Play the Big Stack

How to Play With the Big Stack

How many times have you been in a tournament and seen someone win a few huge pots early on, only to see them eliminated shortly afterward? A few people I play with regularly even consider it bad luck to have the big stack early in a tournament. So why is this? The answer is simple. The inexperienced, player with the huge chip lead starts to relax, play looser, and take more risks, opening himself up to more losses. As these losses pile up, he can't get out of that mode, and soon finds himself with no chips.

The first mistake a player will make when he finds himself in the chip lead is playing too many hands. The player will spend a few chips to see a flop when he normally would have folded, just because he can afford it now. The thought is that if he makes his hand he'll be able to further increase his lead, and if he doesn't it won't make a big dent in his chip count. The problem with doing this is that he is playing more hands that are less likely to be winners, so his chip count will slowly deteriorate as he goes for long shot after long shot. Another problem with playing weaker hands is that even if you make your hand, you still may not have the best hand.

The other big pitfall is the tendency to call players with shorter stacks when they go all in. The rationale is that even if they lose, they still have a considerable chip count, and strong overall position, and if they win, then they can eliminate an opponent and get that much closer to winning the tournament. The problem with this is that if you call in this manner with marginal hands, you are setting yourself up to have large chunks of your chips taken from you, while at the same time doubling up your opponent and giving him new life. If you don't have a good enough hand where you think you are likely to win, why call the all in? Let the short stack have whatever is already in the pot. If he is low enough, then the blinds will force him all in again soon, and maybe that time you will have a better hand. When you have the larger stack, time is on your side. You can afford to pay the blinds when they come around, while others are trying to figure out if this hand is their "last best chance" to stay alive.

You need to have patience to be a good poker player, and that is especially true when you command most of the chips at table. If you sit back and wait while the rest of the players battle for the few remaining chips, you are much more likely to do well in a tournament. Don't take unnecessary risks that will help bail out your opponents. Time is on your side.

This advice doesn't mean that you shouldn't use the size of your stack to your advantage. If you detect weakness in your opponent, force him to go all in or get out of the way. Make sure he knows that every pot he enters could very well be his last. If you act first you can probably get away with betting when you might not have the best hand. If you show strength before you opponents act they might be less apt to go all in against you. Don't let your opponents see cards for cheap, force them to make a decision before they make their hand. Just make sure that you pick your spots so that it is best for you, and not your opponents.

Having the big stack in a tournament gives you a huge advantage, as long as you are patient, and don't try to force anything. Play tight aggressive, and you should be able to carry your stack throughout the tournament.

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