Awkward Stack Sizes
Modify your behavior accordingly
hold'em players are well aware of the strong influence that stack size has on
betting. Any problem posed in regard to your decision of how to play a hand
needs to specify your stack size and your opponent's.
Most bets and raises in no-limit approximate the pot size. Let's look at a typical hand and watch how the pot size grows. Player A opens with a raise of 3.5 times the big blind (the small blind is .5; the big blind is 1). Player B wants to reraise, so that would be a call of 3.5, now making the pot 8.5, and he reraises 8.5, to a total of 12. Player C calls the 12 and reraises 12, for a total of 41 (.5 + 1 + 3.5 + 3.5 + 8.5 + 12 + 12).
What is the significance of this table's 3.5, 12, and 41? It can be used to let the player know when he has an awkward stack size (between pot-size bets), so that he can modify his behavior accordingly.
I tell my poker clients that when they have less than 10 times the amount of the big blind, their choices are to fold, call, or raise all in. If there is an ante, use the sum of both blinds as the outer limit of pot-commitment. Raising part of your stack is wrong, regardless of whether you intend to call or fold if reraised. Here is an example of such a situation, with one of my clients telling the story:
"I had 188,000 left in a no-limit hold'em tournament, playing 8,000-16,000 blinds and a 2,000 ante. I was at an eighthanded table, on the button with the K 4, and everyone folded to me. I knew that I had to make a move soon and wanted to take advantage of the situation, so I open-raised to 48,000. I knew that it was probably right to just bet all of my chips, but I decided to raise with the intention of folding if reraised. That is exactly what happened; the blind reraised, and I folded."
I replied: "Just because you have enough hand (questionable here) and position, it does not mean that you have to raise the pot. You have to be extremely tight while playing with an ante when you have eight or nine times the sum of the blinds. You have to fold (or just call) that K-4 suited here, because the money ratio is wrong for a raise with such a hand. Just because you intend to fold if reraised does not make the raise OK."
Let's take a look at the math of this decision and see if we are supposed to go all in or fold when we get raised here. The K-4 suited will win roughly 32 percent of the time against a pair of fives through queens, 40 percent of the time against an ace with a kicker bigger than a 4, and 28 percent of the time against a bigger king, such as A-K. The hand will be crushed against aces or kings, and about even money against pocket deuces or threes. It will hardly ever have an overlay. My guess is that winning one pot out of three is a good approximation of your winning chances if you get reraised all in. If the big blind is the reraiser, it costs you 140,000 to call, and you will be getting a chance to win 16,000 in antes, 8,000 from the small blind, 48,000 of your own that's already in the pot, and 188,000 from your opponent. So, you are laying 140,000 to win 260,000. Even though my guesstimate of the odds against you may be slightly off, it should be evident that the decision of whether to call all in or come off your hand is not a weighty one, from the standpoint of your equity in each course of action, even though the sum involved is large.
I think my client had an awkward amount of chips in front of him, as he would have been pot-committed if he had raised. K-4 suited is not much of a hand, in the sense that you will be an underdog if someone plays, even if you are not reraised. If I had 100,000 here, I would bet all of it without even thinking about it with the K-4. The possibility of winning the pot without a fight when I was in dire straits with chips would make me aggressive. If I had 300,000, I could raise and fold if reraised, still having some ammunition to fight on if my ploy failed. Having around 200,000 was actually worse than having less or more than that. I think you need to muck or just call with a dog when you hold an awkward amount of chips.
Most people think the amount of chips is some kind of even continuum from deep-stacked to short-stacked. I think it is more like a series of waves, whereby sometimes you have the right stack size for an action, and other times you are placed poorly. If your stack size puts you near the point of being pot-committed if you take a certain aggressive action, this is a warning sign that you may need a solid hand rather than make a speculative aggressive action.
Here is a situation for you: It is a no-limit hold'em tournament with blinds of 500-1,000. You are in the big blind with the A J. The button open-raises for 4,000, and the small blind folds. The raiser has more chips than you and seems to be a normal no-limit tournament player, aggressive on the button but not an automatic raising machine. What do you do with each of the following stack sizes? 15,000, 30,000, 55,000, and 100,000. Here are my opinions:
15,000 is a no-brainer. You raise all in because you figure to have the best hand.
30,000 is more difficult. If you reraise to 15,000, you will have 15,000 left and will be forced to call a three-bet. If you go all in, he almost surely will call when you're beat and fold when you have the best of it. Look at the big difference in the math from 15,000. I would just call the 4,000.
55,000 is flexible. You can call the 4,000 (my play) or raise to 15,000 and fold to a reraise.
With 110,000, I would simply fold. Meow. I hate bad position with deep stacks.
Do you think my plays are wimpy? Perhaps they are, holding A-J, so run through the choices again with A-10, instead. My point is that a 30,000 stack requires more hand to reraise than a 15,000 or 55,000 stack. You have an awkward chip amount. Beware of taking an aggressive action if a reraise would force you to choose between throwing good money after bad or making a big laydown. You need a real hand in that spot.