Mickey Petersen: Playing different stack sizes in online MTTs

Online MTT expert Mickey ‘mement_mori’ Petersen explains how to play with different stack sizes in online tournaments

While the debate over whether live or online players are better will rage on, it’s generally accepted that online players have better fundamentals due to the sheer volume of hands that can be played on the virtual felt. One of those fundamentals is knowing about stack sizes, and who better to talk to than Mickey Petersen a member of Team PokerStars Online.

Size matters

It’s important to recognise what you can do with your stack size and what other people are trying to do with their stack sizes. It’s important to work out who knows about stack sizes too, but if you are observant you’ll figure that out fairly quickly. Let’s look at various stack sizes and what to do with each one.

Short stack

While open-raises have diminished in size in online tournaments, open-shoves have gone up in size. If you have ten big blinds then you are in an area where there are only two options: shove or fold. But if you have 15BB, and there are good players behind you still to act and they’re aware of general calling ranges, it makes sense to shove a lot of hands.

However, if you are on the button and the players in the blinds are weaker players, or tighter players who are only going to play back at you with the top 10% of hands, there’s no reason to  just shove. In this instance you can comfortably raise and fold, as if they play back then you know they have a premium hand.

Also, you can definitely raise and fold from a 15BB stack more often live than online. When you get short-stacked in lower buy-in tournaments I’d say you should be raising more often rather than open-shoving. In the bigger buy-in tournaments you are playing against better players, so you want to be able to do the same thing with your weak and strong holdings so they can’t put you on a hand.

If you have 12BB and are on the button, you don’t want to go all-in with A-5 and then just min-raise with Aces, because they’ll pick up on that and you won’t get action when you have a good hand. But in a small buy-in MTT if you raise from a stack of 15BB from the button, the blinds  might take a flop with a hand like T-7 or K-J.

The resteal stack

A stack of 15-20BB used to be seen as the ideal resteal stack size, as you could three-bet all-in  with it. In the last couple of years as the game has got more and more aggressive, people have  started calling resteals even lighter.

Nowadays even if you shove 15BB over an open it might be hard to get them to fold. The reason  this stack size is traditionally seen as a good resteal stack is that if you flat-call a raise preflop with a stack of 14-20BB you’re putting too much at risk and you’d much rather take the pot down  preflop.

If someone’s raised to 2.5x and there are antes in play, there could be 5BB in there to steal, and that’s a massive boost to a 14-20BB stack. With this stack size you don’t necessarily need to be  opening really tight – it depends on the stacks behind you. If everyone has stacks of around 25BB you can open more, because that’s an awkward stack size to play back with (it’s hard to three-bet fold with 25BB) and they can’t really just shove because it’s too much. However, if the stacks behind you have 12-20 big blinds then they’ll all be looking to resteal, so you should be opening less.

Mid-sized stacks

In general it’s spewy to three-bet fold with a stack of 20-30BB. It’s a tough stack size to play,  because you can’t really three-bet too much and if someone three-bets you it’s a tricky spot too. If both stacks are in the 20-30BB range you’ve got enough to four-bet shove and get someone to fold.

However, players don’t tend to three-bet light too much from this stack size. When three-betting with this stack you’ll do it with a hand that will always fold if shoved on, or always call. You might think that three-betting light with a hand like T♠-9♠ is good, as if called you can flop draws, whereas in reality it’s better to do it with something like A♣-2 because then at least the Ace blocks some of the big hands your foe can have. However, if you three-bet to 8BB and someone shoves for 25BB you’re pretty much priced in.

The big stack

When you have a stack of 30BB+ you will see more flops and you can really open up and do things you can’t do when shallower. That’s when you start playing poker. Players absolutely defend too wide from the blinds because they figure they’re getting good odds, when in reality folding or three-betting is always better.

There’s a lot of merit to three-betting from the big blind to make a statement, especially in a live tournament. It’s good to get the first light three-bet in, especially if you’ve been somewhat tight.  That way, when you three-bet later with a genuine hand you’re less likely to get credit.

When your stack is 40BB+ you can do an even wider range of moves, like four-bets and five-bets,  and still fold. But you always have to be aware of the stack sizes. Even if you have 50BB, if everyone else has 20BB then you’re effectively playing 20BB poker.

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