to many of us) and still get an overlay.

I don’t see this when I play. When someone gets it in against a short stacker, I tend to see two “legitimate” hands more frequently than I should. Basically, I think players in the big blind should use the following plays more often when short stackers open on the button.

Three-Betting Light

If an $80 stack opens a wide range of hands for $10 on the button in a $2-$4 game, you can three-bet to about $22 with impunity with a reasonably wide range as well. First of all, I’ve noticed that many short stackers fold too frequently to a small three-bet, so you can exploit that theoretical error by making the play more often.

Beyond that, if the short stacker is betting 1/8 of his stack with a wide range on the button (as many do), you can three-bet a wide range of hands for value, and the bottom of this “value” range might seem light at first. For instance, in full-stacked play one might consider three-betting with a hand like A-8 suited to be a “light” three-bet because presumably you do so with the intention of usually folding it to a four-bet. But against a short-stacker opening a wide range on the button, three-betting with A-8 suited should be a very standard play. It’s a raise for value, and it’s a hand you should feel comfortable getting it in with should the short stacker shove on you – provided the short stacker shoves often over a three-bet as he should.

The other thing about three-betting to $22 is that it leaves you room to fold to a shove with the worst hands in your three-betting range. If you’re three-betting with the right range, the short stacker should know that you’ll fold sometimes to a shove, but usually you’ll call, and most of the hands the short stacker opens on the button will be significantly behind your calling range if they shove them over your three-bet.

The bottom line of this three-betting strategy is that it will prevent the short stacker from robbing you blind of your blinds.

Calling And Making A Play On The Flop

Some short stackers play well preflop but get a little soft once the flop comes. You can take advantage of them by flat calling the small button raises, planning to make some moves postflop. The two simplest moves you can make are check-shoving and donk betting.

Check-shove bluffing is the natural play against short stackers who continuation bet too often. Say they’re opening 50 percent of their hands on the button and betting nearly every flop when checked to. You can destroy that strategy by calling frequently from the blind and check-shoving a lot of flops. You generally won’t even be risking that much because when called you will often have decent equity, and the stacks are short to begin with. For instance, with a hand like Q-T I would often flat call preflop and check-shove a lot of flops. I’ll win many pots uncontested, and when called I will often have at least six outs.

Other short stackers tend to play a sort of fit-or-fold strategy once they see a flop. They check behind a lot when they miss, hoping to check the hand down. Naturally, check-shoving doesn’t work against that strategy because the short stacker’s betting range is strong. But donk betting works instead. You can fire out for half the pot at a lot of flops and win more than your share. And sometimes when you check the flop and your opponent checks it back, you have an almost automatic win if you bet about half-pot on the turn.

Don’t Let The Short Stackers Rob You

For the most part, the short stackers aren’t getting it in light from under the gun in a 6-max game. But a lot of them know they can open light on the button and get away with it. Don’t let them. Fire back at them either by three-betting preflop or by flat-calling and making plays postflop. If they know how to play their stack size well, you won’t really get an edge on them by doing this. But you will even it up and cut into their profit. Don’t be a soft target for the short stackers’ bread and butter.

[This article appeared in the December 31, 2008 issue (Vol. 21, No. 26) of Card Player.]

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4 Responses to “The Short Stackers’ Bread And Butter Play”

@ Mon Jan 05, 2009 09:18:17 PM

Didn’t you write this earlier too?

@ Tue Jan 06, 2009 12:40:06 AM

@Nico: Check “Related Posts”, just above comments. :)

It’s a good article though and I’m glad to see in it CP. I gather Ed’s on a bit of vacation while finishing the book.

Ed Miller
@ Tue Jan 06, 2009 06:32:07 AM


Sometimes I reedit and republish in Card Player articles initially written here. I also publish all my Card Player articles on here as they come out. So sometimes if you’re a regular reader you’ll see some stuff twice. The second version is always edited, and sometimes significantly edited, so there might be something new in it that wasn’t there before.


Ya Sunny and I have been grinding hard on the book the last month or so. So just for this bit I’ve been writing more for the book and less here. This month I should have several exciting updates about the book for you guys.

@ Wed Jan 07, 2009 03:17:50 PM


Looking forward to anything about the new book. I’ll definitely be pre-ordering my copy.

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