Heading to my home casino, the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa, I was looking forward to some cash game action and, perhaps, a tournament (on this night there was a very nice $200 tournament that guaranteed a $10,000 prize pool with 25K in starting chips and 25-minute levels – a nice game that would test the skills). After battling through a monsoon to get to the casino, however, the tournament was already in full swing and I didn’t feel like late registering for the tournament. Thus, it was off to the cash games and, for myself, a $2/$4 limit game (not that I am against a No Limit cash game) that looked particularly inviting.

What was particularly intriguing about this table was the short stacks that were there. In each seat as I looked around the felt, the players were all on about $100 in chips, far less than you would like to have in front of you even in a limit game. It made me think about why you should NEVER buy into a cash game “short.”


Whenever you’re coming to the tables, you need to have adequate ammunition for the job at hand. There’s nothing worse than being at a table and (especially if you’re a post-flop player) not having the chips behind you to make a move on the table. Furthermore, you also must be able to defend your hands when you do enter a pot. Without an adequate stack of chips to work with, you’re not utilizing all the tools in your toolbox.


When you buy into a table short, you’re significantly limiting the options available to you on the table. Whether it is a No Limit table or Limit, you’re basically limited to looking for one BIG hand (a premium pair of Aces or Kings comes to mind) and you hope the entire table doesn’t come along with you. Unless you’ve got a stack of substance behind your bets or raises – especially in No Limit – then nobody is going to take a bet or a raise seriously from you.


No one likes to just sit around a wait for those big pairs to come along. There is a one in twenty chance (5.9%, to be precise) that you’re going to get any pocket pair (and the chances go down even more if you’re looking for Aces or Kings only) pre-flop. As such, players will have to occasionally go on a “hunting trip” and speculate on hands. It also allows you to be able to aggressively play your blinds, even if it is limped to you and the flop is especially gracious.

For example, let’s say the action works around to you in middle position. You look down and see an 8 7, but you bought in short. You’d like to look at a flop with this and see what may happen, but your chip stack doesn’t exactly give you the ability to speculate on such possible gold mine hands. This is also related to our previous reason for not buying in short as it only allows you that “one shot.”

So, what should you be buying in with when you sit down at a cash game? My personal rule is that I want to sit down with 100 big blinds; if the big blind is $2, then I’ll sit down with $200. With a limit game, there’s a bit of leeway because you cannot lose your entire stack in one hand. In a $2/$4 game, such as what I sat down in last night (with $1/$2 blinds), it is probably OK to come in a bit lighter than that 100 big blinds rule. 50 big blinds ($100) in a limit game of those stakes is acceptable when stepping to the table.

There’s a world of difference if you’re playing another game (Stud or Omaha) and if you’re playing Pot Limit. The speculative nature of Omaha demands that you have a solid bank behind you simply to be able to play a strong game. In a Seven Card Stud game, there are as many as five streets of betting – first down cards, Fourth Street, Fifth Street PLUS Sixth Street and the final down card. Especially once the bet doubles on Fourth Street, you need to have some chips to put in play if you’re going to be successful.

Many cash games at the lower limits tend to have maximum buy-ins associated with them. If possible, you should be buying in for that maximum as it puts at your disposal every tool in your arsenal. You can also survive a bad beat a little easier if you’ve got some chips left after the clash.

With everything stated here, what is the best answer to any question in poker? “It depends.” There are times when it is appropriate to buy in short. In what would be the second part of this story, we’ll look at those times when it is appropriate to buy in for a bit less than you normally would.

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