Whether you’re short-stacked, sitting around average or chipped up, your chip count is vital in poker these days. How you play an effective stack at a variety of sizes is crucial to your success over any decent period of time. So how can you make sure you manage the pile in front of you optimally? Riffle that stack and read on.
If you’re the biggest chip-stack in the room or even at your table, you are in control. Being ‘table captain’ and having the biggest stack gives you a degree of power over the action. You should be raising more pre-flop with weaker holdings, but try to give yourself the maximum chance to make your opponents pay. This can often be with low suited connectors or suited one-gappers.
Never settle for a big stack. Around the time of a bubble (money or final table), you can really wield the axe, often setting opponents all-in with hands you know have less than 50% equity because you can get them to fold when they would have to call off their tournament life is so easy. Aggression is key in poker with any stack size, but it is never more profitable than when you have a chip mountain with which to attack. Put it to work.
If you have between 35-55 big blinds, then you still have a lot of clout at the table, but should be slightly warier of players with large stacks looking to tangle. If you’re perceived as being a loose player whose chips are freely available, then you’re going to get into too many situations where you’re three-bet by opponents who may not have shown the same weakness as you with their chips. This can put you in a dangerous position.
A frequent leak in players who are quite experienced at poker but not enough is losing chips at this level and plummet from a comfortably-sized stack to 25BB to having a degree of restraint inflicted on their game. Look to play more flops than you might usually, but don’t raise as many and care more about position than you would do if you table captain.
In poker, you are most likely to be playing a stack of between 25-35 big blinds, especially in the middle of a tournament, which has a big effect on your long-term results. Raising is very common and so too is three-betting, but you should now be mindful of the fact that if you get involved in a raising war, you are at risk of getting your entire stack into the middle. This size stack is perfect at the high-end for inducing moves in your opponents.
At the lower end, you should be aware that the same type of pressure is going to be applied to you from those who have marginally more. Be sure to monitor your stack and its comparative size to your opponents frequently during this stage, because fold equity and stack size are both important factors.
Welcome to Shoveland
With around 15-25 big blinds, you now need to be thinking about getting your stack all-in pre-flop much more often. A common mistake at this level is to let one’s stack dwindle into the ‘Dead Zone’. You ideally want to put this stack to work getting all-in over the top of aggressive or common raisers pre-flop. The three-bet all-in is one of the strongest moves in poker, but you need to use it wisely. You will have different fold equity against different stacks. Would your potential caller need to risk half their stack or only 20% of it to call your move off? Think about how differently you would react in their position and you’ll have a handle about how sensitively to approach this stack-size. You then need to act and quickly, because raking in blinds, antes and an opening bet can propel you back up to a standard stack very quickly.
The Dead Zone
If it sounds like an ominous place of horror then, thanks to Stephen King, it is. But the ‘Dead Zone’ in poker applies to that size of stack where you are at most risk of being eliminated. If you have less than fifteen big blinds, the chances of you having the fold equity, position or opponents where you can three-bet/fold or even raise/fold are slimmer than a Weight Watchers meeting in Zombieland. You’re likely to have to commit your chips very soon and should adapt a push-fold strategy to get you back into the game via a double-up. While buying blinds and antes is good, you’re looking for a call when you have the best of it and to double back in contention.
The more you can win, the more you want to be acting on the impulse to get it doubled as soon as possible. If you can only win the blinds and antes, then what are you hoping for, to double back to a level you still have to shove from? Everyone’s luck runs out at some point. One of the most common mistakes at this stack-size is to rely on push-fold strategy and ignore other factors, from live tells to other players’ tendencies and stack-sizes. Just because you’re nearly out of the door, don’t play like it. Concentrate the most you have and you’ll be surprised at how often you’re right back in the game.