How to dominate short stackers and pesky calling stations

Short stackers and calling stations pose different problems at the poker table – learn how to deal with them with’s Patrick Leonard

Over time poker has evolved. But why has it evolved? It’s generally because good players have got better. They think differently about their preflop raise sizings or how to more profitably construct their three-bet range out of position facing a button raise. Poker is so complex and if we went into every single bit of potential detail then we could fill the whole of this magazine every month. Not everything evolves though – we still find players who play very tight, players who play very loose and players who call too much after the flop. In this article I have broken them down into two contrasting player types and we will have a look at some common themes and how we can play against them.

The short stack

The short stack is somebody who buys into a game with less than 100 big blinds or has lost a significant portion of their stack since buying in to the table. The players who willingly buy-in with these short stacks and immediately leave when they double up have been around in poker forever. You find these players in casinos, coming in with 20 big blinds and then leaving when they double up, and they are also very prominent in online poker.

When entering a pot with a short stack its important to differentiate between a professional short stacker or a fish. Often fish will sit in the highest games that their bankroll allows on one table, attempting to spin up their way to success. The fish will likely have his entire bankroll on the table and will be playing with a lot more emotion. If you keep three-betting him he will probably end up pressing the ‘all-in’ button in rage. You can expect him to make too many all-in bluffs, call too wide preflop and make ambitious postflop calls both in and out of position. 

The professional short stacker is a tough opponent to play. Because we don’t have good implied odds it becomes -EV to play hands such as small pocket pairs or suited connectors. Professional short stackers generally choose this style as it is easy to learn. Their game is based around a preflop tight-aggressive game plan that stops them from being outplayed by strong regulars.

When playing multiple tables its difficult to notice the short stackers. You are sitting playing your game and they are sitting playing theirs. Their game will always be the same, because the effective stack size will be their stack, but for a deep-stacked player, you will have to play different strategies simultaneously on different tables. For example, on table 1 you are on a table full of big stacks with 7-6 suited and call a raise from the cutoff whereas on table 2 you face a raise from the short stack and have to fold that same hand on the button.

Top tip 1

When holding top pair good kicker versus a short stack fish keep betting. Slow playing or trapping is fancy-play syndrome when playing against these opponents. We make money from our hands that go to showdown and therefore need to ensure we get as much money in as possible when holding a relatively strong hand. 

Top tip 2

Against the professional short stackers you can steal their blinds a lot. When you min-raise and they have 40 big blinds it is too much to just shove. They are not comfortable playing postflop and will fold to our raises a lot of the time meaning we make auto profit.

Top tip 3

Have a plan. You should be expecting to face three-bets a lot of the time when you raise. Before you raise know which hands you are going to raise/call with and which hands you are going to raise/fold. This will mean you make sure you are not folding or calling too often. 

The calling station

The calling station is somebody who doesn’t fold. Preflop they play any two and postflop they hold on with their marginal holdings. They are generally loose-passive, meaning that they play lots of pots but don’t use a lot of aggression.

 In general you can identify a calling station from the following statistics in your hand database:

  • VPIP – 20-100%
  • Preflop Raise – 0-10%
  • Aggression Factor: 0-15%
  • Went To Showdown: 35%

 When playing against tight players it is usually pretty easy to assign them a range. If a nit calls you they will likely have a pair, Broadway cards or a suited Ace. Against the calling station it’s almost impossible to assign them a range because they are playing such a wide, creative, wild and ambitious range. For example, the cutoff opens, you three-bet the button and a calling station cold calls out of the big blind. Usually this would be a sign of a big pair or maybe A-K, but if the calling station fish decides to call perhaps they just have their lucky hand (9-6 offsuit?) or any hand that they really want to see the flop with.

The calling station will often show a lot of passivity meaning that if the flop has two diamonds and he just calls then he can still have the nut flush draw. Calling stations will generally only raise if they have a very strong made hand such as a set, straight or flush.

This is also the same preflop – they will only three-bet a very strong range. If we have 100BBs we can make relatively big folds such as K-Qs that we wouldn’t against a more aggressive player. The calling station plays this passively because they don’t have good hand reading skills. They enjoy seeing flops and soaking in the atmosphere of the table. They most likely see poker as a game of luck rather than skill, perhaps not even realising that they are being constantly exploited by isolation three-bets from the guys playing on numerous tables.

Top tip 1 

In poker patience and aggression are important. A calling station doesn’t have either of those so we can exploit them by playing a wide range in position and playing as many pots as possible. When we throw in positional advantage and skill edge it becomes a very attractive proposition to widen our range and play more hands. 

Top tip 2

Don’t tilt! You will receive more suck outs against these opponents because they are playing more hands like 8-4 that may hit a funky two pair and crack your Aces. Be thankful they are in your game and continue to make good decisions.

Top tip 3 

Sometimes you have to make hero folds. On the river with a set facing a check-raise sometimes we are just going to have to lay the hand down. Our opponents are simply not capable of taking exploitive aggressive river lines and folding a loser is just as important as calling with a winner.

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