Stop and Go

“Stop and go” was a play introduced at the beginning of the common era in poker, around the mid-2000s. In a stop and go play a player has a chip stack that is ripe for an all-in jam, say 15–20BB. However, instead of just moving all-in with this stack against a raise they instead call and then move all-in on any flop. In this case it is better to be out of position, because you get to act first on the flop.

The idea behind the play is that you get your opponent to fold more hands than if you moved all-in preflop. This makes sense, as most Hold ‘Em hands miss the board, whereas people preflop are more apt to make big calls versus an all-in. After all, the action is over once they call, so they have nothing further to worry about.

One case I really like the stop and go is when you have something like 7– 9BB. Anything below 10 is really likely to get called by the raiser. It’s rare to see someone fold to these smaller jams. That’s not to say it’s always correct to call these jams after you raise, but most people never seem to find the muck.

In the CardRunners EV calculation shown in Figure 50 we have K-5o and 9BB. The hero executes a stop and go versus a 22.5% raising range by shoving when he hits and open folding when he misses. As we can see from the number the arrow is pointing to, he is saving 55 chips from his initial 150 forced chip investment. While it doesn’t sound like much, its means he is saving 36.67BB per 100 hands played, which can really add up.

However, if we just have the hero moving all-in preflop, and he is called by the entirety of the villain’s range, than he will see a very different result (Figure 51). Note that he is being called by a number of hands he beats as well.

Now the hero is losing 103 chips in addition to his big blind of 150. That’s 68.6BB per 100 hands played! If you’re thinking right now, “But I am not going to play this hand 100 times, it only comes up once,” you are wrong. This kind of short stack situation comes up 30 or 40 times a day when you play for a living. You will be in this spot tens of thousands of times in your career. The difference in play could sink hundreds, if not thousands, of your buy-ins.

What if you fold, because it’s a small edge and you can wait for a better spot? You’re not going to get better spots in short stack situations. I am always confused when I hear this phrase and want to know where these better spots supposedly are, because I can’t find them. Everybody understands the basic short stack all-ins, so I’m not making money there. Where else could I pick up a nickel, but in these spots?

Back to the topic at hand, we can see that stop and go plays do actually have merit, despite their antiquated origins. A more interesting subject is if they can replace the typical re-jam. Let’s take a hand I played heads-up in a recent tournament. I had 16BBs in the big blind. The button raised to 2x and I moved all-in with A-10o, as I’ve done my entire life. The villain’s opening range is a little odder to express in CardRunners EV, because we assume it’s a bit more polarized. He’s likely raising/folding with a number of mediocre hands, jamming with the decent holdings, and raising/calling with his premiums.

Figure 52 shows how I expressed his raising range. Notice that I have omitted the decent A-x and K-x combos, broadways, suited connectors, small pairs, and other hands I assume would just jam.

Figure 53 shows how his calling range is expressed.

So, when we run the numbers on CardRunners EV, we find the profit margin to be 10,971 chips. Pretty nice haul! Almost 2BB (Figure 54)!

Now let’s pretend that we flat preflop and move all-in on any flop. Our opponent will call with any second pair or better, any nut flush draw with the ace in their hand and three to a suit on the board, any flush draw with two hole cards which contribute to the flush, and any open-ended straight draw (Figure 55).

Now we’re beyond 2BB with 14,856 chips! We’re making 35% more by playing a stop and go strategy. Ask yourself, have you ever played a hand this way?

I’m guessing not, as this would be treated as a pretty serious faux pas in typical No Limit Hold ‘Em tournaments. Imagine a guy heads-up for the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event, and he did this play on a 7-6-5 board with no backdoor draw, and he got called by an over-pair, flopped set, or something similar? That guy would be reviled as an idiot throughout the poker world. For the love of God, he jammed 76,000+ into a 23,000 pot!

This is why watching poker on TV is often such a waste of time. Could you imagine the typical announcer if he saw that play? There would be nothing but jokes for the next 10 years. Yet, we have definitive proof that the play has more value than what the average player would expect.

Does this mean we should start calling and jamming our whole range? Not necessarily. This was an extreme example I chose to demonstrate my claim. The point was really just to show you how hard it is for someone to make a hand in No Limit Hold ‘Em, and how giving up pots most of the time will eventually allow your opponent to turn a profitable play.

When this play is really beneficial is when you feel your opponent is very good preflop but doesn’t like looking stupid. It is considered bad these days to call an all-in on the flop, especially an over-bet, with just a high card or bottom pair. We can see that even if they call some of the middling pairs they are still not turning a profit. For this reason having 12-15x and using a stop and go strategy is frequently a more profitable play.

Do you have to jam every flop you see? Of course not. Sometimes the board

just comes 10♥-9♥-8♥ when you had two black 2s. However, you should be careful to remember that even if we closed our eyes and jammed any flop we would be turning a profit, so we can err more on the side of aggression than normal, because on average the play is likely to be good.

This is why I think players such as Phil Hellmuth do so well. The average online player moves all-in here preflop, takes their inferior EV, and calls it a day. Hellmuth has the gall to call and really grind each flop, computing what his stack will be in each tournament instance, and how the particular texture works with the equities. I highly doubt he thinks of it in these terms, but make no mistake: what he does on average shows the more nuanced forms of poker we can prove through our equity calculations.

The hands that really benefit from a stop and go strategy are the hands that don’t want their all-in called preflop. Small pairs work wonderfully, because if we get called preflop there’s no chance of bluffing our opponent postflop, and he frequently has a 50%+ or better shot postflop.

The aces work well, because they do not play terrifically postflop. They either flop well and get no action or miss and block A-x combos we want to bluff (the most frequent two card combination that missed in our opponent’s opening range). The hand works well as a preflop jam because of its postflop difficulty, or with stack dynamics that illicit a straightforward jam on any flop, but rarely does it work efficiently as a multi-street hand out of position. Suited gappers, suited connectors, big cards, and unsuited connectors work fine as well, especially considering high cards could have them dominated if we jammed preflop.

Don’t be afraid to check and give up on occasion and also throw in some check-raise all-ins if you know the person blindly continuation bets. Other than increasing your profit margin this also adds a more difficult balance for your opponents to calculate in your game.

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