You'll often hear people talk about playing a "short-stack strategy": the idea is that you buy in for less that the maximum (often for the very minimum) in order to take advantage of your opponents. You can get yourself all-in relatively easily, and if your opponents fail to adjust properly you can win money.
While this statement is undeniably true, there are some huge flaws with this thought process.
Flaw #1: Short-stack strategy gives up your biggest poker advantage.
As students of the game, we are better players than our opponents. While that superior game-playing pays off somewhat preflop, it pays off far more significantly on postflop streets. Think of it: most preflop hand matchups involve relatively narrow edges. Pair vs. overcards? You're going to win at showdown about 55% of the time. Dominated hand (like AK vs. A6)? You're about a 70% favorite. Even pair vs. lower pair is only an 80% favorite to win. Most hand matchups are relatively close, and multiplied by relatively small amounts of money. In a heads-up match, a $1 bet on an 80% favorite clears you on average about 60 cents worth of profit. This is not the way to get rich playing poker.
Consider instead the play on later streets. First, the edges can be FAR larger. If you flop a nice hand, your opponent could easily be a 5-to-1 dog to win the hand. On the turn, that same hand could easily become a 10-to-1 dog. Of course, on the river your opponent is either a 100% loser or a 100% winner, so that river money is PURE profit (or loss, if you've made a mistake).
In addition, the dollar values are usually significantly larger on later-street bets. Since our wagers are typically measured in fractions of the pot, we will often see river bets that are 10 times larger than preflop bets. Take the following representative example:
You have QQ on the button in a $25NL game. You raise to $1 preflop and get called by the big blind (who is holding AJo). As a 72% favorite to win the hand, the preflop wager earns you about 33 cents.
The flop comes JT3. Your opponent checks and you bet $2 into a $2 pot. Your opponent calls. As an 80% favorite, this bet earns you $1.20.
The turn is another 3. You bet $5 into the $6 pot and your opponent calls again. At this point you are an 89% favorite to win the hand, so this bet earns you $3.90.
The river is yet another 3. You bet all-in for your last $17 and your opponent calls. This bet wins you $17.
Notice the difference in magnitude of the money you make on various streets: your preflop bet wins you 33 cents but your river bet wins you $17. Notice also that if you had pushed preflop and somehow gotten called by AJ, your expected win is only $11, less than the river bet when you play the hand out. This is because of the significant chance of a suckout loss, which is nonexistent on the river.
Our opponents play sloppy preflop poker, but they play absolutely HORRENDOUS postflop poker. By outplaying them on the expensive streets, we stand to win heaping piles of money. Playing a short-stack strategy, we won't really have a chance to play postflop poker, and we will therefore surrender our chance at all that postflop shwag.
Flaw #2: Short-stack strategy stunts your growth as a poker player.
I consider this second point even more significant: short-stack strategy is an inherently preflop game. You wait for your good hands, you bet hard preflop, and you push any flop. In doing so, you never have to think about postflop strategy, you never have to put an opponent on a hand, you never have to develop your reading skills, you never have to learn multi-street gambits, you never have to worry about overarching strategies, and you never have to improve as a poker player. Because it is so mindless, you never have to apply your mind to the game, and most short-stack experts never do. Heed the words of an OUTSTANDING poker player (Jason Strassa) in this thread where he suggested shaking yourself out of your comfort zone and putting yourself into challenging situations in order to improve as a player, knowing full well that you're not necessarily maximizing your profit for THAT EXACT MOMENT but that in the long run your strategy will quickly improve you as a poker player. From this, profits will follow.
In summary, playing short-stacked poker is a crutch that may make you some bucks in the immediate future but will cost you much in the long run. You play uNL poker to learn; don't subvert that learning process by eliminating the most challenging -- and most profitable! -- part of the poker game.
As a final parting shot, I offer up one little hand history to demonstrate one of the biggest pitfalls of short-stack strategy:
Full Tilt Poker No Limit Holdem Ring game Blinds: $0.50/$1 6 players Converter
Results: Final pot: $469.65 BB showed T 9 and wins the $78.55 (after rake) main pot. Pokey showed J Q and wins the $388.10 side pot. UTG+1 mucks T K
While I realize that this isn't a representative hand, it does illustrate a point: notice that the best hand won about one-fifth the amount I won. Don't stunt your game or your winrate by playing short-stacked!
Yeah, I know, I just usually end up doing it out of habit from before, when I didn't have confidence to make the choices when I had larger stacks against others. I wouldn't mind some of it when it was 50bb versus 50, or 100 versus 100, but I wasn't trusting myself once I got past 150bbs...I feel I'm a stronger player now, and I just haven't stopped the old habits. They're gone now. We all have to evolve, and no one evolves all at once.
Quote: Im new to NL so dont berate me. but given that river, if you were in first position would you still push?
Absolutely, but only because of my read on the opponent (which I didn't bother to include in the original post). Villain was a 61/14 donk. He's the reason I'm at the table. He's terrible, and I know his range is blown completely out of the water by my hand. Against him, I push this river every time. In fact, from the flop on I was just trying to figure out how best to get all the money into the middle. With 220BBs, that's a non-trivial task. Luckily, he made it easy for me.
While I agree with this post and its well thought out arguments, there are reasons why playing shortstacked is a viable option.
1. As a technique to help some players mentally when moving up in limits.
2. When you need to tighten up your game. Playing short often forces players to tighten up their game when they would otherwise spew money with a full stack because of tilt, a bad run or just plain lagitus.
3. You often get called by crap when you finally shove AA with 40-50bbs against a standard player with 100bb's+.
All that being said, I much prefer to play with a full buyin, nh Pokey.