How much to buy-in for

Buying in big gives you a lot of power, but a short stack can give you a tactical edge. So which is better? Here, we walk you through the pros and cons of buying in for different amounts, including:

When a minimum buy-in is useful

Traditionally, short-stack poker has always been the strategy of choice for players hoping to win big without getting in too deep. And if you’re playing at a strong table (a loose-aggressive six-hander for example) sometimes it’s not a bad idea to buy in with less.

Imagine you’re playing in a $2/$4 no-limit game. The maximum buy-in is $400, but you buy in at $200 instead. This gives you plenty of breathing space, but a big bet or all-in is still going to give your opponents pause for thought. It can also help you stay out of trouble.

Say you find yourself with A♥ K♦ on the button and raise to $16. The big blind (an aggressive type) re-raises to $48. If you had more chips at the table, you’d be in a tough spot here. You’d find it difficult to call, because unless you flopped an ace or a king, and he raised again, that’s it – you’d have to fold.

But with a short stack, you can simply push all-in. Unless your opponent has a huge hand, they’ll probably fold.

A small stack gives you a different playing mentality – and that’s no bad thing. For that reason, you might want to buy in small for a while before trying a deep-stacked game.

When to buy in at the maximum amount

If you’re on top form and think you have the edge over other players at the table, maximum buy-in is the way to go. Then when your opponents start making mistakes, you can go ahead and win their whole stack.

Deep stacks are better for post-flop play too, when you might be up against different drawing hands.

Let's say you raise to $8 with 10♣ 10♥ on the button at a $1/$2 table. Three players call, and the flop brings 10♦ J♦ 4♠. Lovely. The small blind bets out for the full pot of $32 and (surprise), both the big blind and the mid-position limper call. The pot is now $128 and you have $192 left.

Here’s where you make your move. By going all-in, you’re protecting your hand from danger cards on further streets. The other players – who probably have draws – think they can take you on. Big mistake.

So, just to recap:

With a minimum buy-in

  1. Decisions are easier. Instead of getting raised out, just go all-in. Done.
  2. You get paid more often, as deeper-stacks can afford to see your cards.
  3. Fewer starting hands means simpler play – great for multi-tabling.

With a maximum buy-in

  1. You can challenge people with marginal hands.
  2. You can protect your big hands and pressure people into making mistakes.
  3. You can invest in your table image so that a big flop really pays off - and get away with big bluffs (as no-one’s in a position to call you).

As always, it depends on the situation and who you’re playing against.