Large and in Charge: Big Stack Play

Big Stack Play in No Limit Texas Holdem Poker

When I’m sitting behind a big stack of chips at a No Limit Hold’em table, I like to use it as a weapon to keep the pressure on my opponents. But before I get into how to do that there are 2 things you need to consider: a) you have to be comfortable playing aggressively b)you have to have good enough post flop judgement to get away with playing a lot of hands. If you don’t fit that description – for example, you built your big stack with one or two huge pots – then you probably won’t want to play a big stack the way I like to play one!

Professional poker tips and adviceThat said, playing aggressively with a large stack is my personal favourite style of play because you get to play a lot more hands than normal, which keeps the game fun and interesting. It also helps me to pay closer attention because, naturally, if you are playing more hands, you’re going to be more involved (rather than ordering drinks, talking on the phone or watching what’s on TV).

I also like playing an attacking style because you have a lot more post-flop decisions; this is when you can really out-play weaker players! Post-flop, you have to rely on your reading abilities. If you’re a good reader (Phil Hellmuth and Chris Ferguson are players with very strong reading abilities), you can afford to play many more hands.

Another reason I like playing aggressively with a big stack is because people really become afraid of you; so many times they become more and more passive. If people play passively toward you, it makes it easier to rob and steal blinds.

In No Limit Hold’em, you don’t want people to attack; you want to be the attacker. Unless you have the absolute nuts – and in Hold’em you’re not going to have the nuts very often – you don’t want people to call, because most of the time, they’re going to have a live hand or a live draw. You would rather win the money right there; if they don’t call, they can’t win the pot.

What you need to do to maintain and increase your big stack is raise pre-flop frequently. This really works well after the antes start, playing too many hands is a very risky policy. Say you’re bringing it in for 3 times the big blind. For example, the blinds are 200 and 400, and you bring it in for 1,200 and everybody folds; your reward is only 600. So contested posts aside, you have to get away with it 2 out of 3 times just to break even. But if you’ve got antes and blind money in the pot, now all of a sudden you don’t have to get away with it as frequently. When there’s already 1,000 or 1,200 in the pot, and you can bring it in for 1,200, you can do the math: All you have to do is get away with a little more than every other time. And as an added bonus, you may win some of the contested pots.Especially if you’re playing at a passive table, it’s important to attack because it makes your opponents afraid to bring it in for a raise. Players are going to pass up a lot of hands, leaving it where the pot still hasn’t been opened when it gets around to you, and that’s when you can attack with some weaker and marginal hands.

Poker tips from professional playersYou don’t have to have aces every time to raise with a big stack. And mixing it up will also allow you to get paid off when you do have big hands. If you occasionally show down J-8(os) or 7-8(s), or even K-2(s) or Q-4, some really funky hands, now they get to thinking, “Does he really have a big hand this time or is he just playing garbage again?” If you play tight, where you’re not really playing many hands, it’s hard to win tournaments, because alarms go off in people’s heads when you do play a hand. You have to give action to get action!

Here’s a golden rule for me: Try not to play your big stack against other big stacks. Say you’re at a table where there are 4 short stacks, 3 mediums and 2 other large stacks. Why would you want to attack the other 2 large stacks when 7 other stacks can’t even cripple you? Just in case you’re wrong, if you make a wrong read, or in case they get lucky, or in case you don’t get lucky – in those cases, you want to be up against a player who doesn’t have you covered or almost covered. You’re better off aggressively attacking the small stacks and somewhat aggressively attacking the medium stacks. I know several top pros will disagree, but I prefer not to play too often against other big stacks, because they can afford to bet you out of hands and prevent you from getting the right price to take a shot with a drawing hand.

On the flip side, many people play a style to protect big stacks. I don’t agree with that style of play either, because I feel you need to use your stack as a weapon to attack and break down your opponents. This style is not for the weak hearted! Even though it is going to produce big swings, the results can be phenomenal. You shouldn’t play just to protect your big stack and sit on it, because that’s how you can get anted and blinded down to become a medium stack, and the next thing you know, you’re a small stack. And just like that, your advantage is gone.

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