Saturday, November 8, 2008

In Defense of Short Stackers

In numerous poker forms strewn all across the Internet, you can find almost universal damnation of short stackers. As someone who has personally employed this strategy from time to time and very profitably as well, I would like to add my two cents here.

NOT EVERYONE PLAYS POKER WITH THE SAME GOALS IN MIND. This is perhaps the singular most important argument here. So many times you will hear the detractors saying that you can not maximize profit by playing in this fashion. Obviously, this is true and all short stackers are aware of this. But just as some people play poker just for fun and not for profit (yes, it's true), a professional is not always interested in maximizing profit. As someone who has short stacked in the past and is currently short stacking, I can tell you that minimizing variance is often much more valuable to a professional (or semi-professional) for both monetary and psychological reasons. This is no different than the guy who can beat the $5/10 NL game but chooses to play $2/4 NL because he can't not focus himself comfortably after losing $1000 or more on a single hand.

You also see the detractors saying that if you are not rolled for the game at hand you should be playing smaller. This is absolute nonsense. The stakes are only one contributing factor to your bankroll exposure. As I had pointed out in one of my previous posts on bankroll management, the amount of your buy in also determines how well rolled you are for the game at hand. $600 might not seem adequate to play at the $1/2 level if you are buying in full, but if you are buying in for $40 at a time, you are now rolled for 15 simultaneous games! It is also much easier to play more tables and earn frequent player points or rakeback bonuses. These are not only ends in themselves but also serve to reduce variance.

Specifically, I just think that most players who see themselves as being fairly competent are just shocked and appalled that someone employing a seemingly crude strategy can thwart their years of hard work. They are also failing to realize that there are almost as many different styles and skill levels of short stacking as there are “normal” approaches to a full ring game.

Most importantly, as I had stated in one of my first posts, every single professional player should have some sort of tight aggressive style that they can fall back on in times of need. Bottom line – POKER IS HARD. Just as someone who is looking to make their living as an artist should be willing to do commercial art in order to prevent starvation, a poker player should have a strong, solid technique or strategy that he can fall back on when the bottom of the floor starts caving in as he regains his focus. I see short stacking in this light for myself, personally. Right now I am trying daily to perfect my own version of this strategy so that if times ever get rough again, I have a low variance strategy that I can use to rebuild a bankroll and make a strong consistent income. Which does lead to another argument...

If it were theoretically possible for a player to make $100 per hour short stacking, would those players who are struggling to make $20 an hour still criticize this method or would they want to learn it? I don't think that any sane person would pass up $80 per hour to preserve any romantic notion of the purity of the game. Currently I am exploring the limits to this type of strategy and will be publishing the results from time to time though I will keep the strategy close to the vest.


Anonymous said...

Great post! I've been shortstacking myself for a bit at the micros, trying to build a bankroll despite cashing out, and it's been very successful for me. I'm not allowing the site to dictate my game stakes, I'm choosing my buyin, playing a little higher, and earning that extra rake and player points I wouldn't pick up otherwise, while leaving myself a cushion if I have a bad run.

I agree with you 100% on your argument.

Anonymous said...

I have never short stacked live ... mostly because the games are pretty juicy and I don't want to miss doubling up from 100BB to 200 BB, instead of from 30BB to 60BB !

But I do short stack live all the time. Much easier to go up 1.5x as people will see a flop much more loosely and then fold into a medium pot.

However, you have just inspired me to try it live tomorrow!

Lorin Yelle said...

Not quite sure which one you haven't tried...did you mean that you haven't done it live yet? If so, your payoff will be larger and I would recommend limp re-raising in early position always with your premium hands. Players in a live game tend to be so loose when calling raises that you might find yourself in a very difficult spot if you raise anything less than KK up front and get 5 callers and an overcard flops or you whiff with your AK.

Hope all went well!!

pokertightrope said...

hmmmm, I think I might be one of those detractors you have noted in your post.

i talk about it more here

however whatever my personal opinions of small stackers, the real issue is at the micro and small stakes (200nl and below) you are not going to go anywhere in poker ring game unless you learn post flop skills.

yes it comes at a cost, but short stacking is a dead end, and will keep you in the micros forever. play sngs if you wanna dictate your risk.

short stacking live may be different, as reads come into it, although I have never done it.

excellent blog by the way.

pokertightrope said...

the reason small stacking is for idiots is because there is no way to develop any post flop skills. anywhere below 200nl its completely pointless.
its a style that suits a high blind format. if you are worried about your cash control short term, then play sngs.
yes, its annoying and 2 dimensional, but thats not the reason its daft.
good blog and very interesting, keep it up

Lorin Yelle said...


As to the detraction, I can definitely see where you are coming from, but here is my rebuttal:

Yes, I agree that there are many shortstackers out there who have no post-flop game whatsoever. I am not one of them. I have learned (and am learning) the arts of no limit hold'em in all respects, and short-stacking is merely one of my approaches. I came into this approach later in my education, so I already had the requisite post-flop skills and post-flop play is a very important facet of my short stack strategy. Specifically, I like to compare the way that I play a short stack to a way that I play tournaments, combining strong pre-flop cards with fold equity to achieve a surprisingly high win rate, which I will give the results of on my next post- due shortly.

And to reiterate what I had said concerning your other problem with short-stacking being a dead end (which I agree with, BTW), not all poker players share your ambitions. As Dixon01 states in his defense against short-stackers video on Stoxpoker, shorties are trying to "beat the system." Playing in the highest games in the world are almost certainly not their biggest priority and they might well be content with making beer money without any real risk while they toil away at their office job. One again, however, I am not one of them. I have lofty goals, which short-stacking can also support.

How so? I can watch Stoxpoker videos while expending minimal brain power short-stacking, thereby increasing my education AND making money at the same time!

Ronnie said...

I lost a lot of money playing the bully and a year or so ago started a strategy similar to yours. Best of Luck

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Lorin Yelle said...

I have no opposition to playing the bully, but the detractors should acknowledge that since not everyone will become a great player, they should be able to do whatever is in their power to level the playing field, provided that the rules allow it.