The role of stack sizes in cash games

The stack sizes have a very significant role in NL Hold’em games. The stack sizes should substantially affect our initial strategy, which we should always choose according to the amount of the chips. I would like to share some thoughts in this subject.

First we should go through the most basic stack sizes.

Short stack, which means 20 BB. I think the most of you know, or at least have heard about, the Short Stack strategy, which was very popular a few years ago. Today, this strategy is a bit old fashioned and demoded for a number of reasons, so I don’t recommend using this strategy. One of the reasons is that, despite you play a lot, you aren’t really developing your game, because this is a very mechanic strategy. In addition you could interfere the others play, because, if a short stacked player is involved in the hand, the others game can change dramatically. Therefore most of the poker rooms increased the minimum buy-in to 35 BB, which falls in the category of Medium stack.

Medium Stack. This means an average depth of 40-60 BB. Basically this medium stack buy-in is not so prevalent in the online poker rooms, who use this buy-in, generally doesn’t have a big bankroll, or don’t want to loose a big amount. Most of the times we will see not so experienced or skilled players with this kind of buy-in, but it could happen, even on higher stakes, that a really good player will be sitting at the table with a medium stack buy-in.

Deep stack. This is our goal in the cash games, preferably we should always play with a full buy-in, because with this can we maximize our profit, and in deep stack cash games can we use our edge.

stack sizes

In the beginning of the article I mentioned, that the stack sizes should be closely related to the initial strategy. The short stack strategy is based on the tight preflop hand selection. In the case of SS strategy on the flop usually all the money goes in, that’s why we need those kind of hands, which can easily be the best hand on the flop. These are the premium cards, like big pocket pairs, AK, AQ, and hands like that. As we go towards to the deeper stacks, the gap between the strong and weak hands is reducing. 100BB deep the suited connectors, and the low pocket pairs become playable, because if we hit the flop, we have a very strong hand, and we can win our opponent’s whole stack. The premium cards however loose a bit from their role, because rarely will we playing 200 BB pots with a single pair, or if we do this, we can easily be surprised.

In the following 3 examples I would like to illustrate the difference of the short stack and deep stack thinking.

Example No. 1: You are sitting in the big blind with 20 BB stack, so you are playing the short stack strategy. Your hole cards: AK. It’s folded to the button, who raises to 3BB, you reraise to 9,5BB, and your opponent calls. The flop: K72. It’s a quite good flop for you, top pair top kicker is a very strong hand in this situation. You go all-in with your remaining 10,5BB stack, your opponent calls, and shows KQ, your cards hold up, and you win the 40BB pot. Fair simple choreography, there is nothing to say to this hand.

Example No. 2: The situation is very similar to the previous one, the only difference is that now you have 150 BB stack in front of you, so you sitting deep stack at the table. The player on the button, who has 200BB, raises to 3BB, you reraise with your AK to 10BB, and he calls. The pot is 20,5 BB (two 10BB calls, and the small blind). The flop: K98. This seems to be quite fair flop for you. Again top pair top kicker. So you bet 12BB, and your opponent calls. Your remaining chip amount is 128BB, and the pot is 44,5BB. The turn is the Q. It isn’t a scary card for you, so you continue with a 35BB bet. Now you have 93 BB remaining. The opponent reraises to 100BB. An unexpected action. If you call this bet, you can be sure, that your opponent goes all-in on the river, when you will have only 28BB left, and the pot will be 272,5BB, so you are going to get a 1:10 pot odds, it makes no sense to fold at that point. So what could our opponent have? Anything. Maybe KQ, or a set, or he called with JT, and now he has the straight. But one thing is almost sure, he’s beating our top pair top kicker. The best option at this point is folding the hand. What went wrong here is not the subject of this article, we will discuss it later. What is important here, is to illustrate how serious decisions we have to make in every single hand when we playing deep stack poker.

Example No. 3: We are sitting at the table with 150BB. It’s folded to us, and we raise to 3BB with 33 in the button. The big blind, who has 200BB reraises to 9BB. We call. The flop: J63. The pot is 18,5BB, and our opponent bets 15BB, we reraise to 55BB, the big blind goes all-in, and we call. He shows QQ. Our hand holds up, and we win the 300BB pot. What do I want to illustrate in this example? The concept, I have already mentioned, that in deep stack poker the hands like low pocket pairs, and suited connectors become playable, even if we face a reraise with them. Of course you can’t call reraises with all sort of junk hands, but sometimes a good call, can make you a huge amount of money.

I hope, that I was able to illustrate, how complex thinking the deep stack cash games need. Now it was just a foretaste, which I found important, because from this point every cash game strategy will apply to full buy-in. Of course who is relatively new to this game can choose the medium stack buy-in, but sooner or later everybody has to graduate to the full buy-in games.

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