Big daddy

Having a big stack in a tournament is one of poker’s great pleasures

Ahhh, to be a big stack – the daddy of the table. The blinds are rising? Good, because I’m the big stack. I’m the head honcho, the man, the legend. I am the walrus, the lion, the witch and the wardrobe… I’m above the law!!

Sorry, got a bit carried away there. The point is, having a big stack in a tournament is really, really good. It’s the time when you can be a complete poker player, making moves and using your bets and the threat of further bets to put maximum pressure on your opponents.

There are two different scenarios where you could be big-stacked. The first is when everyone else is a big stack (usually at the beginning of a tournament) and the second is when you are big-stacked in relation to the other players.

The first situation is slightly less fun, so I’ll look at that first. At the start of a relatively deep- stacked event, say with 100 big blinds or more, every player is effectively a big stack. In this situation there is more emphasis on post-flop rather than pre-flop play, and with both you and your opponent having deep stacks, your implied odds are increased. As such, you can sometimes take the worst of it pre-flop in order to make more money when you hit your hand.

This means hands like small pairs and suited connectors become more playable – though you shouldn’t get carried away with such hands, and should avoid playing complete junk.

Remember that in order to make up for a pre-flop disadvantage you have to get paid when you hit your hand, so don’t forget to bet when you actually do. Consider also that you have an advantage over less experienced opponents when it comes to post-flop play, so you should loosen your range of starting hands when you have position on them.

As ever, don’t forget to adjust your decisions according to your opponents’ play. If someone is playing more loosely because they have a big stack, you need to isolate that player and be willing to call them down with lesser hands – though that’s not to say with complete rags. Other players may play tighter because it’s a big event or because there are no blinds worth winning, and you can take advantage of this by putting greater pressure on them.

Table captain

The second scenario is when you have a big stack relative to the rest of your table or indeed the tournament, and this is perhaps the most enjoyable situation in poker. Conceptually, it’s important to recognise that the more chips you have relative to the field, the less each individual chip is worth.

If this concept doesn’t sit naturally with you, consider that if you win the tournament you don’t get paid the true value of your stack. For instance, Jamie Gold won the 2006 World Series of Poker, which had around 85 million chips in play. He ended up with all the chips but was only(!) paid $12 million.

This means you can afford to be looser with your chips than if you were an average or small stack. However it’s vital not to get carried away with this concept and turn your big stack into a small one. The mistake many players make is regularly taking the worst of it ‘because they can afford it’.

This type of attitude leads to eventually calling other players all-in with substandard hands. The best advice for playing a big stack – especially if you’re inexperienced – is to keep making good poker decisions and not worry about playing differently just because you’re currently ahead of the game.

If you do want to use the leverage offered by a big chip stack, target the players who appear to be playing too tight and put pressure on them with bets and raises. They’ll be all too aware of the fact your big stack could knock them out at any time.

Turning the screw

There are plenty of ways you can use a bigger stack to put pressure on your opponents. Most obviously, you can make a lot of pre-flop raises. If players are folding to you pre-flop because they don’t want to get involved in a confrontation, this is a mistake you should exploit.

If your raises are successfully stealing the blinds, do it as much as you can get away with. Against a pre-flop bet, you should consider re-raising a lot and re-raising all-in if the blinds allow. If players are open-raising but then playing too tightly afterwards, this can also be exploited. If you pick up a hand that has some value, like suited connectors (e.g. 9-8) or two big cards (e.g. K-Q), you can definitely consider a re-raise.

This will often cause them to fold better hands than yours, simply because they don’t want to tangle with you. Even if called your hand can still improve. If you’re playing against players who make the common tournament mistake of open-raising for a decent amount but folding to a bet that puts them all-in, you should be very aggressive against them.

By the time they find a hand big enough to make a stand, their chip stack will be too small to damage you. And you can always suck out, of course.

If you are in a situation where there are enough chips in play to make post-flop play a factor, you can also make a lot of moves on later streets. In this situation, naked bluffing against weaker players is an option, but you should focus on semi-bluffing. When you hold a draw and make a move against an opponent holding a mediocre hand like one pair, he doesn’t have to fold very often to make it a profitable play. Again, you’re exploiting the fact that a lot of players fold too much in tournaments.

Let’s say a weak-tight player with predictable starting hand selection has open-raised in middle position and, because you can outplay him and don’t think anyone else will enter the pot, you’ve called with 7-6 suited. The flop comes Q-4-5 and your opponent makes a standard bet; more often than not you should make a large raise here.

If you can make a raise that puts him all-in but isn’t a ridiculous overbet, so much the better. If called, you may well need to make your straight to win, but the important point is that your opponent doesn’t need to fold very often to make this move correct.

You should particularly target medium-stacked players who seem to know what they’re doing. They know that you might be making a play, but won’t want to make a big call for their entire tournament stack with a marginal hand.

Some players would even fold in the example above with one pair if the cards were turned face up, in the mistaken belief that they should hang on to their tournament life at all costs. This is a losing mentality, and one you should punish mercilessly with your big stack.

All eyes on you

It’s important to be very aware of your image as a big stack and how the players are responding to you as individual players. While many will be intimidated and play far too tightly against you because of your ability to knock them out of the tournament, others will view you as a loose player – regardless of whether they’ve seen you playing loosely or not – and will assume that’s how you got the chips.

These players won’t give you credit for anything, so you can value bet into them and be prepared to call them down if you think they’re making a move against you.

So there you are – being the big stack feels pretty special doesn’t it? If you’re the big stack online, I recommend playing with your hands on your hips and your pelvis tilting slightly forward at the screen. Don’t do this live however, as it may scare people. Have fun being the daddy!

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