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Stack Sizes in Poker - Size Matters!

When playing in a tournament, the stack sizes, or number of chips you have is of paramount importance. You will be playing a very different game if you have a smaller stack size to when you are mega deep and well ahead of the field. Knowing what style to use for the size of stack you have is key to being a good player.

Stack SizesHaving a large stack allows freedom with your plays, and you can afford to take control of the table. Firstly, other players will be less inclined to tangle with you as you can afford to gamble. Being short stacked does to a degree limit you playing a tight aggressive game. After all you don’t have the chips to play an expansive game. Plays that would be ideal with a large stack danger your tournament life where you don’t have the chips to justify.

For instance, let’s assume that you are three hours into a Turbo NLH event and have a stack of 11,650. The blinds are 600 – 1200 with a 50 ante. You have less than 10 big blinds (considered to be short stacked). Assuming 10 players at the table, 2300 is going to come out of your stack every 10 hands. So if you were to fold the next 10 hands your stack would be 9350, then 7050, then 4750, 2450 and bust. If the blinds remained where they were, you would have nearly 50 hands before you were blinded out of the tournament.

This doesn’t leave you much wiggle room. You certainly wouldn’t want to be limping into any pots or playing with average hands. You are very much restricted to the type of poker you can play. Remember, if you call 4 hands and don’t win, you will have halved your stack. It would be a very different game if you had 100,000 chips. You could be far more aggressive as you wouldn't have the fear of a dwindling stack.



Having a deep stack in a tournament means you can have a little fun. Anything over 200 big blinds (BB) is considered a deep stack. Now you have a little more freedom to play as your implied odds are significantly greater. Similarly, pairs, strong suited cards and suited connectors all rise in value as they have the potential to take down a big pot. Post flop, single pairs or any small two pairs go down in value. The worst thing you can do is take a big hit with something like a pair.

You will be looking to keep pressure on the short stacks and use your power at the table to force players to fold, whilst picking up cheap pots. A deep stack allows you to bet with relative freedom. You don’t however want to lose your hard earned stack with silly plays - there is a real opportunity to build your stack more rapidly than is possible with a short or medium stack.


A Regular Stack

The size of a normal or regular stack is considered to be the value of at least 100 big blinds (BB). A lot of cash games online have their buy-in set to 100BB and while this is a value that allows for a slightly more expansive game, a player must still be fairly selective. Having a regular stack still allows room to make plays and throw in the occasional bluff without risking your tournament life. The turn, river allow for more aggressive plays, in particular putting pressure on the shorter stacks.


A Medium Stack

A stack in the 35-50BB range is considered a medium stack and probably one of the most awkward stacks to play with, for the simple reason it is so easy to get it wrong. At this level, there is very little room for pre-flop activity as it isn't cost-effective to lose chips this way. Hand selection with a medium stack is the absolute key and the implied odds of a play should be calculated. Of course, the smaller your stack, the less implied odds should be considered.

You do have a few more options than a short stack would have. A short stack is waiting for a relatively pair or big ace and the decision is easy, all in. When you have a medium stack, whilst you do not have much room for maneuver, you still have the option on playing poker. You have enough to get bets in and seeing a flop. We shouldn't underestimate how easy it is to get into trouble. Calling a pre flop bet and then calling post flop isn’t going to leave you with much push at the river. Should you miss, you won’t have a great deal left to play with.

Another key factor in deciding how you play your stack should always be the players around you. If you have a passive table, you can afford to try to bully the weaker players and pick up blinds. A more aggressive table, and back to your tight aggressive style.


Small Stack

I think we all agree, having a short stack sucks. As much as it sucks, we need to develop our game so we know how to play one. A short stack is considered to have less than 40 big blinds. When your chips are gone, you’re out, so we need to pick our spots carefully. If you build your stack up, you can be a little more expansive. Right now, increasing your stack is the aim, and doing this whilst minimizing the risk must be the goal.

There are some advantages to having a short stack. Firstly, players will be more inclined to call your bets, as your stack doesn't pose the same risk to larger stacks You won’t get the same credit for having a hand, so you should use this to your advantage. We want to limit our bluffing, as we are more likely to get called.

Knowing how to manage a short stack is one of the best skills a player can have. The key is not to panic and not pull the trigger too early.


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