Stack Sizes

written by: John

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Chip stack sizes play a big role in every situation that occurs at the poker table. It's important to understand how the size of your chip stack will affect your play and that you factor it into every decision that you make. It's equally as important to factor in the size of your opponent's stack, determine the actions they're most likely to take and adjust your strategies as needed. 

Determining Stack Sizes

The size of a stack is universally referred to as a number of big blinds. If you had bought in for $10 at a 10nl cash game, it would be said that you bought in for 100 big blinds or 100bbs.

The exact amount of big binds you can buy in for will be determined by the game you choose to play and/or the poker site's restrictions. You will find that most sit n go's and smaller tournaments will start you off with 75 or 100 big blind stacks. Larger tournaments will start you off with 250 (approximately 5k) or 500 (approximately 10k) stacks.

Cash games are a different beast altogether. All cash games will let you choose how many big blinds you buy in for as long as buy in for no less or no more than their posted limits. The most common tables have a minimum of 20 big blinds and a maximum of 100 big blinds. So for example, at a 10nl table ($.05/$.10), you can buy in for no less than $2 and no more than $10.

Other limits exist as well and vary from site to site. Some other minimum and maximum big blind restrictions you might see include 20 min/50 max, 50 min/100 max, 150 max and 100 min/250 max. It will just depend on where you play as to what options are available to you.

Now, aside from big blinds, stack sizes are also referred to as short, small, medium and deep depending on how many big blinds a player has. Here are the names with the corresponding stack sizes:

• Short Stack: A short stack is approximately 10 big blinds.
• Small Stack: A small stack has about 15 to 35 big blinds.
• Medium Stack: Medium size stacks consist of over 35 big blinds and up to 100 big blinds.
• Deep Stack: Deep stacks are stacks that have over 100 big blinds, often times with 150 big blinds or more.

The exact sizes may be different depending on whom you talk to, but this should give you an idea of the different stack sizes and the terms used for each.

Adjustments for Different Stack Sizes
Much of what you do including the hands you play and strategies you use will be determined by the size of your stack as well as the stack sizes of the opponents to act after you.

Provided below is a general overview of what you can and cannot do depending on chip stack sizes.

Short Stacks

When you are a short stack, your options are limited. This is because with a stack of approximately 10 big blinds, you don't have the stack to afford a raise/fold situation.

So, the only thing you can really do with a short stack is to shove it all in with a strong hand and hope to double up. You will want to stick to the very top of your range and shove your big pairs, high aces and broadways.

In situations where you have a small to deep stack but have short stacks to your left, you will have to tighten up your opening hand range. The reason for this is that short stacks will be shoving with a wide range and you don't want to be put in a situation where you raise, a short stack shoves on you and you have to call off 10 to 15 big blinds with a marginal hand. If you do want to enter a pot with a marginal hand and there are short stacks to your left, you can try to raise a smaller amount (2.5 or 3x instead of 4x) that you can still get away from if shoved on.

Small and Medium Stacks

With a small stack, you will want to play straightforward poker. You want to stick to a tighter hand range, raise and plan on getting stacks in if you hit the flop well. However, the difference between a small stack and a short stack is that you still have room to raise and then fold if needed. Small stacks don't have a lot of room to attempt bluffs.

The deeper your stack gets, the wider your hand range can start to get (situation dependent obviously). You can start to open pots with all of your pairs, bigger aces and broadways. You can also start to consider set mining with implied odds if you and your opponents both have over 50 big blinds or so.

Medium sized stacks can also apply pressure through big raises and bluffs.

Deep Stacks

Deep stack poker enables players to play a much wider range of hands simply because of implied odds. For example, if you knew someone was opening up the pot from early position only with premium pairs and you have ten-jack suited on the button, you might consider calling because it's a good possibility or "implication" that you'll get that players stack if you hit the flop hard. Your opponent's chip stack is deep enough to give you odds to do that.
Larger stacks can also take a mental toll on a poker player. No one wants to lose a 250 big blind stack with a marginal hand or just top pair, so larger bluffs (3/4/5 bet) can be attempted and will more likely be successful (again, situation dependent). 
Ultimately, the deeper you are, the more room you have to maneuver in any given hand. Just keep in mind that the deeper you are, the more money you can potentially lose as well.