Short stack strategy (SSS) for no limit holdem poker

This is about a near game theory optimal (GTO) strategy for short stack no limit holdem.

If you play in the $1/$2 no limit holdem game at the California Commerce Casino, the buyin is $40 or 20 big blinds (20BB). If you play online for real money at Blck Chip Poker, Americas Cardroom, or Bovada, the minimum buyins range between 20-40 big blinds. These may be considered to be short stacked games. The fast foldem holdem games at Bovada seem to be 50BB for a buyin.

Except for the first few rounds, most people in a tournament are short stacked most of the time.

There are some misconceptions about big stacks. Big stacks hold no intrinsic advantage over small stacks in cash no limit hold 'em games - see Ed Miller's Getting Started in Hold 'em.

There may be psychological aspects to having a particlular stack size.

This is just a continuum really. The smaller the stack, the fewer hands we can play. The deeper the stack, the more hands we can play in general. In particlular, in when we have a short stack, we do not play any come hands like 76 suited. All of our hands will have value (i.e. pair value or high card value).

We consider a short stack to be 25 big blinds (25BB) or less.

We will use Ed Miller's Short Stack Opening Strategy from our textbook.

Opening Strategy


When no one has entered the pot except the blinds

Entering the pot when someone has raised

If there is one raise in front of you, regardless of position, play only TT+ and AK. If there is more than one raise in front of you, play only KK+ (i.e. 3-bet or 4-bet with KK+).

Sizing your first raise

Usually we want to bring it in for 3-5BB. If there are only limpers in front of you, raise to 3-5BB plus 1BB per limper (if you have a hand that you would normally open with in that position). In general, we like to raise more in early positions and less from later postions (if this confuses you, simply always raise to 4BB+1BB/limper).

If someone has raised in front of you and you have a playable hand (TT+, AK), usually go all in. If your stack is larger than 30BB-35BB (i.e. becoming a medium stack) or when there is only one raiser and the raise was the minimum, make the largest raise you think your opponent will call.

When you get reraised by someone behind you, usually you should go all in or fold. If you have QQ+ or AK, go all in. Go all in with any hand if your (or your opponent's) remaining stack is less than twice the size of your original bet.

A few more hands we can sometimes play

There are a few more hands we can play when there are just limpers. If you are on the button or cutoff, after only limpers, call with 22-66, A2-A9 and any two suted cards that are both ten or higher ( i.e. KJs, KTs, QJs, QTs, JTs). If you have a stronger hand, be sure to raise as described above.

More on Ed Miller's SSS

Playing against a short stacker

Crushing Short Stacks - The Playbook - this is what a deep stacker needs to do when playing against us. This is how we should play when playing against short stackers.


Seems like there is some controversy about this strategy. I suspect that this is a case of sour grapes from the deep stackers. They need to adjust their play when they are in the pot with us and they seem resistant to doing so.

This thread (from 2007!) is about how to adjust to playing with a deep stack against a small stack. This is a very informative article, please read this. TLDR: Crushing Short Stacks - The Playbook - this is what a deep stacker needs to do when playing against us. This is how we should play when playing against short stackers.

My take on this is that sss is the correct way to play at this stack size (provided that these sss's are near to gto).

Another interesting thing I found online about sss's was: "... the truth is that you should play as high VPIP as you can until you start losing. 15% is the baseline for any 9player game with the same rake. Back in the day you could win with 12/10 because players were so bad. As the skill level increased overall in the game, you had to bring your VPIP up to 15% or better, (unless you were an FPP whoring multitabler who could play at 14%) ". This makes some sense: play as loose as possible, but tighter than most of your opponents.

interesting: -

Very goog read: add and other links like this!topicsearchin/$20stack$20strategy%22/

more stuff The 3 Factors That Should Determine Your Cash Game Buy-In Positives to Playing a Short Stack in Tournaments WSOP 2014: Short Stack Strategies with Bart Hanson Learning Poker By Short Stacking A Day In The Life Of A Short Stacker: Part 1