Poker

News: Poker Basics – Effective Stacks


A lesson for newbies today on how to make life simpler by adjusting to whoever is the shorter stack in the hand.

poker basics
Base your strategy on who has the shorter stack

Effective stack size basically means the stack size of the shortest stack player in the hand. If you have 100 big blinds and your opponent has 20 big blinds, the effective stack sizes are 20 big blinds. 

The reason we make this distinction is because practically speaking, you should play the strategy for the lower stack size. If you are the 100 big blind player, for the most part play the strategy you would if you had 20 big blinds. 

This is because, in the example above, the maximum you can win or lose is 20 big blinds, just like your opponent. 

A common mistake new players will make is playing according to their own stack, not the shorter stack at the table. The errors this leads to are usually hand selection errors. For example, if both you and your opponent have 100 big blinds you can profitably call a raise with a speculative hand like 4 5 because if you hit, you stand to win a very big pot. If, however, you have 100 big blinds with 4 5 and a 20 big blind stack reraises you, then the maximum you can win is 20 big blinds, which does not justify calling a reraise. 

Bluffs are harder with low effective stacks

poker basics
ICM plays a role understanding relative stack differences

Another mistake players make here is assuming their stack is more threatening than it is. You might be able to push another player off a hand when you both have 100 big blind stacks and you put in a pot sized bet on the flop. If they have a marginal hand they will not want to commit to another pot sized bet on the turn and river. 

But when your opponent only has 20 big blinds themselves then they have a low stack to pot ratio where they will feel more pot committed. They will see a pair or broadway hand and figure it is their best time to take a stand. 

As a general rule, bluffs are harder to pull off when the effective stacks are low. This does not mean that your relative stack size does not matter as the larger stack. In fact, it is very important in the late game of tournaments where ICM plays a big role. The bigger the difference between your stack and a shorter stack when a money bubble looms, the more pressure you can exert because losing means little to you and everything to them. 

One final note and that is to simply get used to bringing up effective stacks whenever you review hand. It is much easier and more informative to start a hand history by saying “the effective stacks were $40” rather than “I had $107 and he had $40”. 

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