Lesson 27 – The Big Stack Attack

Home Poker School Lesson 27 – The Big Stack Attack

If you ever find a time when you’re relatively short-stacked in the middle of a tournament, (maybe 6 or 7 Big Blind bets) and you’re at a table where several of your opponents have big stacks – say, 30 or more Big Blinds, it would obviously be a big help if you could get some of their chips. The common thinking in a situation like this is to attack players with chip stacks smaller than yours because they cannot eliminate you with an all-in move. That’s fine up to a point, but if you have just 7 Big Blinds left, being worried about going out is much more important than how you go out; if you don’t do something soon, it’s going to happen regardless.

You may or may not remember a guy named Willie Sutton, but he was a famous criminal in the ’30s. When asked why he robbed banks, his answer was simple: “That’s where the money is.” And in a poker tournament, the big stacks at the table are where the money is. When you’re “short”, survival is the name of the game – you can always get fancy later, but first you have to survive. Sure, you may be able to intimidate a smaller stack, which might allow you to pick up the Blinds on a hand or two, but let’s face it; what you need to do is double up.

Well, if doubling up is your goal, what would you think about tripling up? I can show you a nifty way of doing just that. Obviously you’re not likely to triple up by attacking players with stacks smaller than yours, so you have to go after the big stacks. Yes, it’s scary and yes, it can get you knocked out quickly, but what choice do you really have? At least if you go down swinging, you’ll feel better than if you go out by being “blinded” off. And this can work, so don’t be such a pessimist!

Players with big stacks are just like big wrestlers, they can use their size alone to crush you. At the same time, their size is their weakness – one that you, the little guy (or gal, as appropriate) can exploit. Something I’ve noticed about Big Stacks is that they’ll frequently gamble with you by playing with less-than-great hands, all with the idea of eliminating another player while perhaps picking up a few chips. While it varies from place to place, there have been many times that I’ve seen two, three or more players call an all-in by a short stacked opponent. They’ll usually then check it down, unless one of them has a big hand; more with the idea of getting rid of the little guy, rather than doing it for the chips they might acquire. I call this acting as the sheriff at the table – their big stacks allow them to keep everyone honest, so to speak. This propensity for Big Stacks to call relatively small all-ins is their weakness, even though not every Big Stack will act that way. But if you find yourself short at a table where a lot of players are calling these “desperation” all-in moves, consider making a Big Stack Attack.

Like everything else around here, a Big Stack Attack basically comes down to the mathematics of the situation. If you’re lucky enough to get A-K suited, of course you going to push – a 50-50 shot is a good deal at times like this. But, the reality is that you’re more likely going to get a hand like J-Qo or 10-8o, if it’s a good day. Let’s say you have 7 Big Blinds left, are in early position and look down to see Kh-9c. Let’s also say that several of your opponents have been calling all-in moves by other short-stacked players, so there’s a reasonable chance you’ll get called by at least two of them. Let’s further assume these callers aren’t exactly playing junk hands, so will give one 6-6 and the other A-8o. A hand of K-9o against a hand of 6-6 has a probability of winning in the 44% area; it’s the old “two overcards versus a pair race”, really not much different than A-K versus 10-10. Against A-8, K-9o is a 60-40 underdog, which ain’t great, but not terrible, either.

But if both of your opponents call you, the pot will be at least 21 Big Blinds, which is a 2 to 1 potential return on your 7 “unit” bet. Now let’s talk some more math. If the pot odds are 2 to 1, you must have a winning probability of 33% to justify the bet. Well, guess what? If you compare a hand of K-90 against both 6-6 and A-8o, it has a probability of winning in the area of 35%. Sure, your two opponents have a combined 65% probability of beating you, so nothing has really changed other than the fact that you’re getting proper pot odds to make the play. But that opportunity to triple up makes it worthwhile. Naturally, if you miscalculate and only one of them calls, you’re a slight underdog or a fairly big underdog, depending upon which one it is.

This is a desperation play, plain and simple but I find I’d rather do this than continue to struggle with a short stack while hoping for a “premium” hand to come along. The big $$$ in most tournaments – be they SnGs or MTTs – come from the top three places, so I’ve given up on the idea of trying to sneak into the money and traded that for trying to win. Believe me, in time you’ll think that way, too. If I get knocked out, I move on to the next tournament; it’s kind of like reaching into your pocket for more $$$ if you suffer a big loss in a cash game – so long as I play wisely, the $$$ will eventually follow.

I used a more or less worst-case example to show you this concept. But now let me give you a somewhat better example. Let’s say you have 10-J suited and go all in with your 7 times the Big Blind bet. If the same two players call, you’re actually a 52-48 favorite against 6-6 and only a 48-52 underdog versus A-8 offsuit! That’s mainly because J-10s has so many Straight and Flush possibilities; in fact, once upon a time it was considered to be a “premium” hand – that is, until computer simulations were possible. We now know it’s not great, but in a desperation play like we’re talking about here, it has a winning probability of 42% against those other two hands, so if your pot odds are 2 to 1, this is a no-brainer.

There are many other hands like this, where you’re an underdog against 6-6 and A-8 when heads up, but have a 3+% probability of winning against both. What I’ve done is make up a chart of some examples, so take a look and I’ll talk more about it below:

Chart of examples.

As you can see, I made up some representative hands that you might get and first compared them one-on-one with an opponent’s hand of 6-6 and A-8. In some cases, you’re the favorite, in most you’re not, but that really isn’t the point here. What I was looking for is marked in red: the hands that will give you a 33+% probability of winning versus two opponents, which is the percentage needed when the pot odds are 2 to 1 or more. I also marked in bold the best hand of the matchup, be it heads up or three-way. Now understand that these are just some of the hands that will work in a situation like this. I also threw in some hands that won’t work – take a look at A-4 suited, which is a hand 90% of the players will push all-in when they find themselves short-stacked. It’s a flat-out loser vs. 6-6 and A-8 for obvious reasons, but in a three-way pot it’s horrible, with only a 14% probability of winning, which calls for pot odds of 7 to 1 or more.

But either way, my examples are just ideas to get you thinking. What you should do is expand my chart by adding some of your favorite “pushing” hands other than the obvious A-Ks, A-Qo, etc. To arrive at the figures you see here, I used the free Poker Odds Calculator at www.cardplayer.com/.

I’ll see you here next time.

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