Adjusting to Deep Stack Play

phil ivey deep stack lossDeep stack play exists in every form of poker, be it sit and gos, tournaments, or cash games. In a cash game, you will have the ability to control just how deep your stacks are and whether or not you would like to play. In tournaments, however, there is no option to change tables and buy back in with 100 big blinds (unless you’re like Phil Ivey and don’t mind losing over $500,000 a hand). For this reason, learning how to adapt to deep stack play is an absolute necessity.

There are many different things about playing with a big stack vs. playing with a normal sized stack. To start, you will have much better implied odds with random suited connectors, small pocket pairs, and other more speculative hands. This is truly the most important aspect of deep stack play, the number of different hands that any player could have. Along with that comes the need to be able to read other players exceptionally well. The ultimate goal is to keep your opponents confused by playing a variety of hands, while being able to maintain solid reads against other players. If you can do both of these, you will be miles ahead of the competition.

Deep stacks are one of the few poker variables that affect pre-flop and post-flop play indifferently. You will need to be able to make creative plays at all stages of the hand, and neither one makes a much larger impact than the other. You can get involved in 3-bet and 4-bet pots both pre and post-flop, creating some monster action. You will need to think even more critically about each and every decision that you make because the money is that much more significant. Where a big mistake might have cost you 100 big blinds before, it may very well cost you 250 or 300 big blinds now. Attentiveness can not be stressed enough with deep stacks.

Adjusting Pre-Flop

Pre-flop adjustments, in short, can be summarized best by generally widened ranges. In other words, both you and your opponents are going to be playing a whole lot more hands. When you have more money to play with in relation to the blinds, it gives you the opportunity to make a minimal investment for what could end up being a sizable win. This is the inherent beauty of deep stack play. Of course, the magnified losses will help to balance things out.

Some plays that you can safely attempt with a deep stack that you otherwise would not be able to include: calling 3-bets with speculative hands, light 4-betting, and folding after 4-bets. These three sets of plays would be very rarely implemented in a game with normal stack sizes. Once you are playing with 200+ big blinds, however, these all become realistic elements that you can and should work into your strategy. For comparisons sake, take a look at the examples below.

If you are playing $1/$2 NLHE and are facing a 3-bet with a small pocket pair, the odds are that you will probably let it go. The reasoning for this is simple: the pot and implied odds just aren’t there. If you double your stack sizes, however, the exact opposite will hold true. Whereas before you would need to invest $30 to potentially win a maximum of $200, you would now be investing $30 for a shot at $400. With a normal sized stack you would need to win all of your opponents chips close to 1:6 times, with a $400 stack, that number shifts to 1:13 times. Needless to say, this is quite a significant jump.

4-bet folding is one of the worst plays that you could ever make in poker. While it is seldom going to be a “good” play, deep stacks allow you the chance to cut your losses with a failed 4-bet. It is worth noting that you will need to be working with a super deep stack for this to make sense. A deep(ish) stack is still not enough to justify a 4-bet fold.

Using the same example as above, pretend that you want to 4-bet. At $30, a reasonable 4-bet would be to around $80-$90. With a $400+ stack, this means that you still have 75% of your chips left in play. Many times, you might even have more than that left. This is way too much money to ever require that you shove all in. While you are sacrificing a bit of equity and shoving/calling an all in would be correct with smaller stacks, there is one big variable in the way. With a smaller stack size, your opponent will be prone to shoving all in with much weaker hands than when they have 200+ big blinds. This alone is enough to give them credit for a hand that will have you beat by a margin much too large to ever warrant a crying call. With shorter stacks, you should shove/call all ins with 4-bets because there is always a decent chance that you are not too far behind, but that just won’t be the case in spots like this. A deep stack 5-bet is much, much stronger than a short stack 3-bet or 4-bet all in.

Adjusting Post-Flop

Post-flop play, as you might imagine, is much more dynamic than pre-flop. You will run into some awfully tricky hands that will leave you sweating bullets. With that said, you need to enter any deep stack game with a sense of fearlessness. Where fundamentals and actual tangible skills are typically your biggest asset, the ability to make tough decisions for a lot of money will mean much more when you are playing very deep stacked. Your opponents will not usually be all that comfortable with deep stack play. A natural tendency is to tighten up and wait for great hands to play, but this is going about it all wrong. Instead, you should counter this game plan with aggression and decisiveness.

Winning players won’t be afraid to put all of their money in on the flop with a monster combo draw. Plays like this deliver multiple benefits. First, you are in a great position to hit your hand and win if your opponent happens to call. Secondly, and most importantly, your opponents will tend to get nervous and lay down anything other than the nuts if they are going to need to risk a lot of money. Now, regulars would be the exception to this rule, but your average competition won’t be grinding out 100k hands per month.

Pressure and aggression are big winners in deep stack play. Use your opponents fear as a tool for profit. You might be surprised to see how often players fold their hands just to ensure that they don’t lose a big pot. Remember that it is better to lose some big pots and win some big pots if you are also picking up a bunch of moderate sized pots along the way. Steady wins payoff much more than those occasional monster wins, even if you don’t realize it in the moment.