Texas Hold’em Short Stack Strategy

George | April 21, 2010

Short Stack Strategy (SSS), it’s one of those terms you will hear and read about a lot in the beginning of your poker career. It’s known to be one of the simplest poker strategies to play, but even more important, it’s one of the safest possible strategies to apply, hence very hard to beat for your opponents.

Because of its simplicity, applying this beginner poker strategy will help many players building up their initial bankroll. Most poker coaches will advice Short Stack Strategy for beginner No Limit Texas Hold’em players.

The Principles of Short Stack Strategy

First of all you should know that Short Stack Strategy can only be applied when playing full ring games with 7 players or more. As soon as a table reaches less than 7 players, you will have to get up and find yourself a new table to play at.

Short Stack StrategyAnother thing to watch out for is for players who also apply Short Stack Strategy to their games as well. Obvious, your winning changes will vanish the more players use this tactic when playing poker.

As I already mentioned before, playing the Short Stack Strategy is very simple. Once you’ve found a table that suits you, you will have to buy-in for the minimum table amount (which usually is 20 big blinds).

Now that you know this, you should not have any problems recognizing SSS players, as they will always buy-in for the minimum amount of money allowed at the table, just like you.

Since Short Stack Strategy is a very aggressive type of poker strategy, a rule of thumb is that you will never be calling. It’s either raise (including shoving all-in) or fold.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • It only works with No Limit Hold’em
  • Only sit down at full ring games with 7 or more players
  • Always buy-in for the minimum table amount
  • Only raise (all-in) or a fold (thus no calling)
  • Only play premium poker hands in the right position

Pre-Flop Starting Hand Requirements for SSS

There’s a safer way of applying the Short Stack Strategy, using the starting hands suggested by PokerStrategy.com, or you can take a little more risk by using the starting hands Phill Hellmuth wrote about in one of his poker books.

Phil HellmuthPersonally I’d recommend the following way, especially if you’re a beginner, and maybe play a somewhat wider range of starting hands once you seriously get the hang of it.

You can read a short description about both Short Stack Strategy methods below.

PokerStrategy.com recommends playing cards starting at pockets 7’s and up, but please take in account your position at the table and any actions players in front of you might have made.

SSS When Nobody has Opened

Raise any of the following hands:

  • Early position JJ – AA, and AK
  • Middle position 99 – AA, and AK AQ
  • Late position 77 – AA, and AT AJ AQ AK KQ

Your default raise must be a raise of four times the big blind, including an extra big blind for every other poker player who has limped in.

SSS When Someone has Raised

Move all-in with any of the hands in the following situations:

  • 1 raise ahead of you JJ – AA, and AK
  • 2 or more raises ahead of you – KK AA
  • when your opening gets re-raised – TT – AA, and AK

Short Stack Strategy Guide

Now, lets briefly talk about the more aggressive SSS approach Phill Hellmuth came up with. He basically tells you to shove all-in before the flop with any hand in the range of 22 to AA, plus AQ and better. The main reason for this can be found in the probability these type of hands will occur.

I would highly recommend Phil Hellmuth’s, because once you’re getting better at the game of poker, you should start and learn some more poker strategies, maybe the Big Stack Strategy, besides SSS. Until then… you’d better be on the safe side! If you really want to know what the poker pro recommends, I suggest you buy his poker book “Play Poker Like the Pros” or do some research on the Internet.

Let’s carry on… as you have now learned the basics principles of how to apply the Short Stack Strategy before the flop is dealt. In case you have moved all-in and one of your opponents decided to call you, you can sit back and relax. You’re perfectly fine since you’re only playing premium hands, and in case of a call you’ll end up having the best hand most of the times.

Post-Flop Short Stack Strategy

But what should you do after the flop, in case you didn’t shove all your chips to the middle, but when you only made a standard raise as described above? Your consecutive play completely depends on the cards being dealt on the flop.

Did the flop bring you a monster (flush or a straight), or did you hit top – or middle pair? Maybe you didn’t hit anything at all, but are you now holding a drawing hand – either a flush draw or an open ended straight draw – after the flop? Of course, any over pair is great too, even if the flop didn’t improve your pocket hand.

Playable Post-Flop SSS Hands

  • Flush or better
  • Straight
  • Over Pair
  • Top Pair (only when you raised pre-flop and your kicker is at least a Jack)
  • Middle Pair (only when you raised pre-flop)
  • Flush Draw (only when you raised pre-flop)
  • Open Ended Straight Draw (only when you raised pre-flop)

As you can see between the brackets, you will have to apply an even more conservative way of playing after the flop, in case you haven’t raised before the flop (thus only when positioned on the big blind). Basically, without a pre-flop raise you will not continue to play hands that still need to improve, so you should only play top pair (Jack or a better kicker), and over pairs or better hands.

For all of the cases mentioned above, applying Short Stack Strategy to your game simply means that you should continue playing the hand. Are you holding anything worse, then make sure to back up and fold – unless you are given the option to see the turn card for free.

SSS Actions After the Flop

  • When nobody has opened ahead of you Bet about 2/3 of the pot (if 2/3 of the pot is more than half you stack, move all-in)
  • When facing a bet ahead of you Move all-in
  • When your opening gets re-raised Move all-in

There’s one important exception that allows you to continue playing the hand when you didn’t hit on the flop. In case you are heads-up (meaning that you are playing against just one opponent) you can make a bluff by betting 2/3 of the pot. You either pick up the pot at once, or you give up and fold when your opponent doesn’t back up.

SSS Actions After the Turn

  • When someone has called your bet on the flop Move all-in

You have now learned the basic principles of SSS, including how you should apply this strategy before – and after the flop. The only remaining ingredient for a profitable poker career is bankroll management.

If you do everything we have written in this short guide, plus apply proper bankroll management, then you should soon enough be ready to play in higher limits!