Basic Poker Strategy: Stack Sizes and Implied Odds

One of the most important factors in no-limit Texas hold ’em games is also one of the most overlooked: the number of chips each player has. The size of one’s stack greatly affects the strategy they’ll use to approach the table. For instance, the amount a person buys in for is often a big clue about how well that person plays. If you see someone buying in for a small amount, they’re either very confident in their skills or the opposite — they don’t want to risk much money at all.

(Before we go further, let’s clarify how we’re discussing small and large stakes. A small stack in this case usually features 40 or fewer big blinds while a large one will feature over 100 big blinds. Anywhere in the middle would be a medium stack, of course.)

The most important thing about the stack sizes of your opponents is how they’ll affect their implied odds at any given time. If you’re not familiar with the term, “implied odds” basically states the amount that you can expect to win in the future if you make a strong hand, taking into account the odds of hitting said hand.”

You’re holding 6c5c before the flop. As far as suited connectors go you could do a lot better, and the fact is that you’re not going to be hitting a strong hand on the flop, like a straight or trips. However, you do have a pretty good chance of hitting a flush or straight draw on the flop, and that could win big. To win a lot of money with this draw, which may or may not finish, you need to call a bet on the flop and see the turn and the river to get the final card you’ll need to make that straight or flush. If you hit a strong hand, you will want to bet a lot when you have the strong hand.

Now, if your stake size is small, you really can’t expect to win much if you chase this draw. Hands like 6c5c are speculative and you’ll not have the odds on your side to make it worth the relative drain on your stack size to be worth it. Mind you, when you’ve got a larger stack, then you can definitely benefit from these riskier plays because you might lose only 1% of your stack instead of 25% or more.

Stack sizes do more than just increase the value of speculative hands. They also tend to make the game much more psychological. Bluffing becomes a more valuable tool when people have larger stacks and you can threaten a much larger amount of money in relation to the pot when people have a lot of chips. However, just as bluffing becomes more valuable, marginal hands lose some relative value. Top pair is not going to get paid off often when large stacks because hands like middle pair are not going to throw in a lot of money in relation to the pot. Large stacks mean that fewer hands go to a showdown, and the ones that do are much more likely to involve powerful hands like straights, flushes, and sets.