Chapter 30: Stack Sizes in Online Poker
In an online poker game, at the majority of sites the maximum buy-in will be 100 times the big blind (100 BBs). The majority of players buy-in for this amount and most hands you play will be based around this size of stack. Every example in this book other than this chapter is based around a 100 BB stack for simplicity.
Sometimes, however, you will be facing situations where you’re facing a stack that has significantly less than 100 BBs, or sometimes you will have been winning money and will have a stack significantly larger than 100 BBs and playing against opponents with similar stacks. The correct play can change drastically as stacks sizes change, more so for when stack sizes are larger.
Depending on how deep you are with your opponent, that is the “effective stack size.” For example, if you have $900 at a $2/$4 game and your opponent has $120, effective stack sizes are 30 BBs. If you have $900 and your opponent has $1020, effective stack sizes are 225 BBs.
When effective stacks are less than 100 BBs
Your play won’t change that much below 100 BBs. All-ins will be more frequent and it will be easier to put your stack in with hands like top pair good kicker. Things like implied odds and calling raises preflop to flop sets go down in value, however.
From 75 BBs to 100 BBs, there is not much difference. In fact, there’s not enough of a difference that it’s worth writing about.
I find that players who buy-in for less than 75 BBs are almost always bad. This is true except for good players who buy-in for 20 BBs and when they double up they leave the tables. These players are called shortstackers and discussed below. They are usually playing with all the money they have on a site and are more into the gambling aspect of poker. I am less apt to give them credit for good hands when they go all-in and will be calling their pushes with more marginal hands.
When I’m in a pot with someone with less than 50 BBs and I flop a good draw, I am going to try as hard as I can to get all the money in on a semibluff. For example, let’s say I’m playing $.25/$.50 and am facing an opponent with $23. I don’t know anything about him but assume he is bad.
Our shortstacked opponent raises to $1.50 UTG. Another bad player with a 100 BB stack calls on the button. I call in the big blind with 7s6s.
The flop is 5c4h2s. I check, UTG bets $4 of his stack and the button folds. There’s no other option but to just put UTG all-in. Even though he’s raised UTG and bet into 2 opponents, we have a good draw and there’s still a chance he might fold. Against a full-stacked opponent in this spot, I would always call since check-raising this kind of flop when you can’t get all-in will lead to many tough turn decisions.
To summarize, when facing a shorter stacked opponent, be more apt to get all-in with any decent hand. These guys will throw their money in with some absolute garbage on occasion.
A newer phenomenon of online 6-max games are the shortstackers. These are knowledgeable opponents who buy-in for 20 BBs at multiple tables. As soon as they win a pot and get over 30 BBs, they automatically leave the table and return as soon as possible, buying in for 20 BBs again. The practice of leaving the table and returning to buy-in for the minimum buy-in is called “ratholing.”
These players are trying to take advantage of the aggressive nature of the shorthanded games. Since everyone is raising so loose in position and 3-betting each other with marginal hands, these shortstackers then shove any decent hand when facing raises and are often called by these deeper stacked raisers, even when the deep stacks have bad hands.
A shortstacker will have very tight stats – around the 13 VPIP, 11 PFR range – and will be an annoyance at the table when you’re trying to open your game up against other, deeper stacked opponents.
The best way to play against these opponents is to play tightly when they shove over your open raise. It will depend on what position you raised from to determine what hands you should call with, but always keep in mind the shortstacker’s 3-bet range will widen dramatically when you raise on the CO or button. These guys usually make money from players who call their 3-bets with too many hands.
The other situation you will face against a shortstacker is when they open raise. Your only move against this when you have a hand is to 3-bet and put them all-in. Again, what hands to do this with will depend greatly on position. If a shortstacker’s stats are 13/11, he’s raising a very tight range UTG and I’d only put him all-in with a range of 99 or better, AQ or better. However, when this same player raises from the button, I’d put him all-in with nearly any decent hand, ranging from KT or better to any ace to any pair.
It should be noted that there aren’t many good shortstackers below the $1/$2 level. Often times, someone buying in for 20 BBs will be a huge fish who is just gambling. It’s best to notice when a 20 BB opponent doubles up and leaves before his next big blind – make a note on this opponent that he is a ratholer and play accordingly.
When playing with more than 100 BBs
Playing with deeper stacks can be very tricky and lead to some extremely tough situations. It’s a fine balance towards getting the most value of your hand while protecting it at the same time.
Always be thinking about future turn and river decisions. This is very important and you must always consider it when playing deeper. Playing deeper you will often be in spots where there will be money left to play on the turn and river. Every preflop and flop decision is leading down this path so always keep in mind where your decisions are taking you.
For example, let’s say I’m in a $5/$10 game. The button is pretty unknown to me, but has $2,000 behind him, as do I. Over 30 hands, his stats are 21/10/2. He opens to $40. I 3-bet AdQd to $150 in the BB. Already, I have to consider that I’m making a big pot out-of-position with a hand like AQ, which can be very tough to play in this spot. Given how wide the button can be raising, however, I 3-bet here more often than I call.
The flop is QsJs3c. Whether I decide to bet the flop or check and play for pot control, I have to consider my future turn and river decisions. If I bet and get raised, I have to decide between going all-in, calling and folding. You can see how playing OOP is so tough – all three choices are viable decisions in a pot this big with a vulnerable but probably best hand like top pair top kicker.
If I bet and get called, I have to consider what I’ll do on various turns – such as when the flush draw or straight draws get there or when the J pairs. If I bet, get raised and decide to call the raise, I have to consider the same turn cards and how they’ll affect my decision. Same goes for when I bet the flop and turn and get called on both streets; I have to start thinking about how I’m going to react to the river before I make my previous decision. Every decision is going to involve hundreds of dollars and will have a big effect on how much money I win or lose.
100 to 140 BBs
Not much changes when you get a little above 100 BBs. You’ll be making many of the same semibluffs and be getting all-in with the same strength hands.
Your implied odds go up a little bit. When you are facing a 3-bet after you’ve open raised a small pair, if you’re around 125 BBs or more deep with an opponent, you can make the call whereas if you had 100 BBs you’d fold. You can also call on the turn to hit your draws more often.
Also be more worried about your opponent’s implied odds. Start 3-betting larger preflop, especially when you’re OOP. Be more inclined to make bets that are close to the size of the pot when there are multiple draws on board to reduce your opponent’s implied odds.
140 to 180 BBs
This is when things can really get complicated. You’re going to be in some really icky spots with top pairs and overpairs. Making a move like 3-betting all-in on the flop as a semibluff isn’t going to be the best play.
We can start calling more hands preflop as well. Opening up our calling range against open raisers on the button is recommended. Hands like suited connectors, one-gapper suited connectors and suited aces go up in value since when they hit big hands they will win big pots.
We can start making more semibluff flop raises like raising gutshots and overcards when we’re in position because our opponent is going to have to have a very good hand to want to put a lot of money in given how deep we are. Abuse position strongly when you’re deep against another opponent – it’s just so hard for them to continue with anything but the strongest of their hands.
At the same time, we need to be careful making big semibluffs. At 100 BBs deep, I recommended getting all in with any good flush draw or 8-out straight draw by 3-betting all in on the flop if you are raised. When you are 170 BBs deep, the situation changes and calling is better.
For example, let’s say I raise UTG+1 with KsQs at a $1/$2 game. The button, a decent player with stats of 20/13/2, calls my $6 raise. We’re heads up to a flop of JdTc4h. I bet $12 and the button raises to $40.
When we are 100 BBs deep, I’d usually shove here. Button can be raising a few hands that have to fold a push. When we are called here on a push, we’re always behind, but we have good equity with eight outs to the nuts.
But things change when you get deeper. In this hand, we both have $340. Once he makes it $40, shoving in $315 is just going to be bad play. He’ll fold a good amount, but we’re only winning $65 when he does. When we get called, he’ll have JJ, TT, 44 or JTs every time. When we get all-in against these hands, we’re only winning 26% of the time, so very often we’re shoving in $315 to win $65 and when we get called we’re only winning 1 out of 4 times. It’s a losing play and it’s a much better play to just call the flop raise and try to suck out on his big hand.
The same goes for calling a 3-bet in position against an aggressive 3-bettor. Let’s say we open T9s on the button to $3 at $.50/$1 and get 3-bet by the BB $10. We’re both 150 BBs deep. The flop is Jc8c2h. The BB bets $18. Shoving in the rest of our stack would be bad here for the same reasons described above. It’s much better to call once and reevaluate the turn.
Be careful with good one pair hands. Often getting in 180 BBs with top pair top kicker is a losing play. It’s hard to ever really say when it’s correct or not; again, you’re going to need to gain some experience and use your hand reading skills for each exact situation.
Generally, against more aggressive opponents who can put in big raises and bets on a bluff, I’d be more apt to not bet my weaker top pairs in certain spots. If they are tough TAGs or LAGs who mix up their bluffs well with their strong hands, play more for pot control with a vulnerable one pair hand. If they are near maniac aggressive, don’t be afraid to get a lot of your stack in with just top pair.
Against passive players and fish, keep betting away. There’s a lot of value to be made against bad players when they get deep, so don’t let up with TPTK and your overpairs. It’s important to be very cautious when they put in a big raise against your bets however. Passive players are not known to bluff or pull stupid moves when they’re deep.
Also be careful with hands like two-pair when there are straights and flushes present. Having 98 on a T98 board is very dangerous and will be a losing play if you continue if your tight opponent has raised.
Many of the previous thoughts continue when you get deeper. When you start getting over 200BBs deep, you have a little more room to maneuver, especially against good players and can start opening up some big bluffs. Against another TAG, you’re going to be representing a big hand anytime you put in 200 BBs so take that into account when you are finding spots to bluff. Always err on the side of caution, however. If your opponent is telling you he has a big hand, you should let off. If you’re not careful, you can spew off a 200 BB stack, which is a big losing play.
You can get very creative preflop. Every hand can be 3-bet and 4-bet without great hands, as you will have so much money behind that you won’t be committed if you are making a move preflop. You can call 3-bets with a wider range, as long as you are willing to semibluff and bluff on the right boards postflop.
Keep up the creativeness postflop. Semibluffing hands like gutshots and straight draws go up in value because when you are called and hit your draw you are destined to win a huge pot. Again, be careful semibluffing – in big pots don’t semibluff to where you are faced with a tough decision and won’t know if you’re pot committed. For example, let’s say we’re 250 BBs deep at $2/$4 and we open to $14 on the button at $2/$4 with Ts8s. The BB, who’s a tough LAG, 3-bets to $54. We call and see a flop of Jc9s2h. The LAG bets $100. We can’t shove here; it’s just a ridiculously big overbet and we’re risking too much money with eight outs. If we make a pot sized raise of around $300, we’re going to be faced with a terrible decision if the LAG pushes for $646 over our bet. We’ll have to fold a great draw because we aren’t getting odds to draw to eight outs.
It’s much better to use our positional advantage to just call here with our strong draw this deep.
As described above, be careful with vulnerable one-pair and weak two-pair type of hands. You also need to start being careful with sets on flush and straight boards. This is very circumstantial and I’m still almost never folding a set. Weaker flushes, especially those ten high and lower, are going to be in a lot of trouble in spots where you’re getting over 200 BBs in the pot with them against your tighter opponents. When playing deep, analyze who your opponent is, try to figure out his hand range and act accordingly with your own hand, taking how deep you are and future streets of play into consideration.