In tournament style Texas hold-em, how should the amount of chips I have left affect my play? Should I become more conservative as my stack declines and more risky as my stack grows? Does my position relative to the blinds affect this? Should I avoid playing low probability high value hands as my stack dwindles or do the opposite? Should the ratio of my chips to the current pot size also come into play?

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    I think this is an example of a good question. the question is not complex, but the answers can get very deep. My answer touched on only the very basics of this issue, but there is much more room for discussion. Commented Jan 10, 2012 at 21:12

4 Answers 4


Ratio of chips to current pot size always to me play, when you want look poker odds calculator software that will calculate that for you.

About chips what you have in stack this depends:

  • when you play tournament then this matter, depends how much your stack is to blind sized you play more open. For calculate that you have Harrington M and SNG PokerStategy Phase statistics, on that values you can range some actions.

SNG PokerStrategy Phase this is defined by:

  • stack size more than 24 blinds - you play in early style, wait for strong hands.
  • stack size more than 12 blinds - you play middle style, trying to play middle hands, showing more aggression.
  • stack size less than 12 blinds - you play late style, push or fold, depends on ICM.

Harrington M is described and defined by:

M you can calculate from formula: M = (stack size)/(small blind + big blind + ante) is other way to calculate M too and this taking care about players on table, this is named Effective M and you can calculate than using EffM = M * (players on table) / 10

  • Green Zone when (M >= 20), Play tight, don't take needless risk, wait for other players to eliminate each other, play only with best hands.
  • Yellow Zone when (M >= 10), Play more open, your good position slowly changes into not so good, blinds have more meaning for the number of your chips than in Green zone look after opportunity for Blinds Stealing.
  • Orange Zone when (M >= 6), Play aggressive, to stay in tournament, this is a good time to take risk. Your stack is not yet too small for recapture
  • Red Zone when (M < 6), All-in in the first hand as the first one is a good solution, it will surprise your opponents, and maximize the chance for them to Fold.
  • Death Zone when (M < 1), in the best case scenario, you've chips only for one Dealer turnover at the table.

The higher the blinds/antes in relation to your stack, the more desperate you need to be to get (and keep) chips.

That first manifests when you reach a point that you should stop playing speculative hands. The risk/reward payoff for set-mining and searching a multi-way pot with a suited connector shifts to be too expensive. For me, that happens somewhere in the 40-50BB range.

Next, you begin to have a real need to up your aggression to take down pots and steal blinds. This often means playing more hands in position. It definitely means sticking entirely to a raise-or-fold gameplay. You want to start this type of adjustment while you still have enough chips to make your opponents fold. Often, you can make a significant profit from 3-bet shoving against aggressive opponents with hands that might otherwise be too marginal to continue with (e.g. AJs). I tend to enter this stage in the 20-30BB range.

Finally, you reach the point where you have to fight tooth and nail to avoid blinding out. You will take risks that would otherwise be poor plays, and you will make gambles. You should tend to shove preflop every hand that you play unless you have very specific reasons not to do so. Note that you will still play fewer hands in early position than in late position, but the range of hands that you will play begins to grow. I tend to enter this stage in the 10-15BB range, and I am still pretty selective about my early and mid position hands. With each orbit around the table that passes without adding chips to my stack, I become less selective.

  • I would say it gets a little more complicated the closer to the bubble you get. You might want to back off a seemingly premium short-stack hand if it might mean that you get popped out before the bubble. It also depends on how much action you have in front of you when faced with a short-stack premium hand (like A-10s or KQo). You want to maximize your chances by having as few opponents in the hand - preferably being heads-up. Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 14:14

If you are short-stacked, you should be picking and choosing which hands you are in much more carefully. You will not have the bankroll to intimidate other players, and you can count on table leaders to make you pay dearly for just about every hand you want to participate in. Stick with hands where you can expect to be in a good position pre-flop. If you get really short stacked, you want to look for some pre-flop all-in opportunities to help you get back in the game (or put you out of your misery!).

If you are ahead at the table, then you should be making bigger bets to put pressure on your opponents. This doesn't mean you should play lots of hands you wouldn't have played earlier in the tournament, just that the size of your bets should increase. If you've got a chip advantage, stealing small pots will help increase the distance.


As a tournament progresses, the blinds increase. The effect this has is to decrease the effective stack sizes for every player with respect to the size of the blinds. As your stack size decreases, you have fewer opportunities to correctly play speculative positions. This is true regardless of format -- whether in a tournament or in a cash game, the shorter you are, the less you can profitably draw and bluff.

Consider a board of As 7h 2h 5c, where you have Kh Qh. You have no chance for a straight, and you're opponent (you somehow "know") has an Ace. So, you are drawing to the nut flush. The pot is $100, and then your opponent bets $100. You are getting 2:1 on a $100 call. Are you correct to call?

Naturally, the answer is "it depends" -- in this case, on primarily Implied Odds. You're getting 2:1 on a 5:1 dog. In order for this call to be profitable, you would need to win at least an additional $250 at the end when you do make your flush. Can you do it?

Again it depends, and again, on primarily 2 considerations: 1) If you get there, will your opponent pay off $250 more? 2) Do you have enough in your stack to bet $250 more?

In a tournament, the answer to #2 is very often "no." Tournaments generally never play deep enough for these kinds of considerations to come in to play. In cash games they often do, but it all depends on the size of your (and your opponent's) stack. If you're to shallow to ever bet the $250, then your too shallow for this play to ever be profitable.

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