Should You Ever Short-Buy in a Poker Game? Well …

If everyone’s doing it, does that make short-buying in a poker game a good idea?

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A short-buy is, technically, buying in below the posted minimum amount for the table. Many casinos will allow a player who goes bust to make one short buy. But in the world of poker the term "short buy" usually refers to buying in for less than the table maximum. In this article I use the latter definition rather than the more official one. Short-buying has its place in poker. It can be the correct move in some obscure situations but can be a mistake in others.

The Short-Buy in Poker: The Good

Barry Greenstein

If you watch every episode of High Stakes Poker with the same level of commitment and attention as one would while performing brain surgery, you'll have noticed Barry Greenstein buys in short at this table. It's odd to consider an amount as large as $100,000 a short buy but on a table where players buy in for a cool million $100,000 makes the cut.

Greenstein's short-buying into this game helped give him an edge on his competition at the table. To understand the reasoning, first you have to take into account the other players at the table. All the players at the table (including the unknown amateurs) have a very strong understanding of implied and pot odds. Also, all players at the table are ridiculously aggressive. Picture a stack of $1 million getting into a hand against a stack of $100,000.

  • Smaller stack has all implied odds in the hand, which means poor reverse implied odds for big stack.
  • Large bets put the small stack at risk of being pot-committed, reducing probability of successful bluffs.
  • Big stack must assume short-buy player is playing tight, elevating small stack's range to high-end cards.
  • The small stack is still large enough to be a costly loss to the large stack in an all-in situation.

As you can see, the small stack can gain a large advantage through his short-buy. The example here is using a very high-stakes buy-in, but the example is applicable at any table where the players will understand the concepts involved, and are playing for an amount of money that is meaningful to both parties involved. This is the only solid example I can come up with where I will condone, and agree with, a short-buy. In my next article, I'll be exploring the antithesis: The Short-Buy: The Bad. I hear rumors The Short-Buy: The Ugly will make an appearance as well.

The Short-Buy in Poker: The Bad

Since the majority of us will never play poker at the same level or limits as Barry Greenstein, buying in short will never have a place among most of us. Picture a live $1/$2 No-Limit game with a $200 max buy-in. You short-buy for $100. You raise one hand for the table standard of $15. You continuation bet $25 on the flop with nothing and fold to a raise. Your stack is now at $60. The next raised pot you get into will almost certainly have you pot-committed. Clear downfalls of the short-buy:

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  • This scenario has forced you to move all-in after playing two hands, neither of which would ever have warranted an all-in had you max-bought.
  • There's the obvious problem of not being able to maximize your winnings. If you view buying in short as a mistake, then doubling up after this short buy will have lost you $200. Similar to money saved is money made; money not made, due to a mistake, is money lost.
  • Having multiple short stacks on a table ruins the flow of a game. If half the players have $200, while the other half have between $30 and $80, every hand runs into an all-in. This is not how poker was designed to be played.
  • Buying in short is commonly a result of playing on a short roll. If you can't afford to buy in full, you shouldn't be playing that limit.

To sum up, buying in short forces you to have to gamble and keeps you from maximizing your wins should you get lucky; it's a lose-lose situation. Players will not be afraid to put all their chips in against you when the money is this small. You gain nothing from buying in short while being affected greatly.

How Short is Short?

Buying in short actually has nothing to do with the buy-in limit of the table you're playing. It has to do with the stacks of the other players. Usually, the other players will all be around the max buy-in for the table. There are times where this isn't the case. You can find $5/$10 No-Limit games with a max buy-in of $5,000 full of players playing from $3,000 stacks. To buy in to this game with $3,000 would not be short-buying.

At the same time, if you buy in for $3,000 only to have five new players show up in the next hour with a max. buy-in, your stack will become short. If you're playing within your roll you should be fully capable of capping up your stack to the maximum whenever you approach being short for the table. Lots of online poker rooms now offer an automatic top-up option to keep your stack full after any lost pot. 

The Final Ruling on Short-Buys


Every so often you'll encounter some super-aggressive poker. When you get into a ridiculously aggressive game, short-buying can be the best thing you could do in a session. At a game where the players are willing to put it all in pre-flop with any two cards, the variance will be huge. The reason you will short-buy at a table such as this is almost exclusively to do with bankroll management. A table this aggressive will require a significantly larger bankroll to play than a regular game at the same stakes. Short-buying can effectively double your buy-in-to-total roll ratio.

There are situations where buying in slightly short makes little difference to the game. If you're sitting at a $200 buy-in $1/$2 No-Limit game, buying in $150 rather than $200 makes little difference to the play of the game. By saving $50 on your buy-in, you can play four online tables at the same time for the same cost as three at a max-buy. You put the same amount of money in play from your roll, but add one more table to help even out variance. Ideally, you want to be playing on a large enough roll to be able to afford to play all four tables at a max. buy. In the real world, the majority of poker players are playing on a short roll. This is one little hint that could be of great help to such players.

The Short-Buy: The Ugly

It's becoming rare to find an online table with a full ring of max-buys. More and more these days you'll see a large percentage of online players buying in for the minimum. Always play within your roll and keep to tables where you can afford the full buy-in. If you can't afford it, drop limits to one you can afford. Being a chronic short-stacker puts you into the same boat with the slow-rollers and hit-and-run artists. Poker always works best as a deep-stack game. It might not even be overstating the case to say that in this game of respect, perhaps the integrity of the game requires the most attention.

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