Playing Deep


Note: I am organizing much of this CotW around the Stack to Pot Ratio concept fromProfessional No Limit Hold ‘Em, by Matt Flynn, Sunny Mehta and Ed Miller, 2+2 Publishing, 2007. So props to them, and you should assume that all of the stack size concepts discussed herein come from or derive in some way from their book; my contribution is in the specific application of those principles to our micro games.

How Deep is Deep?

This is an interesting question that I don’t think has a clear cut answer. In PNLHE, the authors round down to 200bb and call this deep, on the theory that it takes at least 4 pot sized bets to get all the money in. Full Tilt evidently agrees, because this is the max buy in at the deep tables it created.

I don’t think 200bb is the minimum effective stack size necessary for a game or a hand to play deep. I actually think that today’s raised pots play as if they were deeper. The average player is far less willing to stack off with a top pair hand than he was in, say, 2007, and, therefore, some of the plays that people think of as deep stack plays are very effective at 100bb games. Conversely, there is so much 3 and 4 betting going on even at $10 and $25 that SPRs are, on average, probably significantly lower than they were in 2007, thus making even deeper games play more like shallower games in those situations.

I think that any raised hand where the effective stacks are about 130bb plays more like a deep hand than a standard 100bb hand in today’s game. The distinction is only important in specific situations, so I don’t think it is very important.

Why Play Deep?

To win bigger pots.

Should You Play Deep?

You should play deep if your post-flop skills are superior to the field playing deep. You should not play deep if your post-flop skills are average or inferior to the field at deep tables. Bear in mind that deep tables tend to attract regulars who think they have an edge on the field, so the average quality of the opponent you will face is significantly higher.

Table Selection and Seat Selection

When you start out playing deep, it is important to identify regs that you think have an edge against you, and to be careful about getting involved with them. Ideally, you should sit with position on a fish you are targeting, and, ideally, you should avoid any situation in which a reg will have position on you. While this is generally true for seat selection, it is far more important when you are deep than 100bb deep, simply because the reg can put you in tough spots for bigger amounts of money.

This is so important deep that I do not believe a player that is inexperienced in deep stack play should sit in a game deep if there is a good regular with position on him that has him covered.

Take your ego out of the decision. If you are inexperienced deep, and there is a good reg behind you that has you covered, you should strongly consider leaving the table. This might happen, for example, at a 100bb table where you have built your stack up to 150 or so bb, and another reg behind you has, too. Consider leaving the table; you should probably leave unless you have position on a fish with a big stack. Even in this situation, though, the fish will be difficult to exploit because of the reg behind you. This is a good situation to book your win, and stand up.

Why Do Deep Hands Play Differently? Providing a framework to use to think about stack sizes was the single biggest contribution the authors of PNLHE made to poker, and this framework is the basis for the answer to this question.

In a deep game (or a hand where effective stacks are deep), it is very difficult to extract maximum value from top pair hands. This is true primarily because of the reverse implied odds you offer to speculative hands. When SPR is low, you make a profit with one pair hands even when speculative hands draw out on you–they just can’t draw out frequently enough for you to lose money. Stove it and you will see what I’m talking about. (I actually stoved it here but then deleted it because it doubled the length of this post to stove both a 60bb shallow hand and a 160bb deep hand).

Deep, though, they can more easily extract enough profit to justify playing speculative hands. (Not to mention the extra value you can get by bluff-threatening a 200bb stack).

So What Adjustments Do We Make When Playing Deep?

According to PNLHE:

1. Drawing hands go up in value. This should be obvious. Hands that want to build big pots post-flop become more valuable. This includes small and mid pocket pairs, suited aces and middle suited connectors.

2. Position becomes more important. It allows you to better exploit your informational advantage, as well as the fear one pair hands have of playing a big pot.

Combining these two adjustments suggests that we ought to be calling in position with a wide range of drawing hands, looking to flop two pair or better. Similarly, you are getting better implied odds to float on the flop if you flop a small piece of the board, such as if you call with 98s and flop one pair.

3. One pair hands go down in value. This is a function of stack to pot ratios. If your hand is most likely to flop as a top pair, it prefers really small SPRs, in the 4-7 neighborhood. These are basically impossible to achieve at a deep table. Since it is therefore going to be very difficult to maximize your profit with these hands, you should aim to play small-ish pots that will minimize the reverse implied odds these hands offer. You should pot control these hands to try and ensure that the final pot is 4-7 times the size of the final preflop pot.

4. Consider varying your raise sizes. You’ll have to mix it up to avoid being readable, but it is worth thinking about incorporating 5bb and 2 bb raises into your preflop bet sizing to manipulate SPRs.

AA is an exception to this adjustment, according to PNLHE. While the authors sort of argue for at least considering making smaller raises preflop with hands like AK, AQ and QQ, they specifically exclude AA, asserting that it wins big pots post flop often enough to accept the consequences of awkward SPRs rather than raising smaller with it.

In addition to these adjustments, I favor the following adjustments as well:

5. Remember that 3 bet pots are no longer really deep. If someone raises to 4bb and you 3 bet it to 12bb, if he calls, the final preflop pot is 24bb-ish and SPR will be under 7 at 150bb effective stack size and about 9 if at 200bb effective stacks. These are workable SPRs for one pair hands. They are a little on the high side, but manageable.

6. Never fold a pocket pair if SPR is shaping up to be around 13. This requires an adjustment to your preflop strategy, if, like me, you normally fold small pocket pairs in early position. This is also an area in which you can get creative at manipulating SPR by changing your preflop bet sizing. For example, if you are 100bb deep and you raise to 4bb UTG with 55, and the button 3 bets you to 12bb, you are facing an SPR of 4-ish if you call, which is a horrible SPR for this hand. But suppose you are 200bb deep and you raise to 2bb UTG with 55 and the button 3 bets you to 8bb. Now the pot is 17, effective stacks are 192, and your SPR is 11. If he 3 bet you with a one pair hand, you basically have him right where you want him, playing a one pair hand with the opportunity to make really big post-flop mistakes.

I know, I know, we hate minraises. I’m just sayin’ is all.

Also, if you are going to vary your preflop raises, you are going to have to balance. I would suggest doing so with some of your one pair hands that, if they can’t get really low SPRs, play pretty well with really high SPRs. If you make small raises in EP with one pair hands and get 3 bet, you have the option of folding and losing less, or 4 betting and playing a pot with a really low SPR.

7. With your strong hands, prefer flop raises to turn raises. This just makes it easier to get all the money in because of the exponential increases in bet sizes. 100bb deep, I advocate usually just check/calling or flatting with a powerhouse such as a flopped set on a very dry board. deep, however, I think you have to suck it up and raise at least some of the time. I would probably pick the villains with the lowest c-bet %s to raise on dry flops, maximizing the probability that the bettor actually has a hand he can call a raise with.

8. Vary your 3 bet sizing. This is crucial, in my opinion. If you are value 3 betting, you want as low a SPR as you can get. If you are bluff or semi-bluff raising, you want a SPR as low as possible so that calling your c-bet does not necessarily commit the villain to the hand. Obviously, to vary your 3 bet sizing, you have to mix it up sometimes.

I actually hate this idea, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that:

9. Playing 200bb deep allows you the opportunity to run big multi-street bluffs that win big pots.

I personally think that this is usually FPS, but there are occasions where I can see this being a good play.

The adjustment below comes to us courtesy of Baluga Whale:

10. Since people call EP raises with hands that can crack AA, raise in EP with hands that can crack hands that are looking to crack AA.

Baluga specifically mentions adding to your range hands such as AJs, KQs and KJs.

Thinking About Exploiting Micro-Grinders at Deep Tables

Pretty much everything in the adjustments section is in, or inferable from, PNLHE, and would apply to pretty much every deep game. But we play at the micros, and micro-players have specific leaks:

1. They over value 1 pair hands.
2. They can’t fold good, but second best hands.
3. They overestimate their implied odds.
4. They chase draws (see leak 3).
All of this leads us to some important conclusions:

1. Playing deep, it is actually possible to win the battle of the coolers. Until I started playing deep, I believed that situations like KK v. AA were 0 EV situations; that, over the long run, we would break even stacking off our KK against AA against some villains, and stacking KK with our aces against others.

Playing deep, though, affords us the opportunity to win this battle and extract a profit from situations such as this where other players are breaking even. This is really just a specific application of the general rule that the deeper the stacks the more important skill becomes. But if you spend much time playing deep stacked, you have to be looking for opportunities to win the battle of the coolers. I don’t think 200bb deep is deep enough to be looking to fold middle set and save a few bets when you are set over setted, but it does give us some chances to manipulate pot size when we have AA against KK to win most of a stack, while manipulating pot size with KK so as to lose the minimum to AA.

Another application of this is directly inferable from PNLHE. Suppose you take the authors’ advice and start (usually) raising 3bb with AQ instead of your usual 3.5 or 4bb. Over time, you will lose a little less in the pots you lose to, say, AT when he flops two pair, or to a guy who flops a set.

Now suppose that the field, on average, raises AQ to 3.5bb. Each time you flop a set or two pair, you will win, on average, a bigger pot than you lose to the field. The difference is all profit to you, and it is profit you owe to the fact that you planned your hand around your hand’s value in a deep stacked game, whereas the field in general, did not make this adjustment.

2. Playing deep, you should pot control your one pair hands. There are a variety of ways to do this, and they vary from opponent to opponent, but the idea is to not put yourself in a position where you justify your opponent’s overestimation of his implied odds. You should play in such a way that it is basically impossible for most villains to chase a draw against you profitably.

The corollary to this is that when you have two pair or better, you should be building a big pot and charging draws ruthlessly.


Although this post appears tl;dr, in fact, I think I covered maybe 2% of what there is to say on these subjects. In every section I wrote, I had to leave out the vast majority of what I wanted to say. So I would like to see some discussion on applying the principles in specific situations to flesh out my post, which I consider to be nothing more than a collection of very general statements that can be applied in a lot of situations and have exceptions in a lot of situations.

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