Lately there have been a lot of discussions about playing against shortstacks. I am, of course, talking about cash games where shortstacks buy themselves in for 20 big blinds while the maximum is 100 big blind. I'm not going to write about how to play shortstacked or about how profitable it can be, simply because I can't stand shortstacks. In my opinion they ruin the game and the fact that the 'pro-shorties' move to another table as soon as they double up really ticks me off. I don't have a problem with players who start with a shortstack but remain seated after doubling up, but those 'hit and run' shortstacks are irritating. Therefore, this article is about how to effectively play against shortstacks. To end things on a more positive note, we will finish off by looking into deepstacked poker strategy, which is also an essential skill for grinders.
The problem with playing against shortstacks is that it creates irritation. Many players will know what I'm talking about. But fact is that by letting them get to you, you are increasing their edge. If you keep throwing in your chips with more marginal hands, their method will become more and more effective. Hand selection is of utmost importance against shortstacks. It starts of with analysing the player. Is it a regular shorty or someone who you're playing with for the first time? Then you need to look at your position in relation to that of the shortstack.
Lets say you're playing against a regular shortstack in the big blind and you raise UTG at a 6-max table. The shortstack (SS from now on) pushes in the big blind. His range here will be a lot smaller than that with which you raise from the button. This is of vital importance when contemplating a call. Stop with calling out of spite and think good about your hand and the shortstack's range. , for example, is already far too marginal in this situation. If we're dealing with a good SS here, with a bit of luck you will be looking at a coinflip situation, but most of the time your hand will be crushed. I would recommend to call in this position only with pairs higher than 99 and AJ suited or better. If you keep on making marginal calls, this will end up costing you a lot of money against shortstacks.
If you raise in the button or cut-off, a SS is much more likely to push in the big or small blind. Therefore you can widen your range of callable hands here. I will often call here with KQ, AT-AK and all pairs higher than 66. Often I will find myself getting irritated in these situations and will also call with 33. I still believe that it isn't a good idea though and that you need to structurally analyse the situation.
If a non-regular SS pushes, I will call with a very wide range of hands because they are not used to playing shortstacked and aren't trained in having an edge preflop. Often they will have just lost a big hand or be on tilt from playing at lower stakes. They will regularly push with low suited hands, low pairs and Ace-rag. Seeing as you have already invested 4 big blinds you can choose to widen your range here, but be aware of position. When playing against a SS, always think about your hand, your position and about the other players in the hand. Is it worth it to try and isolate the SS or is the risk too big that players behind you will call or even re-squeeze if they smell weakness?
For those players who are interested in improving their poker skills; don't start shortstacking. The swings are bigger than you think and it doesn't help you to really learn the game. You have a very limited read on your opponents and you learn nothing about post flop play. I say this from an objective viewpoint and not because I get so irritated by them. You are just limiting the development of your poker skills.
We now go from the biggest irritation to the pick of the bunch. To me, deepstacked poker is the best thing there is. You have a lot of leeway and you often don't have to commit yourself until you get to the river. Your possibilities for big bluffs and sick valuebets are almost unlimited. On the other hand you could end up suffering great swings as a result of the big pots you are playing.
At tables with a normal buy-in of 100 big blinds I would consider everything over 160 big blinds as a deepstack. In Vegas I sometimes played the super deepstacked 10-20 NL tables at the Wynn where players would be sitting with up to $20,000, that 1000 blinds!! Since it is likely to never happen that two players at an online table have 1000 big blinds in front of them, we'll just stick with stacks of 160 big blinds for now.
You need to always bear in mind that you have a lot more leeway to make plays. You can re-raise a greater range preflop and also call more re-raises before the flop, with hands like suited connectors for example. A mistake that players often make is that they think they can now play their broadway hands more aggressively. If my opponent and I both have 200 big blinds in front of us, I will still fold AJo to a re-raise because a hand like this can cause a lot of trouble after the flop. With 100 big blinds this hand is already a fold preflop (to a re-raise). If you then decide to make the call when deepstacked, it will often take until the river for you to find out that he was playing AK or AQ after all. Since I'm deepstacked I can make a call here this one time, lets see what happens.' That's not how it works. The real value when playing deepstacked lies in playing low pairs and low suited connectors. The implied odds for these hands increase because you can win more if you do end up hitting something nice. You have more odds to call with draws, sometimes even re-raises. You now also have the possibility to bluff because the deeper stacks provide you with more fold equity.
When making a bluff or a semi-bluff, something that will happen a lot when paying suited connectors in re-raised pots, you need to have a good idea about your opponent's hand and what hands he re-raises with or calls re-raises with. If you bluff when deepstacked you need to make sure to really pull it through. The ironic part is that you bluff because you are deepstacked, but for the same reason your opponent is likely to call that one extra bet. Therefore bluffing when deepstacked often involves firing a 2nd barrel and sometimes even a 3rd barrel, which means bluffing the flop, turn AND river. So make sure you know what you're getting yourself in to when thinking about bluffing with deepstacks. Don't get caught up in a bluff just because you have the stack for it. Make good reads on your opponent and think about his prelfop actions and therefore what his range could be. There is nothing more frustrating than losing a 400bb pot with 7 high.
So, while you have tighten up when playing against shortstacks, a deepstack provides you with much more leeway to make plays in certain situations, sometimes even if you miss the flop and want to outplay your opponent.