Shortstack Poker vs. Deepstack Poker

Published: 13/12/2010

Poker players refer to the chips that they hold as their “stacks.” When the amount held is less than the rest of the stacks at the table, it is referred to as a “shortstack” and is commonly considered a disadvantage. Conversely, when the amount is greater, it is called a “deepstack.” Especially in tournament play, the player with a deepstack may be in position to dominate the table and this is always a desirable situation.

Recently, much attention has been given to the differences in how hands should be played depending on stack size. The common view has been that shortstacked players must play much more loosely and aggressively, looking to steal blinds and intimidate opponents by raising or going all in. But the nuances of Poker demand greater study, and new strategies for both shortstacks and deepstacks are finding acceptance.

Shortstack Play

The biggest problem with being shortstacked is that the cost of blinds can knock a player out before a hand truly worth playing arrives. When a stack falls to less than ten times the big blind, going all in pre-flop may seem like the only practical wager. This can cause feelings of desperation and result in overly risky play. But if a shortstacked player concentrates on the advantages of playing from behind, rather than the downside, some exceptional opportunities may be revealed.

First of all, shortstack decision-making can be so volatile that it is difficult for other players to read. This gives the shortstack many more options than just going all in. A small raise may be seen slow-playing a big hand. Calling and waiting to go all in post-flop can be taken as a lucky draw. When a shortstack is committed to a flop, the only players truly capable of calling are those with big hands.

Anyone with a shortstack should look at doubling up as a primary objective and winning blinds in uncontested pots as a secondary one. Another goal should be to avoid multi-way pots; beating a single opponent is preferable. One exception is when the stack is so short that simply doubling up will not accomplish much. In that case, the best tactic is to call and get as many players as possible to come along for the flop.

The preferred style for a shortstack is Tight Aggressive. Look for premium hands and bet the limit. Moves made from a middle position tend to be more successful than those made early. Also be aware that bluffing is all but worthless, especially when the size of the stack falls to 2-3 times the big blind because a small total bet will certainly be called.

Deepstack Play

Deepstacks can also be hard to read because they give the appearance of being able to contest any and every hand. Rarely, however, is it a good strategy for a deepstacked player to begin playing loose. One reason is because there may be other deepstacks at the table who will pick a loose player apart. Another is the willingness of shortstacked players to challenge a weak deepstack.

Pre-flop is the only opportunity that a deepstack has to force a shortstack to make a mistake. Than can only be accomplished by playing Tight Aggressive, waiting for premium cards and then raising enough to get the shortstack to go all in. Most other players will drop out and see how the showdown plays out.

With a deepstack playing against other deepstacks or medium stacks, it is never necessary to commit to a flop with anything less than a good hand and favourable circumstances. A deepstack can afford to wait, seemingly forever, for premium cards. And because all of the other players know that, it also becomes possible to use weaker hands for treasure hunting. Looser play may uncover low-cost gems on the flop.

The objective of deepstack play is not to win blinds or small pots. It should be to knock out the shortstacks and greatly reduce the other deepstacks. Knowledge of implied odds can be useful in this regard. More so than pot odds, implied odds can be used to know when forcing another player to go all in or fold is a good percentage play.

Published on: 13/12/2010

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