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Stack Sizes, PART 1

by Lou Krieger

The size of your stack of chips and those of your opponents can have a significant impact on how you play a hand. If you’re playing in a $1-$3 no-limit game and have $300 in front of you, but you have just one opponent who has only $35 left to wager, the effective stack size is $35. That’s all you can win from him and all he can win from you. The maximum potential leverage of a wager either of you might make is only $35.

 Let’s assume you’ve been dealt Qc-Qs, are first to act, and come out betting $9, which is a typical raise of three times the big blind. We’ll assume you are called by one opponent and both blinds fold. Now the flop is Js-10c-6d. You think your pair of queens is the best hand and come out betting.

 You bet $12, a wager of slightly more than half the pot. Your opponent, who began the hand with $35 and called your initial wager of $9, now has $26 remaining. What do you think he’ll do? He’s not likely to call your bet. With only $26 left, he will either fold or raise all-in, because an all-in wager stands some chance of inducing you to fold.

 Your bet on the flop means your opponent would only have $14 remaining if he called, and if he does call, he’ll probably face a call for the remainder of his chips on the turn. He’s much better off raising and getting all his chips in right now, rather than calling his money off in dribs and drabs.

 Your opponent’s big advantage to raising all-in, rather than calling now and then having to call for the remainder of his chips on the next betting round, is that raising gives him what players refer to as fold equity. That’s another way of saying that as long as there’s some chance that your opponent’s raise will convince you to fold, in the long run he’s better off moving all-in than he would be by simply calling your bet and then calling another wager on the next betting round.

 Suppose he does raise all-in. You’re probably going to call because he can’t hurt you all that much even if his hand is better than yours. In fact, it’s tough to think of why you would fold under these circumstances. After all, if your opponent was fortunate enough to flop a set, you still have an opportunity to improve and win the pot, and the cost to call is reasonable because he doesn’t have many chips remaining. Moreover, he might have a hand like K-J and thinks his pair of jacks is the top dog, even though you’re still ahead of him. When you think of the hands your opponent might be holding that would motivate him to raise under these circumstances, the majority of them are currently running behind your pair of queens.

 Now let’s assume the same hands, but this time you each have $700 in front of you. The effective stack size is now $700 instead of $35, and that’s a big difference. You could win $700, but you could lose that much too. It’s a far cry from the $35 effective stack size in the previous example. Your risk is precisely 20 times greater than it was before—$700 as compared to $35—and that increased level of risk should point you in the direction of greater prudence.

 Suppose you make a slightly-more-than-half-the-pot $12 wager and your opponent raises $200. You have an overpair to the board, but realize that even if you call his $200 wager, you can expect to see bets on the turn and the river designed to put your entire $700 stack at risk. Unless your opponent is a complete maniac—someone who bets and raises huge amounts with nothing at all in his hand more often than not—discretion is usually the better part of valor and folding is the best play.

 More on stack sizes next time.

 Visit Lou Krieger online at, where you can read his blog, and check out all of his books. Write directly to him at

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