One of the key considerations when sitting down at a no-limit hold’em game is to determine for how many chips you want to buy in. Some games implement a cap on the buy-in (like $500 for a $2-$5 blinds game, for example), while others have no cap in place, which will also affect your decision. There are certain pros and cons for both short stacks and big stacks. Let’s take a look at them.
Short stack advantages
- There’s less risk. If you buy in for $80 in a $1-$2 blinds game, you can’t lose more than your initial $80 stake (and any profits you may have gained) on any one hand, assuming you haven’t rebought or added to your stack with money out of your pocket.
- You can often goad big stacks into poor decisions. Bigger stacks in no-limit games often don’t take the short stacks seriously, mostly thinking of them as just a nuisance. I’ve been called a “gnat” before when playing with a short stack in an online game. Because of this, big stacks will often make calls with questionable hands if you push all in. I’ve seen pot-sized calls with queen high and ten high. So if you get A-K, A-Q, 10-10, etc., try re-raising all in against a big stack. You may get the bigger stack to put his chips in way behind.
- The not-so-aggressive big and medium stacks may not want to mess with you while holding mediocre hands because of the threat of you pushing all in on them. They are apt to believe you are pot committed when you really aren’t, which allows you to win some pots uncontested for a single raise.
Short stack disadvantages
- You have less to gain. If you buy in for that $80, that’s all you can win if you double up. Had you bought in for more you may have earned more on your winning hand. For example, if you were up against a player with $200 you could have won more than double what you actually profited when you beat him.
- The big stacks will frequently bully you. Unless you pick up a decent hand, the blinds will eat into your stack as you make repeated folds.
- You lack leverage. It’s almost impossible to pull off bluffs on the flop or turn because you don’t have many chips behind your initial bet that could threaten the stacks of your opponents. They don’t have to be afraid of losing a lot so it makes a call easier for them.
Big stack advantages
- You can win more. The greater your buy-in, the more you can win if you double up. Admittedly, most of you reading just went “duh,” but it bears reminding for the purposes of the discussion. It’s especially worth considering the lineup of the table — if there are more weak players with decent-to-large stacks you definitely want a bigger stack to take advantage of the situation.
- The big stack allows you to pick on others. Medium stacks and other large stacks are less likely to tangle with you because you can bust them. Raises and continuation bets on the flop often take the pot. Remember this: if another big stack is aggressive against you when she usually tends to be more docile she likely has a big hand and you can escape without further damage by folding.
- You can lose chips on one hand and still make them back up on future hands. If you buy in for a large amount and lose some of that stack, you can still double up later and end up where you started in chip count. The big stack gives you more leeway in this regard. This can also play into a psychological advantage, whereas players often feel more comfortable and in control when sitting behind a mound of chips.
Big stack disadvantages
- The risk is great. If you put all of your chips into the pot and lose, your financial downfall is greater. Had you bought in short, you might have lost half as much and will have another buy-in, or bullet, to pull out of your pocket.
- Other large stacks can put more pressure on you. If you face a big bet from another large stack, you risk going broke. If another large stack perceives you as a player afraid to lose his buy-in you are really vulnerable to his aggressive tendencies.
- Many players feel invincible with their big stack and put their money into the pot in questionable situations. (See the ten high reference above.) If you buy in for a big amount, play that stack wisely.
Which method should you use? Large or small? Both have their merits. The choice is up to you.
Johnny Kampis is author of the upcoming book Vegas or Bust: A Family Man Takes on the Poker Pros.