Most of us spent a lot of time learning a proper strategy to play 100+ big blinds deep. For this reason, even many good regs make mistakes when they find themselves in a situation where they have to play against shorter, mid-sized stacks. This article aims to improve your mid stack poker strategy and help you understand and implement some important adjustments needed for these types of situations
There is a reason
we use the auto-rebuy feature. Correct strategy changes significantly depending on the amount of starting chips we have for our hand. Most of us have invested our time learning correct strategies for 100bb poker. As such, we want to spend as much of our time possible playing 100bb poker where we have the biggest edge. It doesn't necessarily make sense to let our stack dwindle to 70bb where we have not developed our poker strategy
to the same level. This is why we can often identify fish
when they don't use the auto-rebuy function.
Does this mean that we should therefore ignore basic poker strategy for all other stacks sizes? Definitely not. Unfortunately we are going to be forced to play against players who have varying stack sizes. Only the shorter stack in a heads-up situation determines the effective stacks
. So if we have 100bb and we are playing against a player with 50bb, we are playing with 50bb effective stacks whether we like it or not. If our opponent has developed a strong 50bb strategy and we are out of our comfort zone then he is going to have an edge.
This article will cover some basic pointers regarding play vs mid-stacks which will help us to neutralise that edge. We will look at preflop situations and postflop situations.
The first mistake players make is playing too tight vs preflop aggression. 50bb stack opens and we hold part of our standard 3-bet bluff-range
. Many players might say the following,
Correct strategy changes significantly depending on the amount of starting chips we have for our hand. Most of us have invested our time learning correct strategies for 100bb poker. “Normally I'd 3bet here but this guy doesn't have a full stack so I fold”. A similar thing might happen when facing a 3bet from a mid-stack. “Normally I'd play back with this holding but my opponent doesn't have a full stack so I fold”.
But if we were to read articles or watch videos on learning to play a mid-stack strategy we'd see that the advice is to 3bet very aggressively. This is exactly the same for us when we are playing with 50bb effective even if we have a 200bb stack. We actually confer a huge advantage to mid-stacks and short-stacks if we only 3bet them with premiums and fold to most of their 3bets. This is one of the reasons why mid-stacking and short-stacking is still profitable. Many of the 100bb regs don't know how to properly adjust because they have spent their time training with 100bb stacks.
The first thing
to understand is that we should be prepared to stack of lighter with 50bb stacks. This might increase our variance but if we don't do this we are going to find ourself undefended. We should always use stats where possible since not all mid-stack players are good aggressive mid-stacks, some are simply recreational players and might not 3bet that aggressively.
So in a situation where we'd normally stack of with QQ+/AK we might now be stacking off with TT/AQ. This is just our value range, it's important to have a bluffing range vs the hyper aggressive opponents.
One of the confusing things about playing vs mid-stacks
is understanding whether we should 4bet to a regular size or simply 4bet-jam. This is actually very close and dependent on the sizings used so there is not set answer to this. However it's useful to consider some basic poker maths
so that you can make your own decision. The general idea is that if we are priced in after we 4bet even with our bluffs then we may as well be jamming. By not jamming we give our opponent the opportunity to 5bet bluff with very high equity hands that he would otherwise be folding vs our 4bet jam. It works out more profitable to 4bet jam in this instance even if it's a bit of an overjam.
Ideally when we open-raise knowing that there is a mid-stack IP on us, we should be using a 2bb sizing rather than our default sizing. (Just continue as normal if 2bb is your default sizing). If our opponent raises to 7bb and we 4bet to 15bb, we'd need to call an extra 35bb into a total pot of roughly 100bb. This means we'd need 35% equity to make the call. If we had bluffed with a high equity hand like A5s we would have 31.23% equity vs a value range of TT+/AQo. Folding is clearly still a valid option with our bluffs.
However, what happens if we make a few tweaks to the situation? Opponent makes a large 3bet to 10bb. We 4bet to 22bb. We'd now need to call an extra 28bb to win the total 100bb pot. We need 28% equity to make the call and are priced in with all of our bluffs. It likely makes sense to directly 4bet jam over our opponents 3bet with our value and bluff-range. We are guaranteed to fully realise our equity
in this scenario and often prevent our opponent from realising his.
One of the confusing things about playing vs mid-stacks
is understanding whether we should 4bet to a regular size or simply 4bet-jam. This is actually very close and dependent on the sizings used so there is not set answer to this.
Something similar might occur if the effective stacks are 40bb. This is not technically mid-stack-strategy, however it's a very common stack size on some networks. 20bb used to be the official amount of chips used for short-stack-strategy, but after some networks set the min-buyin at 40bb then 40bb became the new shortstack strategy. While 40bb and 50bb play are extremely similar we can see that we are very close to the threshold where we decide whether to use a non-allin 4bet sizing.
There is no trick for this, we must make a decision on each individual hand. However it's useful to note that when facing a 5bet with 50bb effective stacks, the amount of big-blinds is exactly the equity needed to call. So if we need to call a 30bb allin 5bet from our opponent, we need 30% pot-equity to make the call.
We mentioned earlier that we should still be 3betting aggressively vs mid-stacks. Does this mean that we'd use exactly the same hand-range as we would against a 100bb opponent. Not at all, we should definitely make some adjustments.
Since we are always closer to an all-in when playing 50bb effective, our pot-equity starts to become more important than if we were playing 100bb stacks. Low equity hands like 67s are still very playable with 100bb stacks since we can put pressure on our opponent postflop. We can still put pressure on our opponent with 50bb stacks but not as much. Very often a 50bb hand will end on the turn in a 3bet pot.
Equity is therefore more important than playability with 50bb effective stacks. Depending on the sizings used as discussed earlier we will either be
- 5bet jamming (where the only thing that matters is pot-equity)
- Facing a 4bet all-in from our opponent (where the only thing that matters is pot-equity)
So high equity holdings like Axs or Pocket-Pairs go up in value, while low equity speculative hands should be folded more frequently preflop vs a 50bb opponent. Axs and PP's make excellent 4bet and 5bet bluff jams.
The easiest way to
begin understanding postflop strategy with 50bb stacks is to think about how the bet-sizings differ from 100bb poker.
Firstly we don't want to be bloating the pot too much preflop. The more chips we can leave behind for postflop play, the more our results will be a function of our skill rather than a function of variance. So we should
- open-raise to 2bb when there are mid-stacks still to act
- 3bet to 7bb when facing a 2bb open
So let's assume a BB vs SB situation we will have 43bb left in our stacks and there will be 14bb in the middle. There are generally 2 sizing plans we can use, the 2 street and the 3 street sizing plan.
2 street plan – So if we bet around 10bb on the flop we will set up roughly a pot-sized bet. There will now be 34bb in the middle and we will have 33bb left in our stack. We can now shove the turn depending on the turn card.
The main determining factor in whether we take this line or not will often be the board texture
. If the board texture is drawy and we hold something like an overpair we want to get the money in fast. We'd prefer to be all-in by the turn rather than giving our opponent a free river card.
We don't want to do this purely with value-hands however unless our opponent is a calling station. We should mix in some high equity bluffs. A good starting point is to take our decent back-door flushdraws, fire the flop, and shove the turn if we pick up our draw.
While balanced play is outside the scope of this article we should obviously be checking back some of our very strong hands on the flop. Also while it's likely +EV to 2-barrel a flopped flush-draw, balanced play involves checking these hands back with some frequency.
3 street plan
– Many players are not actually aware that it is possible to 3-barrel
in a 3bet pot with 50bb stacks. It's completely possible and should be a useful trick in our arsenal. We simply need to be very careful with bet-sizing in order to employ this strategy.
So using our previous sizings -
14bb in the pot
If we bet around 1/3rd pot on the flop 5bb. The situation will be as follows -
24bb in the pot
If we then bet just 1/3rd pot on the turn, i.e 8bb.
40bb in the pot
Balanced strategy would involve using this line both for value and as a bluff. The exact ratio of bluffs to value will depend on our opponent as usual.
We have now set up a pretty decent shove for the river. As before the board texture will usually dictate which of the two lines we will take. This line is useful for very dry texture where we are not concerned about giving free cards to our opponents
Balanced strategy would involve using this line both for value and as a bluff. The exact ratio of bluffs to value will depend on our opponent as usual. There is little point 3barrel bluffing against a calling station, we can simply weight our 3barreling range purely towards value.
Single Raised Pots
explore what is possible in terms of sizing for single raised pots.
Let's assume we make a 2bb open in the CO and SB calls. BB folds. There will be 5bb in the middle and 48bb effective stacks. Let's use a standard 2/3rds pot size bet on flop and turn and see what this achieves by the river.
We bet flop 3bb.
11bb in the middle
We bet turn 8bb
27bb in the middle
So we see that we potentially might need to overbet here if we wanted to get stacks in. Let's see what happens if we make a slightly larger bet on the flop and turn
We bet flop 4bb
13bb in the middle
We bet turn 10bb
33bb stacks in the middle
So we see that we actually have to increase our sizing slightly on flop and turn to get the stacks in by the river. Assuming our opponent open raised to a large sizing and we were the cold-caller we could get the stacks in with a 3barrel without the need to increase our sizing.
So in summary,
- Be prepared to fight preflop
- Be prepared to stack off lighter
- Understand correct sizings postflop