Concepts: Deep Stack Play

Playing with deep stacks

Let's imagine: We just sat down at a NLHE 6-max table with $0,5/$1-blinds and have a stack of $100(=100 BBs) and manage to win two huge pots in a short space of time. Suddenly, we have much more chips than most of the other players at the table. Only one opponent, which we assess to be reasonable, aggressive and cool-headed, has also managed to build a sizeable stack. We are almost neck and neck. Until now we didn't have a confrontation with him and we actually don't want to tangle with the other big stack. In addition to that, we have a lack of experience to play with deep stacks, thus against players whose stacks have crossed the 200 BBs mark.

Now the follwoing scenario occurs:

  • Example 1:
We find in the small blind and raise to 6 BBs, after our deep stacked opponent and a shortstack have limped in front of us. We can or even should make a much bigger raise (eight BBs would be appropriate), but we don't want to build a huge pot, due to our unfavourable position and since one of our opponents is deep stacked as well.
The other big stack calls the raise and we see a flop we would usually think it's a very good one for our hand: We have the nut flush draw and two overcards. Our usual way of playing the hand is and should be very aggressive: With a stack of 100 BBs we would try to get our chips in the middle as quickly as possible.
Because: In addition to that we try to gain fold equity by playing very aggressively. We therefore try to exhaust the whole extent of possible equity for our hand on the flop. Against hands such as top pair, a pocket pair or a draw we are a favourite. Only against a set, two pair and a flopped straight with we are behind. In such cases we would only have eight to nine outs and almost no fold equity. Without thinking about it for a long time, we fire a continuation bet of almost pot size. But our opponent makes a big raise to four times the size of our bet. So what should we do now?

Following the thought process described above, we would now push all of our chips into the middle. But hold on for a moment. First we should think about some important things.

We don't play for our usual 100 big blinds. We are playing for much more. Namely, for more than 270 BBs, since our opponent has accumulated an equal amount of chips. If we put our big stack at risk, what hands will call us? We will get called by hands, where we are a massive underdog: A set of eights, fives or fours, a flopped straight with . Even flopped two pair would probably fold against this big raise.

But the mentioned hands against which we would be a huge underdog are very likely here: Our solid, deep stacked opponent just called after a player in early position has limped in. Thus, , , and are in his assumed hand range. He makes a substantial raise which indicates that he wants to play a big pot. Although our hand is suited for a big pot, when we are playing with stacks of 100 BBs, we have not enough equity against the assumed range of hands, when we are playing with bigger stacks. If we decide in favour of a huge bluff, we would have to risk our nice, grindingly build stack and would rather have to hope for a fold.

Does a call come into consideration?

If we assume that the opponent has one of the hands (two pair, set, straight) mentioned above, we can calculate with eight outs. The gives us the nut flush, but at the same time pairs the board, so that we will be beaten by any set and in this case be drawing dead. On the flop we would be a 25% underdog. We have to call $36, in order to win $74. So we get pot odds of 2:1. However, we require much bigger odds, since we will improve from one card to the next only in 16 % of cases. We would need pot odds of at least 5:1. If we consider implied odds, we would have to get another $110 (= approx. 3 x $36) from our opponent, in order to be able to justify a call. Since we have categorized our opponent as reasonable, solid and strong, we can be sure that he won't pay us off in case another heart appears, unless it is the , which would make him a full house. In principle, we have no other choice, but to fold this nice hand. The reason: We are simply to deep and would have to risk money, that wouldn't pay off for us.

As you can easily see from this example hand, the usual correct and good way of playing a hand can turn out to be totally incorrect and disastrous as soon as we are playing for 200 BBs or more. The number and extent of mistakes, which we can make with a big stack, are many times higher. We can't simply assume that top pair/top kicker is good enough to win or lose more than 200 BBs. We are not bound to certain hands, when we are deep stacked, unless we have the near nuts or even the nuts. From now on we call stacks that cross the 200 BBs mark „deep stacks". Playing deep stack poker is much more complex than playing with a stack of 100 BBs. By means of a simple calculation you can see that you have much more scope and flexibility than with a stack that contains just 100 BBs. With a stack of 100 BBs it's possible to get all your chips into the middle by just making three pot size bets, if you want to:

  • preflop: A raise to four BBs results, in case somebody calls, in a pot of eight BBs.
  • Flop: A pot size bet of eight BBs results, in case of a call, in a pot of 24 BBs.
  • Turn: A pot size bet of 24 BBs results, in case of a call, in a pot of 72 BBs.
  • River: We have 64 BBs left (100 BB – 4 BB – 8 BB – 24 BB), which we can now push into the middle.

Thus, we can try to get paid off completely by making pot size bets with a hand we think is strong enough such as a set or two pair, a flopped straight or a nut flush. With a 200-BB-stack we can't accomplish that without a raise in one of the betting rounds. Generally, we shouldn't aim to do that unless we indeed have a near nut or nut hand. It also happens when you are deep stacked that two very good hands clash where one or two raises lead to the situation that all chips go into the middle. It is extremely important to control the pot with hands that are not suited for such an all-in move, thus top pair hands. Losing all of your chips with such hands without reads is a fatal leak when you are deep stacked as well as in shorthanded no-limit hold'em. 

Implied Odds/Reverse Implied Odds

The advantage of deep stack NLHE play is: The implied odds for each hand we play against another deep stacked player will increase tremendously. When our opponent makes small bets pre-flop and on the flop, while we are holding a draw to the nuts or at least to the near nuts we can reckon with big bets on the turn and river in case our opponent has a stack of equal size as we do and we hit our draw. Each hand we play against deep stacked opponents has therefore a much bigger potential value for us.

Our implied odds will increase just as our reverse implied odds. It means the risk we take due to assumed implied odds, which can turn into a disadvantage as we could be dominated. This means e.g. for a hand like , that we make our flush and can hope for a good payout, but the threat of a dominating flush becomes bigger and the effects more fatal as when we would be playing for only 100 BBs. This is based on the importance of building a pot as big as possible, when we have a near nut hand.

Protection and Planning

A very important factor which becomes apparent by the above example is protection. Let's assume our opponent in fact has flopped a set of fours and is confronted with our pot size bet. He now has to try to encourage us to make a mistake and at the same time he has to protect his hand due to the possible flush draw. He can accomplish that by making a substantial raise, instead of making the same raise he would make when he has a 100-BB-stack in front of him. With a stack of 100 BBs a raise to $30 would be sufficient in order to prepare the pot for pushing all-in. This isn't the case with 270 BBs. His raise can and even has to be much bigger, since he wants to push all-in on the turn in case another heart appears (unless it is the ) and commit himself to the pot. Decisions he would have to make, if he is faced with a small raise and a call on our part on the turn would be much more complex and above all more far-reaching. He can neither start a slow play, because if an , , or appears, it could happen that we have hit a higher set with our overpair. If another heart appears on the turn or river, he also has a difficult decision, in case we give him a lot of action. Especially when we are deep stacked we want to protect our hands by making substantial bets and raises in order to facilitate our decisions on later streets. At the same time we must plan our hand and especially the size of the pot to the greatest possible extent. Here is an example:

  • Example 2

We try a blind steal with and are called by a deep stacked opponent. We flop the nut straight. In our example Hero, however, makes a careless mistake: He misses to protect his hand sufficiently and to plan it reasonable with substantial bets and raises. Thereby he doesn't protect and commit himself enough to his nut hand. This leads to a disastrous result:
Hero bets the pot on the flop and his opponent makes almost a minimum raise. However, his call gives all drawing hands such as flush draws, two pair, sets etc., practically a free card, in order to hit one of their outs. Hero doesn't make a substantial raise, so that it isn't possible to exactly plan and commit himself to the hand. Thus, a pot is build, which not even amounts to $50 on the turn. So we can either make a big overbet on the turn, which will get called only by very few hands or we make a pot size bet, which still leaves room for implied odds for our opponent up to the river. We therefore bet the pot and get called. The river is one of the worst cards in the deck for us, since it makes a flush possible. Our opponent pushes all-in. Due to the fact that we haven't reraised on the flop, we have maneuvered ourselves into a very difficult situation, from which we can emerge almost exclusively by folding. If we go broke here against a completed flush, we have made a disastrous mistake and is has to be credited to ourselves. Even if our opponent is on a huge bluff, he just outplayed us, since we simply can't call here in good conscience and without specific reads.


This is what a correct and well-conceived plan of the hand would have looked like:

We raise enough on the flop, so that we are able to go all-in, if no heart appears on the turn, in order to protect us from having to make difficult future decisions. A reraise to $70 would be sufficient to get this job done: The pot would be $150, so that we can push our remaining chips into the middle, if a safe turn card (no heart, the board doesn't pair) appears.

Deep stack play pre-flop

Pre-flop play changes, of course, under the aspects mentioned before. On the one hand, you can now also play marginal hands in position against a raise, when it is relatively cheap compared to your stack (especially suited connectors), but you have to continue playing very carefully and with extremely tight criterias post-flop. This means that we can try to see a cheap flop IN position with a wider range of weaker hands. With a hand such as it is worthwile to call a pre-flop raise to three or four BBs and hope for a bombastic payout.
On the other hand, the hand selection criteria have to be adjusted upwards against a raise and/or a reraise. A lot of hands simply can't be played any longer against a 3-Bet (thus a reraise) or even against a 4-Bet (re-reraise) and have to be folded.

Here is a simple example:

  • Example 3

A pretty solid, tight player opens the pot from UTG with a standard raise to three times the big blind.

We want to predefine our hand and therefore make a relatively small reraise. Another option is just to call, since our stacks are so deep that it is dangerous to build a big pot already before the flop, without holding a nut hand. Our unfavourable position, however, speaks against it and it won't do any harm to define our hand a little bit.

The big blind cold calls our reraise, but that doesn't really bother us, since we think he is fishy. But we have to be worried about the initial raiser, who makes a small rereraise after our 3-bet. We now have to call $28 to win a pot of $54 aware that we are most probably beat. In order to be able to continue playing after the flop we would have to hit a set of jacks.

After calculating the implied Odds relating to the stack of the opponent we would have to get at least 15:1, but, considering our own stack size, we can only win at most six times the amount that has to be called i.e. 6,25 x $28 = approx. $175. Consequently, we have to give up our hand, whether we like it or not, as we are only getting 8:1 odds. The opponent spares us further brooding, whether he has bluffed us or not by showing his queens.