MoneyUnder most circumstances, stack size matters very little in limit hold’em. You and your opponents typically have plenty of chips to make it through a hand, and that is all that matters.
Occasionally, though, either your stack size or your opponent’s will matter a great deal. You need to know not only exactly how many chips each of you has, but also exactly what to do about it.
This column discusses situations in which you need to know the stack size and must think carefully to decide what to do about it. We will consider three such situations:
- You want to raise an opponent who is almost all in.
- You are almost all in with a draw.
- You are bluffing an opponent who is almost all in.
You want to raise an opponent who is almost all in: This scenario assumes you are in a multiway pot. One of your opponents is intent on going all in. For you to exploit his desire, you need to know two things: (a) precisely how many chips he has, and (b) the rules of the casino you’re in.
I know you can’t always know the exact number of chips, and don’t want to stop play to ask the dealer to count down your opponent’s tiny stack. Nevertheless, you need to eyeball that stack to determine if he has an exact bet or a fractional bet.
If it is an exact bet, you have no problem. You simply decide if you want to raise, either to create a side pot or to eliminate other opponents. If he has a Unique Casino fractional bet, the rules of the cardroom come into play. Some cardrooms treat all bets of less than a full bet as action only, meaning you are not allowed to raise them. You can either call or complete to a full bet. Other cardrooms treat every bet of a half-bet or more as if it were a full bet. In these places, you can either call the partial bet or raise an additional full bet. The difference is huge. Let’s look at an example:
Your going-all-in opponent has $50 left after the flop in a $20-$40 game. He bets out, and it is your turn. If your casino allows you to raise partial bets, you might be better off calling the $20 and letting him bet the remaining $30 on the turn. Then, you can raise to $70 (his $30 bet plus a $40 raise) to try to get heads up with the all-in player. Alternatively, if you want to build a side pot, you can raise his $20 flop bet to $40. Then, if anyone calls, the player going all in will doubtless reraise his last $10. Then, you can raise again, since the $10 is half a bet, and start building a side pot. Note that if he has $45 instead of $50, this last idea will not work. When he goes all in for $5 instead of $10, you will not be allowed to raise.
If the cardroom does not allow you to raise partial bets, your options are far more limited. If you call the $20 on the flop, your opponent will bet his $30 on the turn. Then, all you can do is call $30 or complete to $40. Under most circumstances, you would not want to make the play. First, for the extra $10, you give another opponent a chance to raise you, in case he has an unexpected holding. The extra $10 will not eliminate anyone, and the side pot it builds if anyone calls will be very small.
If, instead, you raise the $20 bet, your opponent will go all in for the extra $10. Then, of course, you cannot raise it because of the rules, but you could complete it. You can use this method if you want to get your opponent all in on the flop so that you can bet a full $40 on the turn to create a real side pot.
Obviously, I much prefer the first rule, since it allows more (and more reasonable) strategic options. But the important message here is that you need to know both the rues and your opponent’s chip count.
You are almost all in with a draw: In this scenario, you have a draw and need to call the turn for almost all of your chips. Many people in this situation just say, “Let’s get it all in” and toss in their remaining chips. Then, if they make their draw, they win, and if not, they lose.
In a tournament, this action is silly, because if they miss their draw and refrain from going all in, they will still have a few chips to try to stay alive. But even in cash games, where the small number of extra chips will not matter much, there is a better option.
Simply call with your draw, planning to bet your remaining chips on the river whether you make your hand or not. If you make it, you will want to bet to win the extra money. But if you miss, you can still bet, hoping for the small chance that your opponent will fold (maybe he was on a draw, too), and you can win the pot without improving. Sure, you most likely will get called and lose the chips and the pot, but that will be the exact same result you would have achieved by going all in. Viewed in this light, the extra chance is free, and when it works, you will win a pot that you could not have won in any other way. Of course, you can also make this play in limit tournaments if you think there is a decent chance your opponent might fold for a few extra chips.
You are bluffing an opponent who is almost all in: Finally, here is an even more obscure play that you might want to know. It involves making sure an opponent has enough chips so that he can fold to a river bluff you are planning to make.
This situation came up in an $80-$160 game my friend was playing. Having detected weakness on the part of his lone opponent, he was playing a big draw (and a very small hand) very strongly. On the turn, his opponent led, he raised, and his opponent reraised. He still believed his opponent was weak and was just trying to represent a good hand. As it turned out, he was correct, because his opponent had a small pair with a draw and was also playing the somewhat weak hand very strongly. While this sort of thing rarely happens in most games, it is not uncommon at the higher limits for two people to bet strongly with very little, each trying to move the other off his hand.
Given that he continued to sense weakness, he raised again on the turn, making it four bets. Then, a bad thing happened. His opponent, finding himself with exactly two bets left, simply reraised all in. Much to my friend’s chagrin, he missed his big draw and his opponent won the very large pot with his tiny pair.
My friend immediately realized his error. He should have noticed that his opponent had exactly two bets left, and would be willing to put them in on the turn, since he had to call one more, anyway. Instead, if my friend had simply called on the turn, he could have bluffed the river while his opponent still had two bets in front of him and only a small pair. While we do not know what might have happened, there is an excellent chance his opponent would have folded. Allowing his opponent to get all in while he still had a draw could well have cost my friend several hundred dollars.
So, in addition to everything else that you need to keep track of in a limit hold’em game, here is yet one more: You might need to make sure your opponent has enough chips left for the river so that you can bluff him!
Conclusion: While stack size rarely matters in limit hold’em, opportunities will still arise when you need to know your opponent’s stack size, or control yours, to be able to make the most profitable play. Of course, in tournaments, all-in situations are inevitable, and extensions of these ideas might well make the difference between winning and busting out.