A lot has been written that in multiple payoff poker tournaments, the chips in a big stack are not worth as much as the chips in a small stack. Although this is true, it is also misleading. I believe undue emphasis is placed on this difference in chip value, causing the tournament player with a big stack to make strategic mistakes by playing too loose. Many times I have seen a tournament leader fritter away chips and finish in a much lower place than he should have. The player labors under the assumption that he is supposed to take his”cheap chips” and accelerate the action by going out of his way to play pots against the other players, possibly to the extent of knowingly taking the worst of it, in his lust to narrow the field. Although there are some fine poker players who do play a big stack in a highly aggressive manner, there are many other fine players who do not. In any of these situations in which there is a wide differential in styles among good players, mere mortals looking for guidance would be far better off following the sounder players’ style than skating on thin ice. The worse hands you play, the more poker skills you need to show a profit.
There are other forces at work aside from relative chip value that affect your decision of how boldly to play. Consider these other facts in a tournament with multiple-place payoffs that also affect your strategy of how to play a big stack:
- Moving up one notch by eliminating a player is not such a lofty goal for a big stack. The main money in a tournament is for the top spots. A big stack who does not play recklessly figures to get there eventually, whether the short stacks go broke quickly or not. Give yourself the best chance for a high finish. The fact that you have lots of chips does not put you in charge of busting all the short stacks. No one has pinned a sheriff’s badge on your chest. The blinds and antes will take their toll and force players to do battle quickly, whereas you can go to war”at the time and place of your own choosing,” as the real-life saying goes.
- The elimination of a player is not particularly helpful until you have reached a point in the event where you are within a few places of the money.
- You would prefer that confrontations take place between the other players, and that you continue to get your money in with the best of it.
- The amount of poker online chips you might win is not worth as much to you as that same amount of chips you might lose would hurt you.
- There is a huge difference in what size of “smaller stack” you are facing. For example, a stack that is one-third the size of yours can inflict a deep wound, and the player may have enough flexibility to wait for a decent hand before committing his money. On the other hand, a player on the verge of extinction may not be able to hurt you badly, and will often show up with junk out of desperation.
Here is a short quiz on how I think you should play a big stack. Assume that the blinds are $1,000-$2,000, and you are playing ninehanded at the final table, where everyone is already in the money. The average stack size is $44,000, and you have $80,000.
- You are on the button with the Adiamonds 8clubs. Everyone folds to you. The big blind has $10,000 and the small blind has $75,000. What should you do?
Answer: Open for $10,000. Your ace high is probably the best hand, so put the big blind all in. The player in the small blind should respect your raise as saying,”I have him covered,” and will not get involved without a good hand. He is even less eager than you are to rumble, as he is out of position. (I put this problem in to show that I am not saying you should go into a shell; you can play normal poker.)
- You hold A-Q offsuit two seats to the right of the button and open-raise for a pot-size amount of $7,000. Everyone folds to the big blind, who goes all in for a total of $30,000. Should you put in another $23,000 to call?
Answer: Fold. The big blind is not in a desperate chip position, whereby he has to make a stand, even though he is below average. He has a hand that is better than yours. True, he may hold a pair lower than queens, in which case you would have the classic confrontation of two overcards against a pair. You would win about 45 percent of the time, getting sufficient pot odds to justify a call. But the danger is too great that he has A-K, Q-Q, K-K, or A-A, in which case you have way the worst of it. A 30K reversal would put you nearly back to the pack. Cut your losses and look for a better spot to gamble.
- You have the Adiamonds 9diamonds. The under-the-gun player opens for $15,000 all in, the next player folds, and it is up to you. What is your play?
Answer: Fold. The player should have a decent hand to be raising from first position even when he is getting low on chips. Your being suited is only of slight help; the crux of the matter is the rank of your sidecard. The all-in player is more likely to have a bigger kicker than you. Even if you do turn out to have a better hand than he does, there are six other players yet to act, so someone might have you both covered. You will be playing too riskily if you call.
The bottom line is that you are not the game’s policeman just because you have a big stack. Go ahead and rob a pot by raising from late position, and go ahead and call a dying gasp all-in bet for a small amount, but don’t alter your entire method of play just because you have lots of chips. In other words, don’t put your money into the pot unless you think it is a favorable gambling situation. Having lots of chips does not mean you are supposed to be willing to get your money in when knowing that you probably have the worst of it. Your chips are always valuable; respect them.diamonds