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Top 10 tips for taking advantage of your stack size in poker tournaments

6 May 2019

Depending on your chip stack, there are different strategies to consider throughout a poker tournament.

Depending on your chip stack, there are different strategies to consider throughout a poker tournament. (photo by World Poker Tour)

Poker tournaments are probably the most popular form of poker, which gave Texas Hold'em the popularity it enjoys today. Offering limited financial exposure and a chance to win big in relation to the buy-in, tournaments helped popularize the game of poker and are probably the main "culprit" for the poker boom, along with that guy Moneymaker.

Another reason tournaments have garnered such popularity is that everyone starts from the same position, meaning everyone starts with the same stack of chips and they have to work with what they have in front of them. You can't simply reach in your pocket and add more after you lose a big hand.

Because of this, and also because tournaments are structured so that your effective stack size constantly changes, they require certain adjustments based on the number of chips you have in front of you. In this article, we're bringing you 10 tips for taking advantage of your stack size in tournaments.

10. Play tight early

During the early levels of tournaments, you’ll usually have the most chips in comparison to the blinds. Many tournaments will start you off with 200 or 300 big blinds. However, the fact you have many blinds isn’t an excuse to be splashy and enter many pots to try to get lucky. During early levels, you should actually be quite conservative and wait for good opportunities with either big hands before the flop, or to see cheap flops with hands that have a potential to make the nuts.

9. Keep an eye on the average stack size

As the tournament progresses, the average stack size will change. People will bust out so the total average will increase. Ideally, you want to always be around the average size. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but the average stack size should give you a good idea of where you should be stack-wise at any given point in the tournament.

This will help you choose the best strategy for any giving situation and along with other tournament stats that are available on various poker tools, will help you make better decisions.

8. Use chips to make chips

In most tournaments, the structure is set up in such a way that you’ll be in a good position any time when you have more than 40 big blinds in your stack after the first few levels. So, with a stack of 40, 50 or more big blinds, you have some room to play and apply pressure. A stack of this size will allow you to raise more when in position and fire a continuation bet without doing any serious damage to your overall chances. When on this stack size, you should look to be as active as possible and build your stack with as few big risks as possible.

7. Be selective with a medium stack

If things don’t quite go your way early on or you lose a few pots, you’ll easily find yourself sitting with a medium-sized stack of anywhere between 25 and 40 big blinds. This is still a very playable stack size, but you should start tightening your range and gravitate more toward value hands. If you’re on the higher end of a medium stack, you can still afford to throw in an occasional light three-bet, but you should probably do it against other players with similar stack sizes.

You want to avoid getting involved with big stacks or really short stacks unless you have a really big hand. Big stacks can afford to take you on, in which case you’ll have to get lucky and hit the flop. Small stacks will often be prepared to go all the way with their hand, and you might find yourself in an awkward spot where you have to call off their all-in with a hand that doesn’t do well against their range.

6. Amp it up in "the danger zone"

When you get to a stack size that’s between 15 and 25 big blinds, your maneuvering space will be severely limited, what I call the "danger zone." At this stage, you need to be very cautious about what hands you’re getting involved with. As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t really be opening with the hands you aren’t willing to go all the way with unless you’re stealing from the button in an unopened pot.

This stack size is also perfect for implementing a squeeze play. If there is a raise and call in front of you and you’re seated on the button or in the blinds, you can move all in on top with a fairly wide range of hands, especially when the original raiser is very active. You have more than enough fold equity and those times you do get called, you can still get lucky and double up.
When playing with just a few big blinds, you want to get the chips in the middle as soon as possible.

When playing with just a few big blinds, you want to get the chips in the middle as soon as possible. (photo by TaxRebate.org.uk)


5. Navigating the short stack

Once you get to a short stack territory of around 10 big blinds, you’ll be quite limited. Your best bet is to wait for unopened hands and move all in. Making standard raises at this stage is not advisable unless you have a monster hand like a big pocket pair (AA, KK) and think you can get more action by raising.

4. Managing a minuscule stack

Although it’s not perfect, it happens every now and then that you are left with just a few big blinds in your stack. If and when this happens, you’ll no longer have any fold equity, so basically you want to get the chips in the middle as soon as possible, especially if there are antes involved eating up your stack on every hand. Anything that looks remotely reasonable, any ace, any paint, and pretty much all suited connectors should be more than enough.

3. Big stack late in the tournament

Having a really big stack in later stages of a tournament is usually an ideal scenario. If you have 50 or 60 (or more) big blinds and almost everyone else is shorter, you can apply a lot of pressure. Unless you are in a situation where you’re up against really competent players who will pick up on what you’re doing, you can really put the pedal to the metal and take charge of the table.

2. Don’t waste chips without a reason

If you do have a decent stack, you should use your chips wisely. Make your moves in good spots where you can expect to win pots without much effort and, preferably, without a showdown. Calling off short stacks light just to try and bust them is unadvisable. Even if you have a mountain of chips, it isn’t your job to send players to the rail against all odds. Focus on growing your stack in good spots and let players bust as they may. There is no reason to force things.

1. Use the bubble to your advantage

As the bubble approaches in the tournament, you’ll see many players tighten up for fear of busting just before making money. At this stage, you can apply a lot of pressure unless you’re one of the shortest stacks at the table. You can even afford to attack short-stacked players who would otherwise be willing to gamble it up but won’t do it now, with just a few spots from the money. Conversely, avoid tangling with big stacks who can afford to look you up without risking their tournament life.
Tadas Peckaitis

Tadas Peckaitis has been a professional poker player, coach and author for almost a decade. He is a manager and head coach at mypokercoaching.com where he shares his experience, and poker strategy tips.
Tadas plays poker, mostly online, but also manages to play live events while travelling through Europe and the U.S.
He is a big fan of personal effectiveness and always trying to do more. Tadas regularly shares his knowledge about both of these topics with his students, and deeply enjoys it.
Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, or visit www.mypokercoaching.com
Tadas Peckaitis
Tadas Peckaitis has been a professional poker player, coach and author for almost a decade. He is a manager and head coach at mypokercoaching.com where he shares his experience, and poker strategy tips.
Tadas plays poker, mostly online, but also manages to play live events while travelling through Europe and the U.S.
He is a big fan of personal effectiveness and always trying to do more. Tadas regularly shares his knowledge about both of these topics with his students, and deeply enjoys it.
Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, or visit www.mypokercoaching.com