Die, Shortstack! Die! Part 2

Last month I raised the issue of why cash game players who deliberately employ a short stack strategy can be a pain in the bankroll. Part one of my article looked at the advantages of short stack play – especially if you are either inexperienced at the blind level you are playing, or a significantly worse player than your opponents and trying to get a handle on how they play.

In this second part, I concentrate on how to play against short stacks. First of all, I’m not talking about those players who are so incompetent that the best way for them to avoid losing too much money is to buy in for the minimum and keep losing it serially until Mr Bank Manager he say “no”. Those guys are welcome to the party any time, and I presume that little strategy advice is needed to outgun them.

No, there’s a growing section of the poker community deliberately buying in for the minimum as a money making strategy. Playing against these types requires special attention. Let’s look at the differences.

First, bluffing against them becomes much less of an art form. There is no question of putting in a bet against them, or even calling a potentially speculative continuation bet from them on the flop with the intention of betting on the turn if a scare card comes. The chances are that they will be so close to being all in, your bet won’t scare them at all. Bluffs against this opponent will be black or white: either they have it or they don’t; and the chances are they do, because an intrinsic part of the short stack strategy is to play ultra tight – only to go into hands with good values.

Second, implied odds go completely out of the window. Against bad players you might find yourself calling a pot sized bet profitably with a flush draw knowing that they will pay you off with their Aces or top pair if you hit. Not so if their bet puts them all in. Then, it’s simply a case of odds and outs, and you’ll need to muster all your late-in-tournament skills to make the correct decision.

Third, making a speculative, field-thinning raise might not have the desired effect. Rolf Slotboom’s short stack strategy in his Omaha book specifically advocates sitting to the right of an aggressive player so that when he raises and others call, you can reraise all in pre-flop if you have a good enough hand. An aggressive player thrives on these preflop raises in order to make their opponents’ decisions more expensive later in the hand. If “shortie” repops it pre-flop, that changes the complexion of the hand completely.

Clearly, a significant change in strategy is required to combat these gremlins of the green felt. Much of your strategy should, I believe, depend on whether you have position on them during the hand, and the style of the other players on the table. For example, if you have immediate position on the short stack, and your targets (the weaker, deeper stacked opponents) are behind you, then you’ll be squeezed between them in the case where the short stack puts himself all in. You’d have to have a very good drawing hand to flat call here – it’s possible you have a live one behind you who just might fancy the gamble – in which case you might have to stick it all in only being on the draw. Equally, when you have a decent made hand and the short stack pushes in front of you, your call might scare off your target behind. Clearly, being in between the short stack and your target is not ideal, and a seat change might be in order.

The other extreme, of having the short stack immediately behind you, can also be problematic. If you raise and they reraise pre-flop, the “gamblers” behind them might decide that this is not a hand to go with. Once again, even if they do, the amount of play left in the hand is significantly reduced by virtue of there being more money in the pot, and quite possibly a protected main pot (a protected pot is one where at least one of the contenders is already all in, and thus will show down to the river no matter what happens).

Overall, having a good short stacked player at your table does limit your options, whether you’re an aggressive or tight/tricky player. On balance, it’s better to have the short stack behind you. That way, you’ll see how other players react to them when they commit to the pot. For example, if you flop a monster like a set, you can have a big pay day if you check to the short stack, who commits with a high pair. You’re hoping then that a deeper player commits with a lousy draw or pair behind him, then you can come over the top with your set and the chances are the lousy drawer will feel pot committed.

As a general rule, whether you’re a tight or a loose player, your strategy should involve concentrating on how to get your targets’ money given that there’s the proverbial spanner at the table – either behind you or in front of you.

Although short stacks can be a drag, they’ll teach you to sharpen up your play, especially your awareness of position and relative position. They’ll also give you a lot of all in pot odds decisions, and usually at a much cheaper rate than those rare final table tournament appearances (where you have to make this type of decision regularly). Who knows? Maybe the practice will do you some good!