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Stack Size in Heads Up Play
In the final HU stage of a tournament, stack sizes will dictate most of your decisions. If your opponent has a 25 big blind (BB) stack, it’s a losing proposition to call a 4 BB raise with 22 with the sole intention of either hitting a set or folding. You’re only going to hit a set 1 out of 8 times but you’ve just called a raise worth 1/6th of the opponent’s stack.
As stack sizes dwindle, it becomes less important to hit flops and more important to ramp up the aggression. Today we’ll compare how to play the big stack vs. the small stack and vice versa.
Playing as the Big Stack
This is obviously the best spot to be. Don’t call raises in the hopes of hitting a good hand, that’s just going to add to the little guy’s stack. Instead, raise his blinds often and threaten his puny stack.
If your opponent has 25 BBs or less, your 4 BB preflop raises will be threatening his entire stack. He knows that if he calls a fifth or sixth of his stack preflop, the rest of his stack will likely be in on the flop. Let him know that you don’t mind gambling by constantly attacking his blinds.
Get in there with a gambling attitude. If the blinds are large relative to his stack, you’re both getting random hands but you can afford to raise, you can afford to go all-in, and you can afford to lose. If he loses just one gamble, he’s out.
Your big stack size becomes an advantage then because it can last. It’s like if two guys had a quarter flipping contest, with one guy having 5 dollars and the other having 500. More often than not, the one with the bigger stack is going to win all of the little stack’s money because the little stack can’t survive the variance.
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Playing as the Small Stack
It’s nice to avoid this situation but stuff happens. What you want to do is take the pushy-gambling power away from the big stack by going all-in a lot yourself. There’s a big difference between pushing all-in and having to call an all-in with two random cards in your hand.
If you’re lucky, the big stack will fold when you push and you can get those increasingly bigger blinds added to your stack. If you’re not so lucky, the big stack will call your all-ins with a wide range of hands and make it a crapshoot that doesn’t favor you.
The odds are against the small stack in a crapshoot because he has to double up two or three times. Let’s say you have to double up three times to take the lead back in a heads up match. Even if you manage to get it in as an 80% favorite every time, you’re only going to win all three in a row 51% of the time.
If your stack size falls to 10BB, you’re going to need to start playing an all-in or nothing game. With 10BB left, start pushing all in preflop with the top 50% of your hands.
The smaller your stack size gets, the more hands you’re going to want to push with. If your stack size falls to about 3BB then you’re going want to push with the top 75% of your hands. With a stack any smaller than that, you’ll want to push with just about any hand you get.
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