Reading Your Opponent’s Stack

Ultimately your stack size is always going to be more important to your strategy than the ammunition your opponents are packing, but when reading your fellow players stack size can still provide some very important clues. Knowing your opponent’s playing style can make the size of their stack even more important as you implement concepts like fold equity or consider options like going all in to take them out of a tournament.

Poker Ring Games and Stack Size

Stack size in ring games is far more telling than tournament stack sizes because players choose what they come to the table with and can increase their stack at any time (assuming they have the account balance necessary to do so). The biggest mistake many poker players make when considering their opponents’ stack sizes is over-analyzing. For example, the shortest stack at the table could belong to a shark that wants to masquerade as an easy target and double up by trapping their opponents, but it’s far more likely that it belongs to a player that’s competing at a stakes level that’s out of their league.

It’s commonly accepted that the ideal minimum buy-in for no limit poker games is 100x the big blind or more. Players with a stack of 20x or less often become automatic targets for big-stacked bullies, and rightfully so. Even if you’re a tight player that only takes the smartest bets, sitting short-stacked puts you at a clear disadvantage if you’re at a table with players that like to shove. It’s common sense then that if you’re a deep stack you can do the same to your shorter-stacked opponents – and should! While a middling stack can be a sign of a more confident player, it can also be a sign of an amateur that bought in with a deep stack and hasn’t reloaded. Checking a player’s stats is a quick and easy way to determine what you’re up against in terms of experience and playing style.

Poker Tournaments and Stack Size

The most important thing to remember when considering stack sizes is that no player is voluntarily short-stacked in a poker tournament. That said, a short-stacked player isn’t automatically a bad player. Maybe they’re good enough to forgo a rebuy, or maybe they took a big hit on a bad beat. Of course more often than not in low level buy-in tournaments a player that’s short-stacked in the early rounds is probably very loose if not an absolute fish.

It’s safe to assume that a player with a big stack in the early rounds of the tournament is aggressive, though once again it isn’t a guarantee that they’re actually good. Middle stacks in the middle rounds of a poker tournament generally belong to players that took the maximum rebuy, and their middle of the pack status is a fair indicator that they’re tight. Players with a short stack in the later rounds are just a sign of natural selection, so don’t underestimate them – they didn’t make it that far without some skill, and at this point they’re going to be desperate to double up.