Stack size matters

Here, we discuss how stack size affects your play, including:

Why stack size is important

In poker tournaments, your stack – the number of chips you have – is a crucial part of your play. It tells your opponents whether you’re strong or vulnerable and defines what sort of risks you can take – and when.

A big stack puts you in control. People will tend not to take you on with cheeky bluffs or raises as it could be too big a risk. Even other big-stacked players will avoid you in the early rounds, preferring to pick off the smaller, easier targets first. But because you have more to lose, you need to be careful how you play.

A smaller stack makes life simple. You’ll play more aggressively before or on the flop if you know you can’t afford to see all the community cards. In fact, a quick all-in, or ‘push and pray’, is sometimes your only chance against larger-stacked opponents playing a longer game.

Deep-stack and short-stack games

As well as your personal stack, there’s also the type of game to consider.

In restricted buy-in games, players can only bring a certain number of chips to the table. So you’ll see a lot more short-stack play, like players going all-in straight off, even if their cards aren’t all that great.

This doesn’t happen so much in deep-stacked games. Here, you want to wait for a strong hand, then trap other players over several rounds of betting rather than jam everything in upfront and risk your whole stack.

How much should you buy in for?

So, when you buy in to a tournament, how much should you spend? Clearly, the more chips you have, the bigger your betting (and winning) potential. On the other hand, in a no-limit game, you could lose them all.

You need to look at the big picture. How big is your bankroll? How much can you afford to risk in one go? How good are you compared to everyone else here? How many chips do they have?

If in doubt, the restricted buy-in option is a good place to start. That way, you get the buzz of no-limit betting, without going up against super-stacked players who can steal your entire bankroll at the turn of a card.