05/05/2009

I get a fair few e-mails every year from novice players asking me what is the best amount to buy-in for in a cash game. I feel that this is one of those issues that cannot easily be answered. Much of it depends on your own individual skill, the skill of your opponents or the strategy that you are looking to use. It is certainly not necessarily correct to buy-in for the maximum although if you have an overlay then buying in for less would probably be an error.

But size matters in no-limit hold ‘em and not just stack size but bet size too. This is why this form of poker is probably the most demanding out there at this time. Of course your opponents stack sizes also play a crucial role in how you approach the game. If you put playing skill or artificial aids to one side for a minute then you primarily have three key weapons at your disposal in a poker game.

You have your stack size assuming that you buy-in for the maximum, your position and your hand strength. But if you bought into a NL100 game for the maximum $100 and every player on your table only had $50 then the effect of that extra $50 is seriously diminished which makes your effective stack $50 as well. Remember that we are looking at cash games here and your opponents stack size can offset the advantage of your bigger stack and thus reducing the effectiveness of one of your key weapons.

This is an underlying fundamental problem with no-limit. Probably in no other form of poker can a novice player almost eliminate the advantage of a world class player just by simply adjusting the amount that they buy-in for and coming in for the minimum. Of course, a novice player still has to play a small stack well but it is far easier to play a short stack well than a large one.

It is difficult to outplay minimum stackers as they are not playing multiple street poker and cannot make any deep stacked errors. There has been a move of late to attempt to increase the minimum buy-in and I can understand how serious players are upset by minimum stackers as they do reduce your earn rate for sure as it is difficult to outplay them.

Although depending on where they are sat on your table then they can have their uses too. A minimum stacker will be far less likely to take advantage of their position over you as they will tend to be playing very tight. Plus if you get to act after them and they come in with a raise then in most cases their range will be very narrow and easy to identify.

But I also think that you are playing a very dangerous game if you attempt to force players into buying in for more money. Players usually buy-in for an amount that either makes them feel comfortable or reflects their overall skill level. I think that the key is to get novice players playing poker first and foremost and only when they acquire the necessary skills and confidence will they play deeper.

Stack sizes play such an important role in strategy selection in no-limit hold’em that it is really difficult to use fixed strategies with any real success in that form of poker without paying attention to this dynamic.

There really is no one shoe fits all policy that will come close to doing this justice. The same goes with bet sizing, the size of my pre-flop raises really do depend on a whole host of variables. For instance, if I was say playing low-stakes no-limit full-ring and it was folded to me on the button, the size of my opening raise would depend on several factors or whether I wanted to raise at all for that matter.

I could for instance make a minimum raise on the button if I suspected that the blinds were poor post flop players and they had deep stacks. I like to play flops with bad players as I am really looking for a big pay off rather than attempt to steal the blinds with a standard size raise. Normal raises may reduce the chance of getting called but it also increases your loss should you either get three bet or called and then have something like a stop and go used against you.

I know that many players think that minimum raises should be consigned to the dustbin but I don’t think so and they have their own particular use in poker. But the one thing that I love about no-limit play is that size really is everything when it comes to deciding on correct strategy.

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