No Limit Hold'em Short Stack Strategy Guide – Part 1, Playing with a 10BB Stack

No limit hold'em has become the true game of choice over the past couple of years thanks to the television coverage and the proliferation of online capped buyin games. But getting started in the game can be tough due to its complexity, as skilled players have a big advantage over even the well-read beginner. Experience and discipline are key to winning at no limit hold'em, and these only come in time.

Fortunately the new player, or even the experienced player looking for an easy edge can turn the tables on the opposition by making one simple adjustment – buying in for less than the maximum amount of chips allowed. There are many advantages to this as will be discussed later in this series, but for now we will start with the simplest strategy of all, playing with stacks of only ten times the big blind.

Only a few sites allow the 10% or 10bb buyin, with the most prominent being probably the Prima Poker network. Many live games allow 10bb buyins as well, especially at the smaller stakes. The good thing about learning this strategy is that with a few adjustments you can take it to sit and go and multi table tournaments as well, where 10bb stacks are common.

With 10 times the big blind there are only two moves preflop: all-in or fold. Any other size raise commits you to the hand; if reraised or if you see a flop, you will be getting odds that are so good that you should simply put the rest of your chips in the pot and hope for the best. So all you need to know are what hands to push with. To understand what hands have value in such a situation, you should definitely check out No Limit Hold'em: Theory and Practice for its excellent Sklansky / Chubukov numbers that solve this problem exactly. But I will give a good enough list based on the book here. The list assumes a ten handed table.

* Early Position (the first three positions): AA-TT, AK-AQ

* Middle Position (the next three): Add 99-88, AJ, AT suited

* Cutoff: Add 77-66, AT-A8, A7-A5s KQ, KJs

* Button: Add any pair, any ace, KJ-KT, K9s, QJs

* Small Blind: Add K5 +, Kxs, QJ-Q9, Q5s +, JT, J8s +, T9s

This is a fairly tight range, and if you have a read that your opponents are playing tightly against your pushes you can add a few more hands. But my experience is that you will be called by some very poor hands, meaning much of your profits will come from poor calls made by your opponents.

The next problem for to solve in short stack no limit is what to do when facing an open raise. Usually the raise will be to 3-4 times the big blind. Once again your only play is to fold or push. The exact strategy varies greatly on the aggressiveness of the raiser, but these general guidelines are probably decent enough to use in most situations.

* Against a raise from the first four positions: Push with JJ +, AK

* Add against raises from the next two: TT, AQ

* Add against cutoff raises: 99-88, AJ

* Add against button raises: 77-66, AT, KQs

* Add against small blind raises: 55-44, A7, KQ-KJ

Once again this is fairly tight, and you can open up a little, but not too much, if the raiser is loose / aggressive.

Finally sometimes you will get a free play in the big blind. It is important to try to maximize value in this situation. With good hands simply push all in; I usually use the cutoff open range in this spot. Otherwise check and see a flop. How to play the flop is based on your stack size and the number of opponents you are facing. But a basic strategy is to simply bet the pot with top pair or better until you are all in against any number of opponents. Against two opponents you can add middle pair and a flush / open end straight draw using both of your cards. Against one opponent you can add a few bluffs. Bet all the hands listed above, plus random missed hands around 30% of the time. If called on your bluff, fold the turn. The strategy here is a simple one, but it is at least close to correct. With such a short stack most players will give you a lot of action, so you need a good hand to put your chips in the pot.

The 10bb buyin is some of the simplest poker you can play. This guide will probably put you 80% of the way to playing perfect 10bb stack no limit hold'em; the rest is simply in gaining experience and reads on your opponents. No other form of poker can be described so fully in a short guide like this one. The drawback is that while you will almost certainly be a winner in most games, you probably can not win that much unless you are up against opponents that simply make awful calls against you. The good news is that this strategy tends to work even as you move up in stakes; in fact it may be even more effective in these aggressive games as your opponents will be putting more money in preflop, which is good for you, as you can often get your 10 big blinds in against their weak hands. Short stack no limit hold'em with only 10bb may not require a lot of skill or be very exciting, but it's a great way to pump up your bankroll.

The next article will begin discussion of 20bb play, the standard minimum buyin for most online no limit hold'em cash games.