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Stack Size Strategy Considerations In Poker Tournaments

The Size Of Chip Stacks Is A Vitally Important Concept Defining Your Poker Tournament Strategy – The Lowdown Here.

Awareness of poker chip stack sizes - and how these affect both hand ranges and wider poker strategy - is a skill which separates the great players from the merely good. This article introduces some of the key concepts used when adjusting your strategy due to stack size considerations, presenting these in a format that you can profit from straight away.

We start with looking at how to objectively define your stack size using some common methods. Next we consider various sizes and note how these affect your plays, this covers open shoving, stealing, restealing and even 4-betting – depending on the depth of your stack. Finally we look at how you might judge whether your opponents understand these concepts, allowing you to spot times when they are being used against you.

Stack Size Strategy Adjustments In Poker Tournaments – How To Measure Your Chip Stack

There are several methods of measuring your stack size for the purposes of adjusting your strategy. While we acknowledge such methods as your ‘Chip Stack Index’ and ‘Cost Per Round’ this article will focus on the two most widely used – ‘M’ and ‘Big Blinds’.

The first was made popular by Dan Harrington and is known as your ‘M’ score (see our dedicated article on Harrington’s M for more). This shows a number based on the cost in blinds and antes per orbit of the table adjusted for the number of players. Your ‘M’ score then puts you in one of several ‘zones’ which dictate your strategy constraints.

Since you will usually be at a full (or almost full) table in the tournament setting, we prefer the simple method of working in Big Blinds. This provides us with useful ranges without requiring any calculations. Where antes are also in play you can make a small adjustment by adding half of the ante total on each hand to the big blind total.

The number of big blinds, or ‘M’ score, of your own stack is only part of the picture. For example, if your stack is twice as large as those of opponents left in the hand then the maximum that can be won / lost is based on their stacks and not yours. In this case your calculation should be based on the effective stack sizes (largest of your remaining opponent’s stacks) rather than your own.

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Stack Size Strategy Adjustments In Poker Tournaments – Strategy Overview

This section looks at the moves it is profitable to make with different stack sizes – we also include an estimate of the ‘M’ scores which correspond to each. When reading this we would suggest that your observations of opponents adjust too. For example, if you spot an opponent who often raise / folds with 11 Big Blinds then you have information that he is less likely to be aware of stack size considerations.

Small Stacks: 10 Or Less Big Blinds / “M” = <5.

Poker Strategy is pretty simple with this size of stack. Any raise you make will commit you to the pot (since the pot-odds to call a reraise will be too good to turn down). Your strategy is thus to push all-in with any hand you intend to play. While you do not have any fold-equity if an opponent raises, you may be able to get one or more limpers to fold, depending on your image and the player(s) involved.

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Medium-Small Stacks: 11 to 17 Big Blinds / “M” <8

Here your stack is in the range where you should rarely be raising with the intention of folding to a re-raise, since the percentage of your chips at risk is too big in proportion to your potential reward (usually stealing the blinds). Your stack is also getting too large to open push all-in, again the risk is too large compared to the gains.

A stack of this size has the inherent advantage that it is very effective for re-stealing after another player has entered the pot for a raise. Pushing all-in for 15 big blinds after an opponent raises 3 times the blind puts pressure onto your opponent to make a big decision in the hand. Aggressive opponents who would be crippled if they lost the pot are ideal targets – since there is a wide gap between the hands they would open raise with and those hands which are strong enough to call an all-in.

Medium Stacks: 18 to 25 Big Blinds / “M” <12

Now you are in a better position to raise and then fold to a re-raise with far less damage, whether you do this will depend on your opponents of course. Note that if you get re-raised you can not usually force a fold by 4-betting all in. For example if you have a 2000 chip stack at BB100 and raise to 300, a reraise from an opponent to 900 means that your final raise would be only 800 more – with a pot of 2250 (including the blinds) your opponent will have an easy call based on the pot-odds alone.

Restealing is still a viable option with a medium stack, though since the number of chips you risk are greater you should seek to have some insurance against being called in the form of a hand with some value.

Medium-Large Stacks: 26 to 35 Big Blinds / “M” <16
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Medium-Large Stacks: 26 to 35 Big Blinds / “M” <16

Here the flexibility of your stack is allowing you to make some moves (based on your opponent’ ranges and stack sizes) that shorter stacks can not make. For example, with 32 big blinds you can re-raise an initial raiser with the intention of folding if your opponent moves all-in with a 4th raise. You might also be able to force a fold by 4-betting all-in yourself (be careful that your opponent is capable of laying down their hand here – some are not!). Open raising with a wide range of hands in late position becomes possible, since opponents with those medium-small stacks who might have re-raised can see that you can call without risking too big a proportion of your chips if you judge yourself ahead of their range.

Large Stacks: 36+ Big Blinds / “M” >20

Here we have the maximum flexibility, it is this very flexibility which makes it worthwhile keeping your focus on accumulating chips – after all, it would be a shame to lose the ability to 4-bet bluff or 5-bet all-in.

Stack Size Strategy Adjustments In Poker Tournaments – Adjusting To Your Opponents

We already mentioned the obvious example of an opponent raise-folding with <10 blinds. However this is far from being the only method of using information on stack sizes to help you make the right decisions against various opponent types.

While there are no ‘hard and fast’ rules when it comes to stack sizes, we expect competent players to be aware of the constraints that stack sizes place you under. If you see a regular winner make certain moves then the number of chips they hold can greatly help you assess their range of holdings.

For example, a player who has shown stack size awareness with a stack of 12 times the blind raises 2.75 times from early middle position – do not expect this player to fold to a reraise, this is likely a strong holding. However, if this same player pushes all-in from late position after a raiser then we can assign a wider range, he will be aware of the pressure he is putting on the initial raiser.

Players who are not aware of stack sizes are another matter, however making the correct adjustments against them will show a profit over time. Unaware players will often telegraph holding a monster hand by making small raises (or re-raises) with these hands and overly large raises with vulnerable holdings and draws.

Noting the tendencies of specific opponents though the tournament will give you an idea of how they are adjusting to the stacks in play. Once you know this the remaining challenge is to adjust your own strategy to beat them.

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Medium-Large Stacks: 26 to 35 Big Blinds / “M” <16
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