Why I Like Playing a Short Stack

I have played a fair amount of poker, this weekend, since I’ve got little else to do; I resolved to avoid work, this weekend, and I don’t know anybody, nearby, so I might as well play some cards. I had a very good night, on Friday, and again last night (cashed out with 18x and 26x my buy-ins, respectively). Saturday night, however, was not so hot, which reinforced my preference for playing just a bit short-stacked.

Generally, it’s not such a good idea to use the minimum buy-in (10x the big blind) – it’s easy to lose all of it, without playing badly, but it’s hard to catch up to other players at the table. When I have an option, I usually go for about 40-50 big blinds (40-50 BB), which makes me short-stacked, since most players will buy in for the max (usually 100 BB). This accomplishes several things:

  • It forces me to play tight and throw away hands I might be tempted to play, if I had lots of chips
  • It forces me to pay attention to the players, cards, bets, etc.
  • It forces me to play the players and not the cards – if you’re short-stacked and not trying to read your opponents, you’re toast.
  • It means that even a modest win – say, 5 BB – is a big one, given my stack size, which makes me feel like a winner, early, and keeps me from getting in a psychological hole. If I double-up, well, then I’ve caught up to the folks who did the max buy-in… and at their expense.

I don’t always win, playing a short stack, of course, but if I look back at my play over the last few months, I have good nights much more often starting with a modest stack (40-50 BB) than with a big stack (100 BB) or a tiny one (10-25 BB).