Everybody wants to have the biggest stack at the poker table. Whether you’re in the late stages of a live tournament, or you’re playing online poker at Ignition, more chips is always better. But you’re not always going to have that luxury – especially in tournaments. Sometimes, you’re going to be the short stack, and you’re going to have to make the right moves if you want to survive.

How short is a short stack in Texas Hold’em? Like most things in poker, it depends. If you’re playing Limit Hold’em, you only need a few big blinds in order to make most of your usual moves. It’s No-Limit Hold’em where stack sizes become super-important, and as a rule of thumb, anything below 40 big blinds is going to force you to change up your game. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your short stack.
 

Big Cards Matter

When you’ve got a short stack in No-Limit Hold’em, you have less incentive to play speculative hands like small suited connectors, hoping to hit a flush or a straight or to play small pocket pairs and try to make a set. The most you’ll be able to win off any single opponent is 40 big blinds, which doesn’t give you the implied odds to go chasing these draws. Focus instead on opening big cards that can make top pair right away on the flop. The shorter your stack, the more you want to have an Ace in your starting hand.
 

Get That Money In

Because your stack is so small, when you do hit that top pair on the flop, it’s probably time to pile in all your remaining money if you haven’t already. There just isn’t enough maneuverability to make your opponents fold on the turn or river – or even the flop in many cases. Just get your chips in the middle and hope for the best.
 

Push or Fold When Really Short

Once your stack gets down to around 10 big blinds when you play a poker tournament, you don’t have the leverage to make your opponent fold often enough to a standard open-raise. So don’t even bother – just open-shove your entire stack when you’ve got the right cards in the right position. If you have around 20 big blinds, you can open-raise again, but you should also be shoving when you decide to 3-bet pre-flop. While it might seem like a big commitment, it’s the best way to get the most value out of what’s already a sticky situation. And if you find yourself below 20 big blinds at a cash game, either put more money on the table or leave; re-buy or rib-eye, as they say.