Recently the world’s largest poker site, PokerStars, announced the way they were handling the minimum/maximum buy-in amounts at their cash game tables. This mainly affects NL/PL Hold’em as well as Pot-Limit Omaha games as shallow/deep stacks in limit games means next to nothing. There are now three different buy-in tables at each level, 20-50bb, 40-100bb, and 100-250bb with a 20% ante. For example, at $50NL you can choose between $10-$25, $20-$50, and $50-$125 ($.10 ante) buy-in tables. This is quite a difference from the old games which had 20-100bb tables as well as 50-100bb tables and there were no such things as antes.

Being able to play at all three buy-in games will be beneficial as you hunt for fish and look for the best games possible. Understanding how the fundamentals of poker change as stack sizes decrease/increase will be a big help in turning a profit at all of these tables. There are some basic adjustments you will need to make when playing 30BB deep compared to 230BB deep and failing to change your game will certainly hurt your win-rate. Let’s assume you understand playing at 100bb deep tables, therefore we will dive into making adjustments at the 20-50bb and 100-250bb-ante tables.

Adjusting to 20-50bb tables

Without a doubt the biggest number of fish are going to be at the 20-50bb tables. This is mainly because they like to play higher levels but do not have the bankroll to do so. Think about it this way, if a fish has a $100 roll they would rather play 20-50bb deep at $400 or $1000 NL than play 100-200bb deep at $100nl or even $50nl. Because of this these games are going to become a gold-mine for short-stackers, but should also become profitable for players who do not mind playing half-stack poker.

Another benefit of these tables is you will get to play some deeper stack poker with players who are not used to doing so once multiple players at the same table double up. If you come from 100bb+ deep games you will assuredly have an advantage once a fish comes and donates some stacks to other players. While this is a nice plus to playing these tables the major advantage of dropping down to the 20-50bb tables is finding the fish. There will be certain aspects of these games that will play differently from your standard games and exploiting these tendencies will be huge for your bottom line.

(Side note, FTR founding-father Fnord wrote an article dealing with half-stack play that goes even more in depth than I will here. Follow this link to read more about this particular brand of poker:

The major fundamentals behind playing 20-50bb poker are:

-Weaker hands can profitably stack off

-Most pots are over by the flop or turn

-Implied odds hands become less profitable

Weaker Hands Can Profitably Stack Off

As stack sizes shrink it is much more common for players to stack-off with weaker hands. Ask any tournament player and they will tell you the same thing, as the blinds become a larger representation of your stack size it is beneficial to play more aggressive and get your money in with slightly worse hands than you might with a deeper stack. Hands such as small pocket pairs, big aces, broadway combinations are all much stronger before the flop than they are in deep stack games. In those games you might just call to set-mine with a hand like 55 facing a later position raise, but when 20bb deep, this more than likely becomes a shove because your equity along with winning the pot uncontested pre-flop (taking down 5-6BBs) makes it +EV to do so.

The same can be said post-flop with hands like top-pair or over-pairs. Hands you might pot control when stack sizes become deeper are now hands you should gladly stick in 20-40BBs with after the flop. The same can be said for strong draws that might be –EV to stack off with against a really tight range 200bb deep. Instead of being afraid of only being up against overpairs, sets, and better draws, you can now be certain your opponent can have weaker draws, weak one pair hands, and even just Ace-high when sticking in 20BBs in the pot after the flop.

Most Pots are Over Sooner

This is common sense, when the effective stacks are only 20BBs, it becomes much harder to play multiple post-flop streets. Think about it this way, if you raise 4BBs before the flop and get a caller, there will now be 9.5BBs in the pot and you will only have 16BBs in your stack. A continuation bet might be in the 10-12BB range which leaves you with just a few big blinds in your stack. Even being 50BBs deep you would only have 34 big blinds left in a 33.5 big blind pot on the turn.

Because there is lest post-flop play, you should be less willing to play more speculative hands as well as trying to run multi-street bluffs, floats, or other fancy plays that are more conducive to deep-stack play. Gone is your ability to float the flop and take the pot away later, because not only will your opponent be willing to stack-off much lighter, he will only have one pot-sized bet behind, making it quite easy for him to just shove. For some, this takes the fun out of poker. For those who are able to adjust to this style, being a profitable player is entertainment enough.

Implied Odds Hands are LOSERS

This is another obvious observation, but one that cannot be understated. As your stack size diminishes, hands like small pocket pairs and suited connectors are nowhere near as profitable as they are in deep-stack games. It’s simple, if you cannot earn as much money when you hit because the effective stacks are only 20-50bb deep, then you are not receiving nearly enough implied odds before the flop to call with these hands. We touched on the small pairs earlier; they are much better as all-in hands before the flop than calling hands. Suited connectors are hands that should be generally avoided unless it is folded to you in late position and you have a chance to steal the blinds. Flopping some mediocre draw will be tough to play because fold equity is almost non-existent as stack sizes decrease.

Following these three simple principles should help you become much more profitable in the 20-50bb games. In fact, those basic fundamentals of the short-stack games are a great starting point in discussing the 100-250bb games. As you might guess, the opposite applies due to the change in stack sizes, giving us these basic fundamentals:

Adjusting to 100-250bb Games

-Weaker Hands Fare Better in Small Pots

-Players have four streets to play poker

-Implied Odds hands go way up in value

Weaker Hands Fare Better in Small Pots

As stack sizes increase, the strength of your hands must increase as well. It is no longer profitable to stack off 100bb+ deep with hands like TPGK or even small overpairs. The reason for this is simple; as your equity decreases and stack sizes increase you are now making a much bigger mistake over the long run. For example, let’s say we are 20bb deep and stack off with 45% equity, over the long run we are making a 2bb mistake as we expect to only have a return of 18BBs in the pot. Now, compare this to being 250 deep and we are now making a 25 big blind mistake as we can expect just a 225bb return when we have 45% equity. Add to this players are stacking off with a much tighter range and instead of having 45% equity with top pair you might just have 30-35% equity. That becomes an enormous mistake and one you want to avoid long term.

Finding ways to control the size of the pot or even staying away from hands that play poorly in large pots should be your M.O. in these games. Checking back the flop with top pair for pot control and deception purposes can help, as can just becoming better at bet/folding these types of hands. Also, you will want to fold hands like ATo and KJo to 3bets as they play quite poorly in deep-stacked pots as you will flop a lot of dominated hands and have trouble losing the minimum with them.

Multi-Street Poker

As we saw in the 20bb games there might be just one or two streets of poker because of the stack sizes. However, when you are 250bb’s deep that could not be further from the truth. Unless an insane number of re-raises go in before the flop you will generally be able to use all three post-flop streets when competing in a hand. This is a great advantage for those who are good hand-readers, use aggression properly, and understand more advanced poker principles. Plays such as floating, multi-barrel bluffs, and thin value-betting all come into play as the stack sizes get deeper. Creative players should enjoy playing this deep as they can take a lot of different lines with similar hands and make life miserable for their opponents.

Implied Odds Hands are WINNERS

Without a doubt the hands that benefit the most from playing with deeper stacks are those that can win big pots. Just as we discussed with top-pair type hands, the deeper the stacks the more you can win with hands that flop sets, flushes, straights, and big draws. This means small-to-mid pocket pairs, suited connectors, and suited Aces are great hands to play when deep-stacked. Not only do you have the ability to flop a really strong hand but you also retain a lot of fold equity with a large stack behind to threaten your opponents.

In typical 100bb deep games calling 3bets with some of these hands could be considered –EV but when you are 200bb+ deep they become profitable because of the extra money you can win. One way to adjust to this is to 3bet a wider range yourself so you are not always going to stack-off post-flop when your opponents happen to connect with the board. Re-raising a wider/weaker range is a great way to not only balance your 3betting range but can also help you get paid off when you do truly have a strong hand.

A final note on the 100-250bb games, if you have never played with an ante before it can make quite a difference, especially in pot-limit games. The ante in these games will be 20% of the Big Blind such as $.20 in $100nl games. The ante helps to build the pot before the flop and tends to make players a bit more aggressive PF. In pot-limit games the ante can help players get more money in both pre and post-flop which will help tighter players get value from calling stations and help aggressive players put more pressure on their opponents. One of the best ways to boost your bankroll in NL games with antes is to open your later position stealing range a bit and take down more pots before the flop. It may seem like a small deal, but winning one more pot pre-flop every 200 hands can lead to winning 6 more Big Blinds every 1,000 hands! That’s a fairly significant difference in your winrate and over 100,000 hands would earn a $200nl grinder an extra $1,200.

Whether you enjoy playing short or deep-stacked games you should give all of the buy-in levels a try. You never know, you might end up realizing you were playing the wrong style of game all along!

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Adjusting to Different Buy-in Levels
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