How Stack Sizes Affect Your Play

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How Stack Sizes Affect Your Play


If there's one thing that you need to learn early on in your poker career, it's that chip stack size matters. Obviously increasing your own stack size is one of your primary objectives at the table, and it will dictate which hands you play and whether you call/raise/fold, but constantly being aware of your opponents' stack sizes will also be a key component to making the right calls.

In the early rounds of a tournament the chips are divided equally amongst every player. As the tournament advances the stack sizes invariably begin to change. Suddenly there is a chip leader, there is a player who is on the brink of elimination and the rest are somewhere in between. Let's take a look at the defining characteristics of the two extremes.

The Chip Leader

Raises pre-flop with suited connectors, small pairs, overcards.
Will make substantial raises to put players all-in.
Raises on the flop with draws or overcards.
Will fold if a player pushes all-in with more than 50% of his chip stack.

The Short Stack

Willing to push all-in with A-x and other marginal hands.
Will push all-in if faced with a raise and holding a decent hand.

These two players are the two most dangerous at the table. The chip leader because he can easily push you off a hand or make you pot committed on a flop that completely missed you. The low stack on the other hand is very unpredictable and while you have him covered he can still make a dent in your stack if he decides to move all-in after you've committed a raise pre-flop once again making you pot committed. Let's look at an example.

You are sitting in the BB holding A♠10♠, and you have 2,000 chips.
The blinds are at 200/400
The player to your left with 1,800 makes it 800 to go everyone folds to the SB (the chip leader with 11,500 chips) who calls. Under normal circumstances you would raise and make a continuation bet on the flop. Now however you need to think twice about making this play for two reasons:
1. The short stack will call your raise in this situation 90% of the time.
2. The chip leader will get the right odds to call.
How do you like your A♠10♠ now with this information?

If you limp and just call the raise you will be faced with an all-in on the flop and an insta-call from the BB which would require you to commit an additional 1,000 in a pot that you have already committed 40% of your stack size.

Knowing your opponent's stack sizes allows you to determine how players to your left will act if you raise or just limp in a pot thereby saving you valuable chips in the long run.

Similarly your chip stack will affect your play in much the same manner.

As Chip Leader

Being chip leader at the table allows you to play a wide variety of starting hands, it allows you to steal the blinds by raising aggressively in position, and it allows you to chase those draws on the flop.

You are sitting in the dealer with K♦8♦
Your chip stack: 9,700
Average chip stack: 4,500
Blinds: 100/200

3 players call and the action comes around to you. You raise it to 800, the SB and BB fold and two players call.

The flop comes
J♦ A♦ 10♠

Player 1 bets 1,200, player 2 folds. Now you have the nut flush draw but you are putting player 1 on A-x. This is when you must wield your large stack size to push your opponent of the hand. You re-raise to $2,400 enough to put player 1 all-in and he folds. Even if the player had called you would only have invested 26% of your stack to win an additional 4,100 chips or 46%.

As Short Stack

The key to playing short stack is pushing your chips in the middle while you have enough chips to make an impact. If you wait until you are left with just 3 BB you'll be inviting nearly every player at the table to call which will significantly reduce your odds. However if you call when you still have 6-7 BB left then your all-in may allow you to steal the blinds.

There is another instance in which your stack size can affect your play. This is known as ICM, which is a mathematical model with the aim of establishing a dollar value to your chip stack as a way of analyzing your odds of winning a tournament and making push or fold decisions. This is a more advanced concept and is beyond the reach of this article, but if you are serious about your poker career you should invest the time and read up on it.


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