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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.
Last week, we discussed why monitoring stack sizes is important in cash games. Today, we’ll look at tournaments/sit ‘n’ gos.
Tournament/Sit ‘n’ Go Stack Sizes
Unlike in cash games, we’re not allowed to purchase chips in between hands when we’re playing in a tournament or sit ‘n’ go (for simplicity, I’ll just say “tournaments” from now on, but know that everything I’m saying applies to both tournaments AND sit ‘n’ gos).
Because of this, our first reason for monitoring stack sizes in cash games — the idea of “maximizing our return” by always topping off our stack — doesn’t apply in tournaments.
1. However, our second reason — using the stack sizes of our opponents as a factor when deciding whether a hand is worth playing — does still apply. For details on this topic, check out rule two in the linked article.
The second reason we need to monitor stack sizes in tournaments is, really, even more important than the first. It’s fairly obvious, but I’ll write it out here nonetheless:
2. In tournaments, once our stack is gone, it’s gone. We’re out. The tournament is over for us. Having even one chip is infinitely more valuable than having zero. In effect, our stack is our life. Every chip we put into a pot is akin to putting in a piece of our life. Because of this, we need to be acutely aware of how much “life” we have, and how much everyone else has, because only one of us will be alive at the end.
As the blind levels increase, and antes are introduced, our life is going to be regularly depleted — but so is everyone else’s. They’re in the same boat we are, and tournaments are a zero-sum game, so it’s just as important that we take advantage of their unwillingness to die as it is we keep ourselves alive. The best way to do this is to monitor their stack sizes and evaluate how their decisions may change as their lives are depleted. You’ll quickly start to see which players are afraid of dying, and which ones are not, and those classifications need to be a major factor in your decisions as the blinds and antes increase — almost even more so than your cards. And that leads us to the next reason we need to monitor stack sizes in tournaments: Fold equity.
As the blinds and antes eat up everyone’s stacks, players are forced into more and more “all-in or fold” decisions. Because we cannot control anything in regard to what cards are dealt, it is always in our best interests to avoid seeing hands through to showdown. If you are called every time you go all-in, you are not going to survive — even if you always go in with the best of it.
Note: Even though getting your money in with the best of it is always a good result, the life/death nature of tournaments means it is not, necessarily, a profitable one. If all of your pushes are called — even if you have aces every single time — it is statistically unlikely you will survive more than 4 or 5 in a row. Since you’ll probably need to “double up” more times than that to win the tournament (or even just to cash), and the top-heavy pay structure of tournaments means you need to be capable of winning them in order to be a long-term profitable player, this approach is unlikely to be profitable.
3. So, it is vital that when we risk a large amount of our “life” — usually by shoving preflop when our stack begins to dwindle — there is a very good chance we will win the pot without being called. This chance is called “fold equity“, and the simplest way to define it is to say it’s the chances that your opponent(s) will fold to your all-in bet, and you can’t know that unless you’re aware of everyone’s stack sizes.
As your stack shrinks, it will cost your opponents less and less to call your all-in — down to the point where your stack is so small (2-3BBs) whomever is in the BB may be mathematically obligated to call with any two cards. In this case, it would be said we have zero fold equity. This is bad, and it’s where being aware of everyone’s stack sizes — and their tendency to be afraid or not afraid of death — comes into play.
We’ll discuss fold equity in more depth in the future, but for our purposes here we’ll just say that we need to always be aware of stack sizes because that knowledge will help us navigate the middle and late stages of tournaments when almost every hand includes some sort of “all-in or fold” decision.
4. We do not want to let our stack deteriorate so much that we cannot force our opponents to fold when we shove (we have zero fold equity), and we also want to understand the situations each of our opponents are in so we can decipher when their shoves may be out of desperation and when they’re out of strength.
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