The Best Short Stack Poker Strategy (Free Poker Chart)

Short Stack Poker Strategy
People often ask me what is the best short stack poker strategy these days. This means when you are down to 10 or 20 big blinds in a cash game or a poker tournament by the way.

Please note that short stack poker strategy and mid stack poker strategy are absolutely NOT the same thing. They require very different strategies.

If you came here looking for advice on mid stack poker strategy (e.g. 50 big blinds), I already wrote the complete strategy guide for that which you can find right here.

Here are the basics of how to play poker with 10 or 20 big blinds though:

The best short stack poker strategy is to play tight preflop, fold all speculative hands like suited connectors and suited aces, bet small postflop with both your bluffs and your value hands, play your draws fast and use the squeeze play often. These are some of the most important parts of a good short stack poker strategy.

But this is a fairly simplistic answer though.

So in this article I am going to break it down for you step by step so that you can start playing the short stack much more profitably in poker tournaments or cash games.

Short Stack Poker Chart

First though, here is your free short stack poker chart. All you need to do is right click and save. And then print it out and pin it to your wall. Do whatever you need to do!

Short Stack Poker Chart

Late position by the way refers to all seats at the poker table on or near the button. This also includes blind versus blind situations. The "s" refers to suited only.

You can use this short stack poker chart with 10bb or 20bb in both cash games and tournaments. The rest of this article will give you a complete explanation of when and how to play these hands.

1. Short Stack Poker Strategy: Tighten Up Preflop

In any good poker short stack strategy you are going to have absolutely no choice but to tighten up and be a lot more selective with which hands you decide to play before the flop.

If you are seriously short stacked (e.g. 10 or 20 big blinds) I would suggest only playing premium hands and broadways.

For Example:
  • AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, 99, 88, 77, 66
  • AK, AQ, AJ, ATs
  • KQ, KJ, QJs

Furthermore, you should always be coming in for a raise if you are the first person in the pot with any of these hands. It is simply a proven fact that raising preflop is more profitable than limping.

And this is even moreso the case when you are a short stack. You simply cannot afford to limp and then give up if you don't hit the flop. You need to take charge right away as this is how winning poker is played.

Now you will also have to make some adjustments if it is folded to you on the button for instance. This includes blind versus blind situations as well.

In this case you will want to add a few more hands to this range in order to try and steal the blinds as you can see in the chart above.

Also, as a short stack in a poker tournament you will want to be simply open shoving preflop with all these hands most of the time. But I will have much more on poker tournament short stack theory later on.

The bottom line is that as a poker short stack you can't play garbage hands. If your stack is down to 20bb or less, you need to keep your hand selection tight, very tight. And you need to play very aggressively as well.

This goes for both cash games and tournaments.

2. Ditch The Baby Pairs, Suited Connectors and Suited Aces

So you will probably notice above that no baby pairs (22, 33, 44, 55), suited connectors (e.g. 89s, 78s) or suited aces (e.g. A6s, A7s) were included in early or middle position.

These are the seats directly to the left of the blinds by the way. And these hands are not included in these non-steal seats for good reason.

No good short stack poker strategy can include these hands from early and middle position because they do not win the pot often enough at showdown.

These hands are much more useful when the stacks are deeper and you have more implied odds.

Short Stack Poker Strategy

Implied odds by the way is a fancy term in poker that we use to mean how much you can potentially win. As a short stack you simply do not have enough chips behind to win very much.

This means that you can't afford to fish around for draws or play speculative hands like a full stack or even a mid stack can in some cases.

This is why in a 10bb or 20bb poker strategy you have to play mostly big value hands only and ditch the speculative hands like baby pairs, suited connectors and suited aces.

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3. Never Bet More Than 50% of the Pot

The next important point in a good short stack poker strategy is to bet smaller. I would suggest never betting more than 50% of the pot and quite frankly 40% or 30% will do the job in most situations.

The reason why is because you have so little stack behind that there is absolutely no point in wasting more than you need to when you are bluffing and just want them to fold.

Believe me, they can also see that you are on a short stack. A big bet isn't going to "scare" them off. Your short stack simply isn't scary to anyone. Even your 80 year old grandma is calling your bluff!

So it makes sense to just bet smaller with all of your hands so that you lose less when you are bluffing and have to fold.

Daniel Negreanu even talks about this in his new advanced poker course. Sizing down your bets when you are a short-stack is extremely important due to the math.

4. Shove All In With Your Draws

A big part of a good short stack poker strategy is the threat of the all in. This is your most powerful weapon. And you need to constantly wave that above their heads at all times.

But as a poker short stack you don't want to wait until you have something really strong like two pair or a flush every time you go all in.

The reason why is because you simply won't get these hands often enough and the blinds will end up decimating your stack.

So you need to be able to shove your stack in the middle with some other hands as well. And draws are a perfect candidate.

For Example:

You raise preflop from the button with A3

A regular player calls from the big blind.



Regular player bets.

You should go all in.

Instead of just calling here and keeping the size of the pot under control like you sometimes would with a full stack or a mid stack, as a short stack you should go ahead and just ship your draw right now.

The reason why this is so effective is because it now gives you two ways to win the pot instead of just one. Either your opponent folds right now or he calls and you hit your draw later.

You need to remember that you still have the exact same odds of hitting your draw either way.

But by shoving all in you also create something called fold equity. This is another fancy term we often use in poker which basically means the value you gain by forcing them to fold.

5. The Squeeze Play - A Short Stacker's Most Powerful Weapon

The last short stack poker strategy tip I have for you involves using this threat of the all in once again, but this time preflop.

We call this the squeeze play and it is by far the most powerful weapon in the toolkit of a short stack.

With a 20bb stack in particular, one of the most effective ways to abuse the full stack and mid stack regulars is to 3-bet or shove all in before the flop on them again and again.

I discuss the counter-strategy to this for full stacks by the way in my latest poker book, The Micro Stakes Playbook.

Anyways, as a short-stacker you want to do the squeeze play with wide variety of poker hands especially when they open raise or iso-raise in late position because they are a lot less likely to have anything very good.

This play is even more profitable if there is a caller in between, hence the term "squeeze" play. The reason why is because that caller is also unlikely to have anything very good so it is just more dead money to pick up.

Short Stack Poker Strategy
Image credit:

The reason why this play works so well is because most people don't really like to gamble in poker. They would rather sit around and wait for a good hand. And as you know, those don't come around very often in poker!

So you can absolutely abuse the heck out of these nitty full stack regulars and make them pay again and again for opening with speculative hands like 8♣7♣ or A4

We know that they aren't calling a 3-bet or a shove with these hands. And they know it too. Therefore, this strategy literally prints money against them.

In fact for some of you old school online poker players out there who still remember when PokerStars used to allow 20bb buyins in their cash games, you will know exactly what I mean.

A handful of good short stackers back in those days absolutely abused the hell out of the full stacker regs with this strategy over and over again.

In fact it was so effective that PokerStars eventually caved in to all the complaints and adopted mandatory 50bb minimum buyins in all their regular cash games

Example Hand:

Full stack regular raises from the cutoff.

Another full stack regular calls on the button.

You have A9 with 20bb in the big blind.

Shove, shove shove!

Instead of calling or folding here you should 3-bet shove with this hand all day. As mentioned, this is even more profitable with a caller in the middle like in this example.

Even if you are called you will often still have plenty of equity against most hands. For instance, our hand will win versus KK well over 30% of the time.

Short Stack Poker Strategy

But most of the time they will just lay it down anyways. In fact, since you gain around 7bb every time they fold, you can literally double your stack if you get away with it just 3 times.

And the other thing to consider is that your constant shoves will really piss them off and potentially put them on tilt. This of course is always a good thing for you as well!

Short Stack Poker Tournament Strategy

What about short stack poker tournament strategy though? Does anything change? Well it does a little bit because as you get closer to the end nearly everybody is short stacked.

This means that the play will typically be tighter and there will often just be a handful of larger stacks splashing the chips around and trying to abuse the shorter stacks.

The key here as a short stack is to continue playing relatively tight and looking for the right spots but not to play scared either.

You cannot be afraid to bust out of a poker tournament or you are just going to turn into a min cash hero. In other words, you will never actually win the poker tournament!

Short Stack Poker Tournament Strategy
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So you need to be shoving your entire stack in the middle preflop especially when you have 10bb or less in a poker tournament. This lets them know that you mean business and they better have a very good hand to call you!

So my short stack poker tournament strategy typically involves shoving preflop with all of the usual candidates:
  • All pairs (22 - AA)
  • All big ace hands (AK, AQ, AJ, AT)
  • All broadways (KQ, KJ, QJ)

But as the action gets closer to the button where there are less people to beat, and the incentive of winning the blinds is huge, you need to open up even more.

So if it is folded to me on the button then I will also be open shoving with:
  • All Ax hands
  • Most Kx hands
  • Good Qx hands
  • One or two suited connectors

My decision making will be heavily swayed by the types of players in the blinds. But I think you get the idea.

If I am short stacked in a poker tournament and I have Q♠8♠ or T9 or K♣7♣ or A5♣ and it is folded to me in the cutoff, button or small blind, then I am shoving all my chips in the middle.

Now I should mention that I also expect any other competent tournament poker player to be shoving wide in late position like this as well.

So I am going to be willing to call off my tournament life when I am short stacked and they shove on me in late position with quite a few of these hands as well.

If you want to know more, I would suggest reading my massive micro stakes poker tournament strategy guide.

There you will find my complete strategy for playing in all stages of a poker tournament: early, middle, bubble and final table.

Short Stack Poker Strategy Recap

So to sum up, the real key to a successful short stack poker strategy is playing a tight and aggressive game and understanding where your strength really lies.

Even though you are on the short stack most people do not like to gamble and they will lay it down unless they have a really strong hand. Therefore, you want to constantly hold this threat of the all-in over their heads.

Let them know that they cannot chase their draws against you. Let them know that they will never get a cheap showdown against you either!

And as I just mentioned, let them also know that every time they try and open some suited connector or other weak speculative hand preflop that you will be coming over the top as well.

I should mention that I still don't really recommend using a short stack in poker. A good poker player is always going to win way more when buying in for the max and playing full stacked or mid stacked.

However, a good short stack poker strategy can be a lot more profitable than many people think. And if done correctly there is a good chance you end up putting the entire table on tilt as well.

Go ahead and embrace the hate :)

Lastly, if you want to know how I make $1000+ consistently in small stakes games as a 10 year pro, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

Let me know your thoughts on short stack poker strategy in the comments below.

Short stack poker strategy


  1. It's sort of a subtext here, but I think it important to emphasize that one should not be so conservative as to allow yourself to get blinded down below 10bb, because at that point there is really nothing you can do to push anybody off a hand.

    1. Yup good point Morgan.

    2. I agree but more often than not,all it takes is a cooler or a suckout to end up from chipleader to shortstack in the blink of an eye!

  2. Been following your blog for a number of years and I like the way you are succinct and have a talent for simplifying without using math. I don't need to know how to make a watch just tell me what time it is. I have all your books and they are one reason my game has gotten better over the years

    A recurring thing I notice in your blogs is you disparaging age. Why would an 80 year old grandma be bad at poker or anything else because of being 80, female or a grandma?

    Liked seeing some tournament writings and would like more. With the popularity of Twitch tournament poker is exploding in popularity IMO You would probably do good at Twitch if you wanted to give it a try

    Do you have anything on Spins, Blast or Hyper Turbo

    1. Hey Jim,

      Thanks for the kind words, being a longtime reader, and I am glad my blogs and books help you!

      It wasn't my intention to make fun of older people. That was meant to be taken as a joke. Maybe my jokes are bad :/

      I will probably write more about tournaments but I am more of a cash game guy. Twitch is unlikely because I simply do not have the time. But I never say never.

  3. Hey Man,

    Love what your doing do you recommend a similar tight range when calling short stack shoves or do you widen a bit as it gets more chaotic?

    1. Thanks glad my blog helps you! It really depends on the player. But in general I will be calling a short stack shove quite a bit wider than a full stack.

  4. Commended man. I read two of your articles and I learned a lot from it.

    1. Thanks glad my poker articles help!

    2. Can you tell me if this method is for just full ring or would it work on 6 player tables. Just thinking of giving this a try for a while.
      Thanks for the strategy.

  5. Just came accros this. I am new to poker and was think g this may be a method for me to start with. Is this method for full ring or can you play it on 6 ring tables as well.
    Thanks for the insight.

    1. Hey padman,

      I am glad this article helped! Yes, you can use a short stack strategy in either full ring or 6max.