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Poker Strategy | Beginner's Poker

Size does matter – especially when it's your stack

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How many times have you been playing in a cash game or tournament and someone asked you how deep you were or how many chips you had. Why are they asking this? Some people might be hoping to garner information from you from your response but the biggest reason is that your stack size will often influence your opponent’s decisions. If you have more chips than them or can cripple them, it will often affect the choice that they make. The same can be said if you are very short or if they have you well out chipped. Make no mistake about it, the size of your stack matters. A lot.

There are generally three types of stack sizes. Short, medium, and big. I would classify a short stack as somewhere less than 10 times the big blind. A medium stack will be somewhere in the range of 10-40 big blinds and a big stack will be anything more than 40 big blinds. Let's take a closer look at each of the three different types and how it impacts our game.

Short Stack

When you are a short stack, you generally have two plays. All in or fold. You also have no fold equity, meaning you cannot move all in over the top of another player’s raise and induce them to fold. You simply don't have enough chips to make a fold a mathematical probability. Typically speaking you are looking for hands that have high show down value such as pairs and big cards because you know that more than likely you are going to get called. Some poker professionals also advocate playing hands like suited connectors in these instances because you are less likely to be dominated if you are called.

As a short stack, especially one in the six to ten big blinds range, it is almost always better to be the one opening the action because you are forcing people to a decision for a significant number of chips. Eight big blinds is not an easy call for someone that has only 20-30 themselves. It is an easy call, however, when they've already put 3-4 big blinds in with a raise themselves. It's better in fact to move in with a hand like K-10 than it is to call with a hand like K-J or K-Q. At least when you move all in you give yourself two chances to win. One, if everyone folds, and two if your hand wins at showdown if you are called. If you call, you only have one chance to win – your hand must win at showdown.

Medium Stack

As a medium stack, you have a lot more room to maneuver than a short stack. For example, let's say you have a pair of jacks and have 40 big blinds. A player in middle position has opened for 4 big blinds. If you were a short stack, your decision is already made for you – you're going all in. As a medium stack, however, you have several choices (folding is not one of them). You can call, raise small, or raise all in. There is no in between raising small and raising all in. Making a raise to 15-20 big blinds is essentially the same as raising all in, you might as well put the pressure on your opponent rather than give them the opportunity to put the pressure on you. The problem with this kind of bet, however, is that it's only generally going to get called by hands that have you beat. You can raise a smaller amount, to say like 10 big blinds though, if you are uncertain if your hand is the best hand and want to better define your opponents hand. There is also the option of calling and seeing the flop. All of these are options you would not have if you were a short stack.

Big Stack

As a big stack, you have a lot of freedom and are able to do a variety of things. This is true poker playing. You can make moves that medium and short stacks cannot make because you do not have the fear of busting out on one hand. One thing a big stack does is it alters your opponent's thought processes. Let's say you have a 100 big blind stack and your opponent has a 40 big blind stack. You both see a flop and you make a ¾ the pot size bet, or 7 big blinds. You have nothing, but it doesn't matter. 7 big blinds isn't much in relation to 40, but the fact that you can easily make another bet on the next card is an influence on the 40 big blind stack's decision. They know if they call here, they are likely going to face a bet on the turn that will put them to the test for all their chips and as such they are likely only going to proceed here if they know they are ahead. A big stack's bluffs have a much higher probability of succeeding because of this. Here your stack size has had a positive impact because it forces your opponent to make a mistake.

The next time someone asks you “does size really matter” there is only one answer you can give them.


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