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(Note: I consider ~175+bb stacks to be deep, and 50bb or less shallow)

How should the depth of effective stacks change my...

  • Starting hand range? (Tighter/Looser)
  • Style of play? (more Aggression/less Aggression)
  • Importance of other factors (Position; Reads; Preflop & Postflop actions)
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Generally, as stacks get shallower, cards matter more. As stacks get deeper, game dynamics and player tendencies matter more.


When playing with short effective stacks (<50bb), you need to play hands that will make the best hand a lot of the time. If you are playing against people with larger stacks, you will have less fold equity, so you will not be able to rely on fold equity to make hands like suited connectors profitable. A decent, strong starting range would be something like {88+, AT+, KJ+, QJ+}. This is 11.6% of hands, and it is fairly tight. You can widen your range if you go to more of a shove/fold short stack strategy, relying on fold equity to increase your edge, but against a fairly loose range that you might see in a weaker live game {22+,A2s+,K6s+,Q8s+,J8s+,T8s+,97s+,86s+,75s+,64s+,53s+,43s,32s,A8o+,K9o+,QTo+,JTo} (all pairs, suited aces, most suited kings, some suited queens and jacks, suited connectors and 1 gappers, broadway hands), this range has 58% equity.


Moving into a more mid-stacked range, "traditional" poker ranges and thoughts apply - you will tend to get implied odds to set-mine and play speculative hands like suited connectors. You will be able to get paid by weaker hands when you hit the bottom end of a straight or a low flush, two pair can pay off your set, and a flush might call the occasional paired board.


As stacks get deeper, lower speculative hands begin to drop in value. A set of 2s becomes less valuable - you will still make some money, but you will not get a 200+bb stack from 2 pair, or AA. Likewise, when you hit your flush with a low suited connector like 54s, and stacks go in, you are much more likely to be against a higher flush. So, in general, you can play a fairly wide range of hands when deep stacked, but you need to be able to get away from non-nut hands. Axs and Kxs have much more value than lower suited connectors. High pocket pairs have much more value than low pocket pairs. High connectors have mcuh more value than low connectors. Hands that are coolers with 100bb stacks are disasters with 300bb stacks. This is the concept of reverse implied odds.

This dynamic also allows tremendous opportunities for varied play when deep. There is a lot more room to create fold equity when deeper, and there is also a lot more room to bet/fold when deep. When 2 players with 100bb stacks each get 100bb in by the flop, everyone is all-in, and no more mistakes can be made. When each player is 300bb deep, and they each get 100bb in by the flop, there are still 2 streets of big decisions left. The dynamics of a match, and quick adjustment, become much more important with deeper stacks.

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