Deep Stack Poker

This guide is designed to give us some basic pointers when playing NLHE with a stack considerably above the starting BSS of 100bbs.

To Play Deep or Not to Play Deep?

The first question we should ask is whether we actually want to play deep in the first place. 200bb poker is almost like a different game to 100bb poker. If we take our 100bb strategy into a 200bb+ game then we are not going to be getting the best of it. If we want to excel at deep poker we need to learn different strategies.

So if we spend most of our time analysing how to make decisions with 100bb stacks (as many players do), we are not necessarily going to be well equipped for crushing deep games. For many this can be a valid reason to avoid deep games. If we spend most of our time training with 100bb stacks then why spend a decent chunk of our playing time with 200bb+ stacks? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. So many players employ a strategy (especially at fast-fold formats), where they rebuy once their stack gets over 150bb.

However assuming that we have the time to invest in improving our 200bb+ game there are good reasons to do so. Essentially, the deeper the stacks in NLHE the more skill is required. This means that it is possible to achieve significantly higher winrates when deep, compared to 100bb play. We will also find that the average player is worse at deep play than they are at 100bb play. If players make more mistakes while deep we can naturally use this to our advantage and make some additional money.

The Differences

We will talk about three main factors, hand-type, position and action. All of these things have slightly different effects on the game as the stack sizes change.

Hand-Type – The first adjustment we need to make is to re-define how we evaluate the strength of our preflop holding. To help us do this we can refer to concept known as “Stack-to-Pot” ratios (SPR). An SPR is a ratio describing how much money there is in the middle compared to the effective stacks. So if there is an SPR of 4 it means that there is 4 times as much money in the effective stacks as there is in the pot. So if there is $1 in the middle, we have an SPR of 4 if we have a $4 stack.

With deeper stacks the SPR is going to be higher on average. Different types of hands benefit from different SPRs. Generally speculative and drawing hands benefit from high SPRs, while hands which frequently make TPTK/TPGK benefit from a much lower stack to pot-ratio, ideally around 4.

The problem with deep play is that we are only very rarely going to set up a postflop SPR of 4. We should immediately be able to conclude that hands that make TPTK or TPGK go down in value. So while something like AKo is a monster with 50bb effective stacks, it’s nowhere near as strong when sitting 250bb deep. If we flop an Ace or King with 50bb we are clearly committed, whereas if we flop an A or K 250bb deep, we still need to pot-control and make sure too much money doesn’t go into the pot before showdown.

So the hands that benefit from a high SPR i.e 20+ are the hands that start to excel when playing deep and hence go up in value. These are specifically speculative hands that have nut potential. Stuff like Axs and high PP’s are great hands when deep since they have the potential to make the nut-flush or top set. With the additional stack depth these hands can be played in nearly all preflop situations.

Position

Position should especially be taken into consideration when deep. It will confer a huge advantage to the player with position and a huge disadvantage to the player out-of-position. The deeper the stacks the bigger this effect will be.

As such there are many sources that even suggest that when playing 200bb deep OOP we should not actually have any 3betting range. We want to keep the pot as small as possible when playing with a huge disadvantage.

When we have position deep we can apply large amounts of pressure on our opponents and 3bet aggressively. In reality we will probably still want a 3betting range OOP against bad opponents because we can partly neutralise the positional advantage a weak player has. But a good player can make our life extremely difficult with position and deep stacks and so we need to be cautious about putting ourself in that situation.

So the name of the game when playing deep is to play hands that make the nuts frequently and to ensure we have position as much as possible.

Action

It’s not recommended to have a 5-bet bluff range when 100bb deep. This is because it’s not theoretically correct to be 5-bet/folding any hands given the price we get facing a jam, so we may aswell jam ourselves and deny our opponents their equity realisation.

This all changes when playing 200bb+ deep. 5bet bluffs, even 6bet bluffs with the intention of folding against a jam are possibilities. However just because we can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that we should incorporate it into our game. Especially at lower limits – by the time a weak player 4bets us with a deep stack, we are often dead in the water with our bluffs and 5bet bluffing is suicide. So we’d generally really only consider these advanced moves at higher limits vs aggressive opponents. In many scenarios it might be better to slow down the action and just call against one of our opponents raises, especially if we have position. Seeing a flop with a reasonably high SPR allows us to utilise our skill edge more effectively.

Leverage and Postflop Tendencies

If we take a more mathematical approach to playing with deep stacks it’s correct to say that we should be bluffing more frequently, especially on the flop. Our deep stacks allow us to put considerably more pressure on our opponent than we would be able to if we had a shallower stack.
If we want to excel while deep we need to therefore use our large stack for this purpose and force our opponent to deal with some difficult situations he is perhaps not used to, especially if he is normally a 100bb reg.

However it’s useful to also note that while this is mathematically correct, it doesn’t necessarily feel intuitively correct, and as a result the average player with a deep stack is potentially going to do the opposite. Rather than expand their bluffing range while deep, they may potentially even tighten it. They are scared of building a pot because they have so much more money to lose. Naturally there are exceptions to this – there are certain fish who don’t understand that their postflop stacking range should tighten based on the stack depth. In other words if they generally stack TPGK for 100bb they are not going to think twice about stacking it for 300bb. But as a rough guide we should generally treat aggression with a ton of respect, but assume we have more fold-equity than we should.

Postflop Sizings

Remember that most of the default postflop sizings we use are assuming 100bb stacks. So in a 4bet we typically bet 33% of the pot on the flop because it sets up a pot-sized turn shove with 100bb stacks. However assuming we are 300bb deep in the same 4bet pot, we don’t need to use 33% pot as our default sizing anymore. We can go significantly larger and focus on setting up decent stack sizes for the later streets. This applies to any situation when deep, it’s ok to increase the sizings if it confers us an advantage.

If we imagine a situation where we have top-set on a two-tone board and are planning a check/raise, our default check/raise sizing will often be about 3 times our opponent’s bet when 100bb deep. However keep in mind that when we are 300bb deep he has far better implied odds to try and hit his flush draw. This means that we can potentially get a much larger raise paid off. Even if he has nothing and is considering floating, the increased stack depth may lead him to feel that he can outplay us on later streets.

It’s also interesting to note the effect of the deeper stacks on the strength of our opponent’s continuing range even if he faces exactly the same size flop raise. His top-pair type hands are going to feel the heat a lot more, fearing action on later streets. His nut-draws are going to feel the heat a lot less. He knows that he nearly always has a profitable call with his good draws because he has a much better chance of making back the money afterwards from our deeper stack. Just from this simple example we can see the relevance of preferring a hand like A5s over a hand like AJo when the stacks are deep.

Reverse Implied Odds

A big mistake players make in general is to consider pot-odds preflop. This is not to say that they are not relevant at all, but their importance is over-emphasised. Imagine we face a $1 preflop decision and we have $2000 to play with postflop. Can you see the irony of deliberating over whether we have exactly the right amount of equity to make that $1 preflop call based on our pot-odds? So much of our preflop decision is going to be based on how the hand plays postflop, i.e our implied odds.

A common adjustment is to look at the preflop pot-odds we get and then consider our equity realisation as a percentage of the total. This is slightly better than just considering our raw pot-odds and equity, but still falls short of the mark. We need to mentally simulate how our hand might play postflop on various different board textures.

The result is that we may find situations that we clearly have the direct preflop pot-odds to call (assuming we knew our exact equity), yet we should make the fold preflop, because our postflop playability is poor. Why protect the $1 in the middle when we stand to lose $2000 postflop? It doesn’t make any sense. This will usually occur in situations where we are dominated. For example we hold something like KQ and our opponent has a ton of hands like TT+/AQ/KQ. What we generally find here is that if we flop the best hand we only get a small payout. If we flop a second best hand we will be frequently dominated yet still find it somewhat tricky to get away from our holdings postflop, meaning we lose a much larger pot. The effect of this will increase considerably if we also find ourselves out of position.

Stacking Range

Hopefully by now this is somewhat obvious, but it’s still important to mention. The deeper the stacks get, the tighter our stacking off range should be both postflop and preflop. This is one of the biggest mistakes players make if they are not used to playing deep stacked. In some extreme cases I have fixed a student’s winrate by simply telling him to not play deep. We ran filters and all of his negative winrate was occurring when the stacks were over 150bb.

Once we start to get above about 140bb even KK starts to become very dicey as a preflop stack-off. So readless we should probably be stacking AA only at 150bb+. There are exceptions to this, for example a player shoving any 2 cards while deep. We should obviously feel comfortable calling considerably wider when we know our opponent can show up with garbage as a result of history.

Naturally this kind of approach can increase our variance dramatically even if we are getting all-in with good equity. Losing a 300bb pot can feel like a big hit, so it can be harder to deal with the suckouts. We should also keep in mind that we should likely use a bigger bankroll if we want to play deep since we can lose a much larger chunk of our money in a single hand even if we play perfectly.

The same rules for stacking off tighter occur postflop aswell as preflop. Understanding what our current SPR is will help us to know which hands we should be stacking off with. For example an SPR of 4 is considered good for TPTK hands, an SPR of 6 is considered good for overpairs, maybe 8 for 2pair etc. Since the SPR will be higher on average when deep, then naturally our stacking range will be tighter also.

Putting it Together

Don’t feel bad if you decide deep play is not for you at this stage. We want to spend most of our time becoming proficient at one discipline (i.e 100bb) before we move on to another. So essentially if you still feel your 100bb game needs a ton of work maybe it’s better that you focus on this for now rather than attempting to include additional variables in your decision-making such as stack-depth.

If you feel reasonably confident in your 100bb game and have a positive winrate, perhaps it is time to expand your approach and look to capitalize on situations where the stacks are deeper. The average regular is a lot worse at 200bb+ poker and we can significantly increase our overall winrate by learning to play better deep-stack poker than our opponents.

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