Skill #9. Playing Deep – P1

Games at the 1-2 and 2-5 levels typically feature a buy-in cap. In Las Vegas, which has fairly high caps for these games, the typical maximum buy-ins are $300 and $1,000, respectively. This equals 150 big blinds in the 1-2 games, and 200 big blinds in the 2-5 game.

Once you hit the 5-10 level, buy-ins can get deeper. In Las Vegas, 5-10 games are typically capped at a $3,000 buy-in, or they’re completely uncapped. In uncapped games, it’s not uncommon for players to buy in for $5,000, or even $10,000 or more.

In this section, I want to address some common misconceptions about playing deep and offer a few tips.

First, and most importantly, I want to dispel a common myth. There’s absolutely no disadvantage to buying in short to a game where everyone else is deep. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Man, everyone has $10,000 or more at that table. If you buy in for $1,000 or $2,000, you don’t stand a chance. All the big stacks will bully you.”

This is complete nonsense. There is no truth to this idea, yet it won’t die.

No-limit hold ’em is played “table stakes.” Meaning, if you have $500 on the table, then you’re playing no-limit hold ’em for $500. If your opponent has a one-million-dollar chip sitting next to his $500 stack, it’s irrelevant. You’re playing for $500. Yours, and his. That chip might as well be a card protector. That chip might as well be in his pocket.

In reality, that player can’t bully you. The rules of the game restrict him to betting a maximum of $500 against you. If he wants to play loose and aggressively for that $500, you simply play tight pre-flop and use Skill #8 wisely to create an edge against his inappropriately aggressive play.

Sure, he will never run out of money. Why is that a problem?

If this explanation hasn’t convinced you there’s no inherent advantage to playing deep stacked, then I urge you to investigate further until you’re convinced. You’re likely to have problems playing in 5-10 games and higher without a clear understanding of how different stack sizes affect play.

Not only is playing a short stack not a disadvantage in a 5-10 game, but I recommend that you buy in short to games 5-10 and higher if you’re relatively new to the level. Buying in short does a few good things for you. One, it limits your potential losses and prevents you from making one enormous error that sinks you.

Two, it actually gives you a small natural advantage over your opponents. If everyone at the table is playing a $5,000 stack, they’ll be calibrating their strategies based on that stack size. They’ll be playing even looser pre-flop. They’ll be more willing to hang around in certain pots with marginal hands.

In that environment, if you’re playing a $600 stack, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to shove all-in and catch your opponents holding weak hands with bad options. If you’re the shortest stack at the table, you always know what stack size you’re playing for. Your deep-stacked opponents will have to constantly adjust their strategies depending on who may decide to enter the pot.

I haven’t talked much about stack sizes in this book for two reasons. One, I’ve focused on one type of game—live no-limit cash. In these games, most players tend to buy in for somewhere between 50 big blinds and the table maximum. Unless the game is very wild, stack sizes will tend to stay in this range even several hours into play, as players leave and new players sit. Generally you won’t have many 5, or 20, or even 40 big-blind stacks to account for.

Furthermore, the exploitable errors that 1-2 and 2-5 players make don’t often involve stacking off. Or, at least with 1-2, when you’re getting stacks in, it’s because you have an excellent hand and it’s fairly obvious you want to play for it all.

The skills I emphasized in the 2-5 section come to prominence in medium-sized pots. When you’re picking on players who tend to fold too often, you aren’t playing many pots for stacks. So, in practice, at the 2-5 level, there’s often little strategic difference if your opponent is playing 80 big blinds or 160 big blinds. In either case, for example, you might plan to barrel the flop and turn and give up if called.

But once you start competing against aggressive players who try to hide their bad hands through elaborate bluffs, stack sizes begin to affect every hand. This skill is about playing deep, which

I’ll define as playing 300 big blinds or more. This would mean $3,000 stacks or more at 5-10.

My goal here is just to demystify playing deep-stacked, not give you a complete rundown. Consider a few observations.

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