Thursday, June 08, 2006

Stack Size

Kevin: Great minds thinks alike, motherfucker!
"An Evening With Kevin Smith"

We were playing a little 6 man tournament, once upon a time, and when I was severely short stacked and on the big blind. I had about 2.5BB left in me, and 1 of those was of course the big blind. It was folded around to the small blind who raised it up enough to put me all in. I looked down at a horrible 83o, and decided to call anyway. The small blind had pocket Queens, and my hand never improved.

Quiet a short and boring story really, but it leads into my point for this post. How you play your cards is dependant on many things: The cards themselves, betting history of this hand, player reads, position, tournament timing, what you had for lunch, the colour of the sky, if you are in a good mood or a bad mood, and also your chip stack.

This is usually relevant for tournament poker, but cash games are also worth mentioning, which I will later.

I see a lot of players in tournament fold on the short stack when they already have 50-75% of their chips at stake and heads up. What is a good play with a short stack could be considered a bad play with a big stack, and vice versa. When you are getting 1 or two places away from the bubble, this might be the best way to go so you can at least get your buy in back – but here at Poker on Film we're interested in top three finishes, not sneaking in to the money places. This is just personal preference, but in MTT I am not that worried about bowing out at the bubble. For most tournaments of, lets say 200 players, the bubble comes around after maybe 2 hours. Finishing in the very first ITM position will usually give you back your buy in plus 75% - so, for a $10 tournament you might win $7.50 profit. These are just examples, don't get too caught up in the math. One of my rules for playing poker is I must be prepared to loose whatever money I put on the table – not wanting to loose of course, but if I were to loose then I can not be too concerned about it, otherwise the buy in is too high for my bankroll. So, if I am prepared to loose the $11 to buy in ($10 + $1 fee, standard stuff), the $7.50 profit isn't really that big of a deal either.

I think the reason a lot of people play MTT is for one, the extended amount of play you can get for your buck, and two because of the obviously larger payoffs if you win. There are pipe dreams of pulling in that win and taking home the bracelet, and there is nothing wrong with that. I am the same, I play MTT in an attempt to come in the top three, no matter how big or small the tournament is. I'm prepared to risk the $7.50 profit in order to give myself a better chance at a high final table appearance. Why limp into the money and then get knocked out straight away? Try to get as many chips as you can before the bubble so you can take advantage of all those ITM monkeys with less than 1 BB to their name.

In the hand mentioned above, we were only paying first place, which was a deck of copag cards. There wasn't much point me hanging around with 1.5BB with 6 players left, and even though I knew I was behind with 83o, I had to call so that I could get lucky and double up. After that, people might have had to think twice about putting me all in. If I fold, I have 1.5BB and would have spent 0.5BB on the next small blind. If I call and win, I then have 5BB. Not much difference, but at that stage of the game, with very high blinds, others can fold to a 5BB raise – I can't see anybody folding to a .5BB raise when they already have 1BB in the middle.

My reason for bringing this up is the other players thought it was a bad call. It was really, but folding would have been an even worse one. I would have made that call even if I knew that the other player had Queens. Now if it was a raise all in with 83o, that is much easier to defend because you have two ways of winning – best cards or everyone else folds. But calling all-in with a very weak hand would rarely be considered wise, but I defend the decision here.

In that particular situation and timing, being "pot committed" pre-deal and all, there are just not enough chips available to me on the next hand. Even if I was to fold and then won the next hand, unless there was multiple callers I would only have 3BB. Obviously with multiple callers my potential win is larger, but so is the potential to loose.

Also, it is highly likely that the small blind, with a substantial stack, is doing this just to steal the extra bet. And who could blame him? But unlike most pre-flop raises, this raise from the small blind with no callers and just 1.5BB left for the big blind, you could make a case for that raise without even looking at your cards. Just as I have made a case for calling without looking at mine.

Another similar example in a tournament I experienced, I was short stacked but not as badly. I think I had maybe 10BB, and on the button I had pocket aces. There was maybe 6 or 7 limpers in front of me, and I believe the best move here is for me to push all-in. Sure, I could try to raise 1 bet for value and then push after the flop, but the chances of Aces still being ahead post flop when 6 or 7 handed are getting slimmer. You want to maximise your pot, but in this case the pot is already 70% of my stack – in otherwords, for me it is big enough. Even though I am obviously ahead pre-flop, I'm happy to take it down here. Ideally, I'll get only one caller and I might be an 80% favourite, or maybe better.

Others here fall into the "always slow play aces" trap. These are the same people that claim online poker is rigged because their aces got cracked. The potential payoff again is greater, but so is the risk.

In this particular example, my all-in was called twice, both times by Ax and I managed to more than triple up and set myself up for a good finish (second).

The final position I wish to discuss is big stack poker. It's amazing how confident and wise you feel when you have all those chips sitting in front of you – online or B&M poker. I know I always feel a lot more comfortable with the chips in front of me. While this might be axiomatic for some, for me it just helps me play better. I don't feel like I have to win every pot I am in, and therefore I can fold a lot easier.

I think one of the errors most commonly made with the big stack is playing too many hands. That is one advantage of having a big stack – you can afford to play more hands. But what some players don't understand is that having the big stack can also mean you can afford to play less hands. Being the bully can work for you, but so can being the "chip hog". These are my chips, and aint nobody getting their hands on them!

The risk here is that the other players have a better chance of chipping up off each other, and then all of a sudden your chip lead becomes the chip average. But you don't have to stop playing hands, just don't play every hand because you are the chip leader. You can now afford to try a few moves perhaps, but folding is still an option.

As I have said on many occasions, I think my style of play is rather conservative. Mainly because every time I try to mix it up, somehow things go pear shaped for me either by my own doing or by bad luck. But these are my thoughts on how to play according to your stack size.

I am a terrible average stack player, and I believe average stack play is the hardest to do. Yo can afford to fold, but not too much otherwise you become a short stack before long with the rising blinds. You need to play, but can't afford to through away chips. Small stack poker is, for me, the easiest, because some of your decisions have already been taken out of the mix. Check raise? You can't do it if the bet is bigger than what you've got in front of you. A lot of it comes down to "Do I want to push all in or not", and that simple binary decision will be the majority of your short stack play.

Big stack play can be difficult, but usually you can make a mistake or two and get away with it, or it doesn't hurt you as much. I like having a big stack – have I said that already?

With average stack play, I think one of the main errors made is being scared of the big stack. Like I said a lot of big stack players assume it is the right or obligation to start calling/raising every hand. The best way to get chips is off those that already have them. Don't shy away from the big stack just because he can felt you – he might be scared of loosing his big stack status, or even be ambivalent about the bet amount and call with crap. That read is up to you.

Thus ends Heafy's way to play your stack size. Some time ago Scurvy said more bloggers should try their hand at poker theory and stop using the "I don't know enough" excuse. It has been awhile, but I have thrown my hat in the ring here. I like having a big stack, and call when pot committed. Fucking revelations, man!

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