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At the table, we are (or, at least, should be) constantly evaluating the size of our stack and the stacks of our opponents. However, our reasons for doing so — and the methods we use — should change based on the type of game we’re playing.
In this course, which will be divided into a few parts, we’ll discuss why we should be aware of stack sizes, how we should calculate them, and why we may want to do so differently based on the type of game in which we’re playing.
Today, we’ll look at the reasons stack sizes are important in cash games.
Cash Game Stack Sizes
In cash games, we should be aware of our stack and the stacks of our opponents for several reasons:
1. We should always make sure we have as much money on the table as the game allows. In cash games you’re generally allowed to add chips to your stack at any time in between hands, and your cardroom/casino/site should have rules posted regarding the maximum amount you’re allowed to buy in for. In NL Hold’em, this is almost always 100x whatever the BB is, but some places have been known to make their max anywhere from 50-200x the BB.
The reason we want to make sure we have as much in front of us as possible is that we want to always be sure we’re able to maximize our return when we get paid off with strong hands. Because cash games are a slow, steady grind in which our goal is to always make +EV decisions, we tend to fold a lot preflop and, occasionally, pick up small pots on the flop or turn. We rarely see river cards or showdowns, and when we do it should be because we have a strong hand and believe it to be best. It’s important for us to get every last dollar we can during those hands, because those occasional influxes of cash are what keep our heads above water when we go long stretches without any playable cards.
Find out what the rules are where you’re playing, and be ready to ALWAYS “top off” your stack before every hand.
2. We should also always monitor the stack sizes of our opponents. It’s important to understand that even if we’re vigilant of our own stack size and always make sure to top it off, it’s useless if and when we end up in a big pot with an opponent who has less than we do. Remember, the pot can’t really get any bigger than 2x the size of the smallest stack involved (assuming there are only 2 people battling it out).
If you have $100 in front of you in a $.50/$1 game (the max), and end up in a pot with someone who only has $25, it’s impossible for you to double up your stack and maximize your profit: Your opponent can’t give you more than the $25 they have in front of them.
It’s important to remember this because the potential profit that is available during a hand should be a big factor in your decision making. For example, there’s no use calling a large-ish flop bet with a flush draw if your opponent doesn’t have enough money to pay you off when that flush hits. The only reason calling and “chasing” can be considered +EV is that there could be a large payday associated with hitting it. If your opponent makes that flop bet, but only has a little bit left in their stack, you can’t get that large payday that is the reason to call, and you should probably just let the hand go.
Additionally, an opponent who spends an extended period of time sitting on a stack that is below the maximum buy-in is probably an opponent who isn’t very aware of the finer points of the game. That person clearly doesn’t think about poker in any advanced way, and you can use that information to narrow down their possible player type.
Be aware of your opponents’ stack sizes, and consider them when deciding the value of playing or continuing to play in a potentially-large pot.
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