Effective Stack Sizes In Poker Tournament Play

Your Stack Is Only One Factor In SNG Play – Learn How Effective Stack Sizes Change Your Play Here

Awareness of the ‘Effective Stack Sizes’ when playing SNGs will allow you to make many profitable adjustments to your game. The Effective Stacks describe the most chips you could to win or lose in a hand. If you have 1000 chips, but your opponents have only 1 chip each then your extra 999 would be meaningless from a decision making perspective - you can only lose 1 chip in total and win 1 chip from each opponent. Some common real examples will illustrate the concept for SNG or Online Poker Tournaments play.

Effective Stack Size - Example 1:

Player 1: 2400 Chips

Player 2: (You!) 5000 Chips

Player 3: 2000 Chips

Player 4: 1600 Chips

Here the blinds are 400 and 200 (stacks before posting). Player 1 folds and you are on the button. While your own stack is 5000 chips the ‘Effective Stack Size’ in this situation is 2000 chips – this is the most you can lose in this one hand. As we will see below your decision making process should be based on both your own stack size and the effective stack size. Here you would not be shoving 12.5 big blinds of your own stack (should you choose to do this) but 5 big blinds - your all-in would be for 2000 chips only and so your decision on your action should be based on this!

Effective Stack Size - Example 2:

Player 1: 3000 Chips

Player 2: 2000 Chips

Player 3: 2400 Chips

Player 4: (You!) 6000 Chips

Player 5: 1600 Chips

Here the blinds are 100 and 50 and you are in the small blind holding a small pair (4’s for example). Player 2 raises to 350 and player 3 folds. Here the effective stack is 2000 chips and it costs you 300 more to call. If you were considering playing your 4’s for ‘set value’ then there are not enough chips to justify your investment – the effective stack is too small… instead you should decide whether your hand is likely to be good against your opponents range with the dead money already in the pot - or whether you have fold equity!

Using Effective Stack Sizes In SNG Play

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When deciding whether to push or fold (usually at or close to the bubble) the effective number of blinds you are pushing is an important factor. While you may have a large number of blinds, having only short stacks to act behind you reduces the ‘real stack sizes’ in play – if pushing all-in with 20 big blinds seems to be unprofitable you need to be aware that you are often only really pushing 5 BBs.

There is another reason why the effective stack sizes affect your play in these situations. If you were to raise a standard amount (for example 3 times the big blind) into stacks of just 5 or 6 times the blind then you would have to call any all-in re-raise. The reason would be that you will be receiving ‘pot-odds’ of more than 2/1 and often closer to 3/1 (meaning you only have to win more than 33% with 2/1 and 25% of the time with 3/1 to show a profit). Since any legitimate hand will win more than this against a desperate short-stack's range of re-raising hands you might as well push all-in to start with… after all if you are going to have to call anyway then why not get the maximum amount of ‘fold-equity’ from your stack!

Effective stacks also come into play earlier in the SNG. This example concerns playing hands for ‘set value’ – that is those small pairs which you will throw away the majority of the time when you miss the flop. Here you need to look at stack sizes to decide whether you have sufficient odds to play for a set. If either you stack or your opponents stack is less than 9 times the initial bet then you can not profitably play for set value.

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