by Lou Krieger
Last time we left you making a slightly more-than-half-the-pot $12 wager and your opponent raised $200. You have a pair of queens, an overpair to the Js-10c-6d board, but realize that even if you call his $200 wager, you can expect to see bets on the turn and the river that will put your entire $700 stack at risk. What now?
Even though your pair of queens figures to be at the top end of the hands your opponent would raise with, it is certainly not better than all of his possible hands. If your opponent flopped a set with only had $35 remaining, you couldn’t get hurt very much if he raised with a hand that happened to reside at the top of his potential holdings. But in a situation where the stacks are big and each of you had $700 potentially at risk, folding an overpair is usually a better decision than calling off all your chips.
Some opponents will go all-in with a big pocket pair, regardless of the cost, and that’s a major leak in their game. To many former limit hold’em players, pocket aces are generally a through-ticket to the river, a hand that bedevils very tight players too. They play so snugly that they are unwilling to release a premium pair when dealt one, since they fold so many other hands with regularity. These players are often smart enough to understand they can be in trouble with one pair—even when that pair is aces—but are often emotionally unwilling to release the kind of hand their tight, rocky play has been waiting for all session.
Determining the effective stack size is critically important in every hand you play. Without an awareness of how much potential risk exists based on the stack sizes, a player can easily get into more trouble than he’s looking for. It’s been said that poker is a game of money played with cards, and without being cognizant of stack size and the amount of money at risk on any given hand, a player can be in grave danger and not even realize it.
You’ll find some players who almost always buy in to a no-limit game for the minimum amount allowable under house rules—usually between 15 and 30 big blinds. That’s a big difference from the maximum buy-in, which can range from 100 big blinds to an unlimited amount. Because of the difference in stack sizes, short stacked, and deep stacked players are essentially playing different games for different stakes at the same table, and whenever there are two deep stacked and one short stacked player contesting a pot, the side pot is likely to be much larger than the main pot.
A short stacked player has little leverage over the actions of his more deeply stacked opponents. He has to play tight poker, while the deep stacked players can employ a looser style, using their stack size to pressure other players while manipulating the pot odds offered to them.
A tight-but-aggressive short stack strategy works best with a minimum of seven others at the table. If the table is short-handed, a short stacked specialist will be hard pressed to keep up with the cost of the blinds paid waiting for big, playable hands. In addition, short stack strategy works better against loose opponents. Our short stacked specialist is looking for opportunities to go all-in for his short buy-in, and hoping for two or more callers when he does.
The traps of stack size are easy to avoid. Just estimate your opponent’s stack size—and always be aware of how many chips you have too. You needn’t be precise about it. A good estimate is all that’s needed to help you avoid the dangers of playing too small a hand for too much money, or playing too weak a hand to survive as a short stack specialist.