A lot has been
written that in multiple payoff poker tournaments, the chips in a
big stack are not worth as much as the chips in a small stack.
Although this is true, it is also misleading. I believe undue
emphasis is placed on this difference in chip value, causing the
tournament player with a big stack to make strategic mistakes by
playing too loose. Many times I have seen a tournament leader
fritter away chips and finish in a much lower place than he should
have. The player labors under the assumption that he is supposed to
take his"cheap chips" and accelerate the action by going out of his
way to play pots against the other players, possibly to the extent
of knowingly taking the worst of it, in his lust to narrow the
field. Although there are some fine poker players who do play a big
stack in a highly aggressive manner, there are many other fine
players who do not. In any of these situations in which there is a
wide differential in styles among good players, mere mortals looking
for guidance would be far better off following the sounder players'
style than skating on thin ice. The worse hands you play, the more
poker skills you need to show a profit.
There are other
forces at work aside from relative chip value that affect your
decision of how boldly to play. Consider these other facts in a
tournament with multiple-place payoffs that also affect your
strategy of how to play a big stack:
1. Moving up
one notch by eliminating a player is not such a lofty goal for a big
stack. The main money in a tournament is for the top spots. A big
stack who does not play recklessly figures to get there eventually,
whether the short stacks go broke quickly or not. Give yourself the
best chance for a high finish. The fact that you have lots of chips
does not put you in charge of busting all the short stacks. No one
has pinned a sheriff's badge on your chest. The blinds and antes
will take their toll and force players to do battle quickly, whereas
you can go to war "at the time and place of your own choosing," as
the real-life saying goes.
elimination of a player is not particularly helpful until you have
reached a point in the event where you are within a few places of
3. You would
prefer that confrontations take place between the other players, and
that you continue to get your money in with the best of it.
4. The amount
of chips you might win is not worth as much to you as that same
amount of chips you might lose would hurt you.
5. There is a
huge difference in what size of "smaller stack" you are facing. For
example, a stack that is one-third the size of yours can inflict a
deep wound, and the player may have enough flexibility to wait for a
decent hand before committing his money. On the other hand, a player
on the verge of extinction may not be able to hurt you badly, and
will often show up with junk out of desperation.
Here is a
short quiz on how I think you should play a big stack. Assume that
the blinds are $1,000-$2,000, and you are playing ninehanded at the
final table, where everyone is already in the money. The average
stack size is $44,000, and you have $80,000.
1. You are on
the button with the A
Everyone folds to you. The big blind has $10,000 and the small blind
has $75,000. What should you do?
for $10,000. Your ace high is probably the best hand, so put the big
blind all in. The player in the small blind should respect your
raise as saying,"I have him covered," and will not get involved
without a good hand. He is even less eager than you are to rumble,
as he is out of position. (I put this problem in to show that I am
not saying you should go into a shell; you can play normal poker.)
2. You hold
A-Q offsuit two seats to the right of the button and open-raise for
a pot-size amount of $7,000. Everyone folds to the big blind, who
goes all in for a total of $30,000. Should you put in another
$23,000 to call?
The big blind is not in a desperate chip position, whereby he has to
make a stand, even though he is below average. He has a hand that is
better than yours. True, he may hold a pair lower than queens, in
which case you would have the classic confrontation of two overcards
against a pair. You would win about 45 percent of the time, getting
sufficient pot odds to justify a call. But the danger is too great
that he has A-K, Q-Q, K-K, or A-A, in which case you have way the
worst of it. A 30K reversal would put you nearly back to the pack.
Cut your losses and look for a better spot to gamble.
3. You have
The under-the-gun player opens for $15,000 all in, the next player
folds, and it is up to you. What is your play?
The player should have a decent hand to be raising from first
position even when he is getting low on chips. Your being suited is
only of slight help; the crux of the matter is the rank of your
sidecard. The all-in player is more likely to have a bigger kicker
than you. Even if you do turn out to have a better hand than he
does, there are six other players yet to act, so someone might have
you both covered. You will be playing too riskily if you call.
line is that you are not the game's policeman just because you have
a big stack. Go ahead and rob a pot by raising from late position,
and go ahead and call a dying gasp all-in bet for a small amount,
but don't alter your entire method of play just because you have
lots of chips. In other words, don't put your money into the pot
unless you think it is a favorable gambling situation. Having lots
of chips does not mean you are supposed to be willing to get your
money in when knowing that you probably have the worst of it. Your
chips are always valuable; respect them.
Editor's note: Bob Ciaffone's latest book is Middle Limit Holdem
Poker, (332 pages, $25 plus $9.95 shipping and handling),
co-authored with Jim Brier. MLHP and his other poker books,
Pot-limit and No-limit Poker, Improve Your Poker, and Omaha Holdem
Poker, can be ordered from Card Player. Ciaffone is available for
poker lessons. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (989) 792-0884.
His website is www.pokercoach.us, where you can get Robert's Rules
of Poker for free. He is an "expert" of RoyalVegasPoker website and
an advisor for the ChecknRaisePoker website (opening soon).