Stack Size is Everything

As human beings, we have a very complicated relationship with size. We both celebrate and demonize things that are large, and we do the same to things that are small. Then we make ridiculous statements like “size doesn’t matter.” Of course it does. Size is one of the most important and fundamental concepts there is. Try fitting an entire roast chicken in your mouth, or picking up a Mercedes with a pair of chopsticks.

Size is just as important and fundamental when you’re sitting at the poker table. In this case, we’re talking about stack size: the number of chips you and your opponents have at any one time. If you have a monster stack in front of you, arranged in the shape of the Eiffel Tower, you’ll need to employ a different strategy than someone who has the proverbial chip and a chair.

Small Blinds, Big Blinds

The most obvious place to make these adjustments is during a tournament. You might start with 100bb stacks, but before too long, you’ll be staring at a 66bb stack when the blinds go up. Then 50bb, 40bb, and so on – and that’s if you don’t gain or lose any chips. Eventually, you’ll be whittled down to 10bb. What will you do then?

For the most part, you’ll push or fold. The shallower your stack, the fewer opportunities there will be to make 4-bets and 5-bets preflop, or to make half-pot bets on the flop, turn and river. You simply don’t have enough chips to work with. Instead, you’ll be going all-in a lot sooner in the hand, and with a wider range than you might be used to. How comfortable are you open-shoving a 10bb stack heads-up when you’ve got, say, Ten-Five suited? The math says it’s the right thing to do.

My Set is Bigger Than Yours

Conversely, having a deep stack allows you to make all those fun 6-bets and 7-bets preflop, and to bet all three streets post-flop for whatever amount you see fit. But at the same time, you’ll want to play a more narrow range of hands against other big stacks. Getting all that money in with a baby flush and losing to a nut flush is a very bad idea. It might happen quite rarely, but the cost is so high, it makes the reward not worth the risk.

Instead, you should be the one getting that monster stack in with the nut flush. Suited Aces are fantastic starting hands when you’re 200bb deep; so are high pocket pairs, which can make bigger sets than your opponents. Recently, Dan “Jungleman” Cates said on Reddit that Tom Dwan once lost a $20-million pot in Macau when his set got beaten by a higher set. It happens to the best of us. Try not to have so much money on the table when it happens to you.