In no-limit hold’em, the most popular form of poker in the world, what poker hands you choose to play pre-flop is mostly dependent on how well the hands are going to play post-flop. How well hands play post-flop depend on a few main factors, like the ability to make straights, ability to make flushes, ability to make high pairs, and the ability to make big pairs. However, stack sizes are also a major concern when choosing which poker hands to play.
Everyone knows that poker hands order themselves in a natural way when facing off pre-flop. For example, AK will be ahead of QJ all-in pre-flop. But not all examples are so clear-cut. Against a random hand all-in pre-flop, both Q6o and 98s have about 51% equity. But when there is a lot of money left in the stacks for post-flop play, the high card strength of Q6o becomes overpowered by the ability for 98s to make straights and flushes. The reason for this is that as stack sizes go up you can win more when you make a big hand, so implied odds go up. With deep stacks, having very strong hands less often is a better poker hand strategy than having mediocre strength hands more often.
For example, look at the poker starting hands chart below. These show a hypothetical preflop calling range against a player who makes a standard raise with a 100 BB stacks versus a 300 BB stack. These don’t take into account re-raising with hands, which might be a better option, but instead demonstrates that you can call with a wider range of hands.
Poker Starting Hands – 300 BBs
22-AA (All Pairs)
A2s+ (All Suited Aces)
ATo+ (Unsuited Aces with a Ten or Better)
JTs+ (All Suited Brodways)
JTo+ (Unsuited Brodways)
54s+ (Suited Connectors)
76o+ (Unsuited Connectors)
As you can see, the stack sizes can drastically change poker hand order in terms of what hands you’d prefer to play over others. If you’re 50 big blinds deep, a hand that makes big pairs like KJo will be great to play. If you’re 300 big blinds deep, you would rather have a hand that gets its strength from making big hands like straights and flushes. Any suited connector, suited one-gapper, or suited Ace is great for the job. Because poker hands order themselves in a very easy-to-understand manner, it’s not difficult to determine what types of hands you should be playing with shallow stacks or deep stacks.
When you’re determining what poker hand order you would like to use, keep in mind the stack sizes. With about 60 big blinds or less, you should be primarily concerned with making big pairs. There isn’t much to win if you make a straight or a flush, so your implied odds are way down. Hands like weaker broadways, and gapped connectors with a broadway like Q9o go up in value, while hands like 54s go down in value. As you move up to between about 60 big blinds to 150 big blinds, you can start to play more of the best suited connectors and suited gappers like 98s and 86s. You have better implied odds than with 60 big blind stacks, but not so much that you can play anything close.
Once you get stacks of over 150 big blinds, you can often play anything with straight or flush potential like 87o, A4s, or T7s. With stacks so deep, you don’t have to make your hand often to be profitable with such speculative poker starting hands. This is why you see professional players on television playing poker hands that seem way too bad. The stack sizes in television cash game poker are very large to promote this kind of exciting action.