This free poker article contest entrant was runner up in November
Many poker beginners on free poker sites or the lower stake cash online poker sites simply play their cards without proper regard for situational nuances. This leads to mistakes that can cost them a lot of money despite the fact that they’re playing with strong holdings.
One common mistake that I see players make is failing to account for how the size of their chip stack may dictate how to best play their hand. When I started playing poker more than five years ago, I made the same mistake.
The optimum play with a particular hand depends on many factors including your chip stack. A good move for someone with a large chip stack could be a dangerous move for someone with a tiny chip stack.
To put it plainly: size matters. That is not to say that bigger is indeed better. Being “deep-stacked” has its advantageous, but small stacks can be equally effective at the poker table.
A Deep Stack Expands Options
For the sake of this article, I will define deep stacks as stacks that are roughly 125 big blinds or more. Others may define a deep stack as a bit less or more than that number of big blinds, but almost no one would consider a stack of 35 big blinds or less to be a deep stack.
I generally subscribe to the notion that deep-stack play is better than small-stack play. Most professional pokers would agree.
This is because deep stacks give you more room to take advantage of implied odds. In other words, you’re allowed more freedom with regard to starting hand requirements. You can play small pocket pairs hoping to flop your set or small suited connectors hoping to flop a flush or straight. If you miss the flop, you can fold and wait for a better situation. You can be more patient because the blinds aren’t much of a concern; they won’t eat up your chip stack that much.
Another benefit of being deep-stacked is maximizing your profits. If you have the biggest stack at the table, you can extract the most possible chips from your opponents. This is not true for short stacks.
Let’s look at an example of this: If you’re the biggest stack with $900 chips and one player calls your all-in bet with his $600 in chips—and you win—then you take all his money.
Now let’s look at another example: If you’re a small stack with $500 chips and the biggest stack with $800 in chips calls your all-in bet—and you win—you can’t take all his money. He’ll be left with $300 chips because you didn’t have enough money to play for all his chips.
That’s one of the pitfalls of the short stack, but there are some benefits.
A Shorts Stack Encourages Tight, Hyper-Aggressive Play
If you don’t have many chips behind you, you’re forced to basically play for all your chips in every hand you play. This forces you to play premium hands like big pocket pairs and big face cards. You often won’t be getting the right price to play small pocket pairs and suited connectors. Those hands need to see the flop cheaply, and every hand played is expensive for a short stack.
The best move is to get all your chips in the middle with big pairs before the flop or to shove when you hit top pair on the flop. You don’t have the opportunity to wait because the blinds will eat you alive.
One obvious advantage of this essentially all-in or fold strategy is that it forces you to play tighter. Another advantage of this style of play is that it’s harder to get outplayed by more skilled post-flop players. Your decisions are simple: push or fold. You don’t need to worry about the subtleties of the game like betting the right amount or knowing when to fold the second best hand.
There’s also the strange psychological advantage you will have. For some reason, many deep stack players don’t treat short stack players with much respect. They assume that you’re buying in for a small amount because you have a small bankroll or aren’t very skilled. It’s not unusual for the big stack to pay off a short stack player by calling with weaker than usual hands.
I still believe that deep stack play is better, but I’ve faced some tough short stack players and wouldn’t underestimate their abilities.
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