No Limit: An Introduction

No Limit is the most popular type of poker in the world today. In the late nineties it was difficult to find a game, but now No Limit is played everywhere – online, in casinos or at home with friends.

If you switch on your TV you'll probably be able to find a poker programme at any time of day or night, and there's only one game being played: No Limit Texas Hold'em! The big tournament series such as the World Series of Poker (WSOP), the European Poker Tour (EPT) the Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) and the Latin American Poker Tour (LAPT) all include No Limit tournaments and the biggest names in poker like Phil Hellmuth, Chris Moneymaker or Patrik Antonius all became famous thanks to No Limit Hold'em.

  • It's obvious that No Limit is extremely popular at the moment and it's getting bigger all the time!

It doesn't matter how many players there are, how high the limits or where the game is played, you can always find the right No Limit game. Just because a lot of people now have access to this type of poker doesn't mean that they  understand the game or play it successfully. The majority of these people have never even heard of certain concepts, strategies or types of behaviour, let alone studied them.

  • Poker is a game in which you either lose money or improve your game and make money. No Limit is no different!

If you want to acquire comprehensive knowledge of poker it is therefore important to become familiar with this variant. At IntelliPoker we show you step-by-step the ways to not only become familiar with it, but also to be successful at it. The first step is the No Limit short stack strategy.

The Short Stack Strategy

No Limit Hold'em is an extremely complex type of poker. Above all, the unlimited amounts that can be bet, and stacks which are often big in relation to the blinds mean that beginners often risk too much in the wrong situations. This is to be avoided. The short stack strategy (SSS) is a good way of familiarising yourself with cash games in this type of poker. Beacause you are sitting at the table with a relatively small stack of chips, you can easily avoid many difficult decisions. Another aspect of short stack strategy is the limited number of starting hands. Thus you only play strong hands. The fact that you have a short stack together with the advantage of only playing with above-average hands, generally makes you the favourite. This is a guarantee for long-term success!

You often hear other players say that you should never sit down at a cash table with a short stack, because the big stacks then have an advantage. The short stack strategy provides a relatively simple way for players with only a few chips to play profitable poker!

Basically, the SSS includes six decisive points:

  1. When playing the SSS you only need a small stack on the table.
  2. If you are playing a hand, you usually have the better starting hand.
  3. Due to your small stack you are already all-in before, or on the flop.
  4. As a short stack you get less respect at the table.
  5. It is difficult to counter the strategy.
  6. You often play for dead money.

We now will explain these points in more detail.

1. The small stack

The name "short stack strategy" tells you straight away something about the required stack size: it is relatively small. This is an advantage because your small amount of chips means that you will almost never have to make difficult decisions on the turn or river because you will generally be all-in (or have folded) already. It also means that your opponents don't have much of a chance to bluff you out of a hand. Moreover, a player with a small stack only requires a relatively small bankroll.

2. The strength of your own hand

When playing SSS you only play strong hands, which means that you are normally holding a better hand than your opponents.Which means the long term you will win because the odds are on your side. The right way to play before the flop is super tight - only play premium hands.

3. Early all-in

Due to the small stack you have at the table, you will be all-in relatively early in the hand. This has decisive advantages, especially for the beginner.

Firstly, your active involvement in the hand, and the number of decisions you have to make are reduced considerably. Decisions are generally limited to folding or moving all-in. Thus, mistakes in the later rounds of betting (e.g. folding to a bluff) are mostly avoided. In No Limit, big pots often develop on the turn or river, and these are precisely the situations where weak players make expensive mistakes. As a beginner it's not easy to recognise and understand all the dimensions of the game, because that requires, among other things, a lot of practice. At the beginning of your poker career it makes sense to avoid complicated situations. If you're sitting at the table with a full stack, you will normally have the option of checking, calling, raising or folding, but as the short stack, calling is not really an option.

This brings us to the next important advantage of the early all-in, it shows beginners the strength and meaning of aggression in poker, and aggression is the key to successful poker. As a short stack, you only have the options of betting aggressively or folding as soon as possible.

The early all-in rules out unnecessary mistakes in the latter rounds of betting and teaches us how to play aggressively.

4. Little respect

Many players don't give much respect to a small stack. As a result, they will play more marginal hands against a SSS player. The stack is too small to be seen as a threat, because when we play for our complete (short) stack, our opponents are sometimes only playing for a fifth of their stack or even less. As mentioned under point 2, when playing SSS we only invest our money in profitable hands, while in contrast players with big stacks will often get carried away and play weaker hands against us.

5. Difficult to counter

Even at the higher limits online you will regularly find short stacks, and for good reason. People play the short stack strategy because there is no effective counter-strategy.

6. Dead money

Chips put into the pot by players that have already folded is called dead money.

  • Example:

We are playing at a NL $1/$2 table. One of the opponents raised pre-flop to $6, another player called and the blinds folded. There is now $3 of dead money in the pot ($1 small blind + $2 big blind)

When playing SSS you are all-in relatively early in the hand and your opponents often continue betting afterwards. For this reason, it is not uncommon for other players to fold as soon as someone indicates strength. Consequently, you don't have to play against the folded hands any more. So, we are playing for a pot with more money in it than there are opponents. This increases the potential winnings.

When are you considered to be a short stack?

In order to play the short stack strategy profitably your own stack has to be of a certain size.

The stack size, i.e. the money you have at the table, must always be viewed in relation to the blinds. Online there are maximum as well as minimum amounts with which a player can sit down at a table. As a rule, the maximum is a hundred big blinds (100 BBs), and the minimum is twenty big blinds, or 20 BBs.

As the short stack we want to buy into a game for the smallest amount possible.

  • As a short stack strategy player you buy in for 20 BBs.

If you want to play at a $0.05/$0.10 No Limit table, you buy in for $2, which is the equivalent of twenty times the big blind of $0.10.

When are you no longer considered to be a short stack?

An essential element of this strategy is that you only stay in the game as a short stack. If your stack exceeds a certain size, then you have to leave the table. The stack size that no longer fits the short stack strategy is approximately 25 big blinds.

  • If your stack size exceeds 25 big blinds or more you must close the table and leave.

It is imperative to adhere to this point because with a bigger stack, you can't play profitably using the short stack strategy, and the money that you have won so far will be put at risk unnecessarily.

However, you have to pay attention to some restrictions when it comes to leaving and changing tables in online poker. You are allowed to bring money to the table at any time (as long as you don't exceed the maximum of 100 BBs). But you can't leave a table, take chips with you and then simply come back with fewer chips, because this is the same as taking money off the table. Therefore the following rule applies: If you leave PokerStars table and then want to return to the same table within the next 30 minutes, you have to buy in for at least the same amount of money as you left with. So, if you are using the short stack strategy you will have to look for another table, or wait the 30 minutes before you can buy in for 20 BBs again. However, this shouldn't be a problem at PokerStars because there are usually enough tables of the same limit running simultaneously.

Of course, things can sometimes go in the other direction and your stack becomes smaller and smaller. This is not a problem and it isn't necessarily the result of bad play, but simply a part of the game. It can sometimes take a long time before you get a playable, premium hand. Topping up your stack so that you have the requisite 20 big blinds is therefore essential:

  • If you have 12 to 15 big blinds or less at the table, you should buy as many chips as you need to have approximately 20 BBs again.

These rules always apply, no matter what limits you play. Ignoring the rules will mean the strategy fails.

What else do I have to consider?

You should also consider the following points, if you want to maximize the success of the strategy.

  • Waiting for the big blind saves money! It can sometimes mean waiting several hands before you're in the big blind, but it's worth waiting to pay only when you have to. There is no point in betting the minimum amount if you are going to fold most of the time.
  • It follows that regardless of whether we are a big or a short stack, position is, and remains one of the most important criteria when it comes to selecting and playing starting hands.
  • You should only play full ring (FR) tables. This means that there are eight, nine or more players at the table. As soon as there are fewer opponents the dynamics of the game change, resulting in less profit. The best practice is to simply not join a table where there are less players. If too many players leave the table where you are currently playing, then you have to sit out until new players arrive, or leave and look for a new table.

Playing with a big stack is very complex and requires a lot of experience. For this reason short stack strategy is better suited to beginners, and to conclude, here's why. By playing only premium hands we often have our opponents dominated, the early all-in eliminates mistakes on later in the hand, you don't need a big bankroll to follow this strategy, and above all, no one has come up with an efficient counter-strategy.