Best Short Stack Strategy in 2024 (It Might Surprise You)

Short Stack Strategy for Micro Stakes Beginners
This article was written by contributor Frank Reese.

Doyle Brunson said, “The key to no limit . . . is to put a man to a decision for all his money.”

Poker players who have studied the game know this. They will be looking for chances to put you to such a decision.

One way to make that decision easier is to play with a short stack, 30BB or whatever the minimum buy in is.

1. Experts advise against playing with a short stack in microstakes cash games

The overwhelming majority of poker experts strongly recommend buying in with and maintaining a stack size of at least one hundred big blinds (100BB).

Experts say it is the optimum stack size for two reasons:

Buying in for less than a full stack limits your potential winnings when playing against a recreational player with a full stack of chips he expects to lose.

100BB is the maximum buy-in at many tables. So, when you buy-in for that, you start where everyone else starts.

Because of those two factors, most poker books, videos and blogs are about cash games is geared toward this stack size. That in itself is another reason to learn and play a full-stack strategy – more material to learn about it.

2. Why would a micro-stakes beginner want to play the short-stack strategy?

One expert, Ed Miller, teaches how to play with a variety of stack sizes and often recommends a smaller stack size.

Miller’s strategies allow you to work with whatever size you happen to have, so that you can start small and adjust when your stack grows.

My own opinion is that a small stack size is often the best size with which to start a session, especially while you are a beginner at the micro-stakes.

If you are a better player than the ones at the table, you will soon enough grow your stack to full-size, gathering information on opponents while you do.

Optimal Short Stack Strategy for Micro Stakes Beginners

Since many bad players play with a short stack anyway, starting with a big stack does you no good against them. Against a short stack, you have to play the short-stack strategy, because the effective stack is short.

Because bad players either buy in short or buy in full and watch their stacks dwindle without topping off, most tables on which you will want to play will have a variety of stack sizes.

 So you should develop the skill of playing against any size or with any size.

3. What is the cash game short stack strategy?

There are several versions.

Here are the basics of the very simplified 30BB short-stack cash game strategy:

You patiently wait for a big pocket pair or ace-jack plus, or KQ, then raise strongly pre-flop. If you flop an over-pair or top pair/strong kicker, or a very strong draw, you push all in.

4. The math of the short stack cash game strategy

The math of short stacking is that when your stack is small (or when you are up against only short-stacked opponents), your risk to reward ratio in any given pot is less.

Suppose you are on the big blind in a micro stakes 10NL game with a $3.00 stack.

Action folds to you. You have:


You raise to $0.30. The small blind folds. The big blind 3bets to $1.00.
You call. The pot is now $2.05 and your stack is $2.00.

The flop comes:


The button bets $1.50, roughly 75% of the pot. That is an easy call with an over pair plus a gutshot. You have almost no reverse implied odds. In fact, you should just shove in your $2.00 stack.

A villain who 3bet pre-flop would likely c-bet this flop with many hands that you are beating, such as ace-jack, ace king, ace-queen, a diamond suited ace, and king-queen.

The only likely 3bet hands beating you at the moment are AA, KK, JJ, 99 or 88 for a set, or J9 suited or 98 suited for two pair.

His flop c-bet brings the pot up to $3.55. You only have to call $1.50. The pot will pay you 2.36:1 and you estimate that you have a better than 1:1 chance of winning it.

Whatever the turn and river bring, you made a correct call on the flop.

By the way, it is important not to get too side-tracked by a lot of advanced poker math. This is actually one of the biggest reasons why people lose at poker.

Just stick to the basics.   

5. Let’s replay the same hand with a full 100BB stack ($10.00) instead of a 30BB short-stack:

You raise pre-flop with your pocket queens and call Villain’s 3bet. The pot is $2.05.

The flop comes with the jack and the draws and you call the same $1.50 raise. The pot is now $5.05 and you have $7.50 left.

The turn is:


Villain bets out $2.50, about half pot. What do you do?

If you are at the microstakes, you would have one minute to decide before you are auto-folded. Pause for exactly one minute to make up your mind and then move on the section on psychology.

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6. The psychology of the short stack strategy

Your thought process in that situation should go like this;

‘If Villain has two diamonds, I’m drawing dead. If he is betting again with AJ, I’m golden! If he has 98 or J9, I’m behind but I have outs to beat him

‘If I call the $2.50, the pot will be $10.05 and I will only have $4.50 left.
If he has the flush, especially the ace high flush, he will certainly jam the river on any card. If he has two pair, Villain will likely check to pot control.

‘But since I’m taking so long to decide now, he may also bluff-jam the river with AJ with one diamond that missed or with a straight draw that missed.

Yes. He will jam the river with whatever he has. What the heck should I do? ‘I feel as though I’m being put to a decision for all my money!’

No matter how strong your single pair is, an opponent can put you to a tough decision when the board is wet, connected or paired by representing a nut hand.

If you always fold in that situation, your opponents can bluff you every time a scary board appears. If you call every time, you will be a calling station when opponents do get the nut hands.

The upside is that with a full stack, you will also be able to make things tough on your opponents by appearing to be going after their whole stack.

But it takes experience and study to know when to do that. I would argue that whether a full stack or a short stack is better for you to play with depends greatly on your skill level.

A short stack allows you to confidently play your strong pair hands (big top pair, strong kicker and big over pairs), while a full stack allows you to play drawing hands for bluffs and for value if you fill your draw.

Since your range with a short stack is so tight, it is a good way for a beginner to practice disciplined play. This is something that Daniel Negreanu actually recommends in his MasterClass.

Learning to wait for big pairs and double broadways will make it much easier when you full-stack waiting for baby pairs, suited aces and suited connectors in favorable spots.

7. How to use the short stack strategy at the microstakes

My favorite microstakes tactic is to start with around 30BB, playing a very tight and aggressive short stack strategy. If if I double up, and the table is fishy, I keep playing with around 60BB.

By then, I have information on the opponents and more chips with which to exploit them, so I can expand my range and throw in some bluffs.

Doubling up is less likely at that stack size, but by loosening up a little and increasing aggression, I win more small pots.

The short stack strategy allows you to represent yourself as a fish when you first sit down.
I like to buy-in with an odd amount, such as $3.43 at 10NL. I may look like a fish on his last few dollars in his account, or in the session.

I use the “extra” forty-three cents to deliberately limp-fold the first two hands and to steal-fold the first time I’m on the button.

 If I do that my first orbit, villains who are paying attention to the new player will mistake me for a weak-loose player who scares off his hands easily.

Exactly the image I want if I wake up with a big pair or AK in the next couple of orbits.

8. Does this short stack strategy really work at the micros?

Obviously, I’m going against a lot of experts on this one, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

My only evidence is that it has worked for me. The cash game short-stack strategy let me earn with big pairs while I learned to play drawing hands.

If you want to try it, remember that you get three short stack buy-ins for the price of one full stack buy-in. That should be enough to tell you in one or two sessions whether the short stack strategy is for you.

Keep calm and re-buy!

Lastly, if you want to know my complete strategy for crushing the microstakes, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker guide.


This article was written by contributor Frank Reese. Frank (Seymourflops2020) has been playing poker part-time for two years, primarily 5NL and 10NL full ring cash games. Frank plays anonymous online tables and builds a bluffy, but weak, table image in order to induce calls by a wide range of hands when he has a strong pair or better.

What sort of short stack strategy do you use? Let me know in the comments below.

Short Stack Strategy for Micro Stakes Beginners


  1. I think, it depends on our rationale for playing, and in general microstakes games are either for fun or practice. If you play for fun, then just do, whatever is most fun to you.

    If however you have just some sort of ambitions in poker, then you play microstakes games for practice. And for me this is the main reason to buy in full. Sure situations like that one with QQ on a wet dangerous board are tough, and it sucks, when you get stacked for a full 100BB buyin.

    But the only way to learn to handle these situations and play them well is to see them again and again. And the cheapest place to do that is in microstakes cash games.

    Maybe there is some merit in buying in short, when you are brand new to the game, so that you start with a simpler and easier game, while you learn the basics like hand ranking and reading boards. But before you attempt to move out of the micros, you should master deeper stacked poker as well.

    As for the idea of pretenting to be a fish, its a fun one, but it only works on anonymous tables. I play on sites, where tables are not anonymous, and HUDs are allowed as well. So for sure every regular already knows, who I am, when I sit down at a cash table, and I would not be able to fool them by buying in short or giving off other fake fish tells.

  2. Lars,

    Thanks for your comments!

    Being in Texas, I am not able to play on sites like Pokerstars that allow the use of a HUD. I can only play on Bovada and Ignition.

    No question that I would use a HUD if I could.

    But live poker is now more or less legal in Texas, so I am definitely using micros as a training ground for live games.

    I also use a short-stack to work my way up to higher stakes. On those two sites, 10NL plays significantly differently than 5NL, so I got my ass kicked when I first played full stacked 10NL, so I started playing 30BB.

    After a month or so of short-stacking, I was able to make full-stack 10NL my default while using a short-stack to work on my 25NL game.