Introduction to Stack Sizes

Stack sizes can play a very important role in poker games, not only in terms of purely deciding how much money you take home at the end of the day but in determining the plays you may make throughout the game. Yours and your opponents’ stacks are more than just a collection of funds; they are a direct reflection of how much advantage you hold in a game and how much of that advantage you can bring to bear upon an individual. Further, stacks also increase the value of some plays, making some riskier moves more worthwhile to take.

Let’s say, for example, that you are dealt a suited set of cards in a Hold ’em game – a Qs-9s, for example. The flop then yields two additional cards to match your suit – a 6s-2s – while the turn leaves you still hanging with an un-suited 10-5 on the table and only the river to go. At this point, there may be only you and another player left in the game, and you know from watching her that the player is normally a tight player. In order for her to have stayed in the game this long, she must have a strong hand – either a pair of Kings or Aces – and she’s likely looking to bring them against you at the end of the game. You know that in order to beat her, your only chance is to pull out a flush on the river and bag the game, but the probability of that happening at this stage in the game is roughly only 4:1 against you.

So how do you know whether or not you should proceed? Well, if you and your opponent have sufficient stack sizes and were willing to go head-to-head up to this point, chances are that there is a sufficiently sized pot for the taking that will only grow if you both keep at it. By considering the probability of your successfully getting the nuts on the river of 4:1 if the pot size is at least 4x larger than what it would take for you to call, you could generally consider going for the flush to be a strong move. A smaller stack size, on the other hand, might not yield as much profitability to the action and, as such, it may not be a good idea to follow through with this scheme.

Stack sizes also add a greater element to consider when bluffing against some opponents. Generally, opponents with much stronger stack sizes will feel more comfortable in calling a bluff against them than those with smaller ones, meaning careful bluff consideration may be needed before attempting a play. Additionally, in tournament games, players may not want to jeopardize their stack size if they are already in the paying bubble, therefore some more aggressive moves that might threaten their stack could be effectively used against them to steal blinds and moderate sized pots if you make your move right.