Playing a Deep Stack by AVP Resident Pro Benton Blakeman
I recently received a PM from an avid AVP forum member requesting an article about playing deep stacked poker and the correct adjustments to make when deep stacked, both against players with regular stacks and other players with deep stacks. My goal for this article is to explain these differences and to help AVPers to adjust properly when playing a deep stack. For the sake of this article, I will limit my discussion of deep stack play to cash games, as this situation arises much more often in cash games than in tournaments.
Firstly, lets define "deep stacked." My personal definition of playing deep stacked poker is when players involved in the hand all have 200 big blinds or more. This would be having $400 or more in a $1-$2NL game or $1000 or more in a $2-$5NL game. This is my favorite form of poker as I find that there is more skill involved when playing deep, and bad players mistakes are compounded by the fact that they make more mistakes for bigger money when playing deep.
So, now that we know what deep stacked poker is we must formulate the most profitable plan to capitalize on bad players who are also playing deep. What kind of hands do we play? How fast do we want to play them? What changes should we make when playing a deep stack? What hands should we be three betting with and calling calling bets with? In this article all these questions will be answered.
As far as hands to play, things don't change drastically when playing deep except for the fact that we may take more chances with suited connectors and other speculative hands that typically aren't as profitable when playing 100 big blinds deep. If a tight player raises from early position and we are in middle position with 100 big blinds, I'd often advocate folding a hand like A-8 suited as it doesn't play well against an UTG players range when we are playing 100 or less big blinds deep. Now, change the scenario to 200 big blinds and this hand becomes an automatic call. The reason is that we now have an extra buy in worth of implied equity to win when we make the nut flush. Often a tight player will be raising a very tight range from early position. Couple that with the fact that they normally are reluctant to fold their big pocket pairs since they don't get to play many hands, making a hand like the nut flush when deep can often result in winning a huge pot off of these players. The same theory applies to playing small pocket pairs when deep. When we flop these hands we rarely want to slowplay them. It is often best when deep to play your monster hands fast as to make sure to build the pot so that stacks can get in by the river. I would still be open raising all the same hands as if I had a 100 big blind stack, but I would also start adding in some suited connectors and gappers from middle position. The reason for this is that with a deeper stack we can maneuver post flop more effectively. We can make some semi-bluff bets or raises on the flop or turn with any draw that we flop and realize maximum fold equity because our opponents fear getting involved in a bloated pot out of position without a very strong hand.
Three betting and four betting play a big role in playing deep. We can put a lot of pressure on opponents by three betting a wide range of hands in position when deep. I tend to three bet a lot from the cut-off and button against middle-late and late position raisers as this puts them in a tough spot playing out of position. Not only do I three bet my strong value hands that I'm willing to stack off with, but I also like to three bet hands that have some value but aren't strong enough to call the initial raise with. These hands include but aren't limited to A-X offsuit, suited hands containing a face card and a baby like K-4 suited, suited two gappers like 9-6 suited, and bigger offsuit connectors like 9-8 offsuit. Three betting these hands not only balances our range so that opponents can't tell when we have a big pocket pair like A-A but it also allows us to start building a pot in position when we do have these value hands. Another good thing is that we will win a lot of pots post flop when our opponent calls our three bet and then check folds to our flop c-bet. This is an art that takes a lot of practice, so use it sparingly and with caution. It can be a great tool when used correctly, and extremely expensive when used in the wrong situations.Post flop hand reading ability is crucial when entering into the three and four bet game. When an opponent three bets us we need to decide what hands are profitable to call the three bet with. If we will be out of position I would limit calling three bets to hands like middle pocket pairs (which we should be folding if only 100 big blinds deep) and big suited broadways like K-Q suited, A-Q suited, A-K offsuit, and A-K suited, although I'd consider 4 betting and getting all in with A-K against some opponents for 200 big blinds. I would also call with some suited connectors to balance my range as these types of hands are generally easy to play because when we hit the flop it's normally relatively disguised in the form of a straight or flush draw. The biggest reason to call three bets out of position with these hands sometimes is so our opponents know that we aren't only calling three bets with the absolute top of our range. If that were the case good opponents could three bet us relentlessly in position and expect us to fold over 80% of the time, making their three bets extremely profitable for them. When in position I would call three bets much lighter, including all suited broadways, some suited Aces depending on the opponent, A-J offsuit, most pocket pairs, most suited connectors and some larger suited gappers like 9-7 suited. In position I would also make some four bets with my strongest hands that I am willing to stack off with as well as some other hands that aren't good enough to call the three bet with yet contain blockers. Blockers are cards like an Ace or a King that lessen the likelihood of our opponent holding a super strong hand like A-A, K-K, or A-K because of this card removal. So, some of these hands would include A-X offsuit that we open raised from late position, K-7 suited, K-T offsuit, and even K-J offsuit which would seem like a decent hand but is one that doesn't play well in three bet pots as it's a trap hand.
There are pitfalls to be aware of when playing deep stacked cash games. In poker you should always be trying to think one move ahead, but this is even more important when playing deep stacked. When 100 big blinds deep, an all in is crucial and can make or break a day, but when 200 big blinds deep making a mistake for your stack can be detrimental to your hourly rate. Because of this you should always be aware of how your opponents will react to a bet or raise, and how you will react if re-raised. Playing hands like top pair top kicker in three bet pots when 100 big blinds deep are pretty straight forward. It's rarely a mistake to get all in on a Q-9-4 board with A-Q when 100 big blinds deep in a three bet pot. When stacks are 200 big blinds or more, getting all in with this same hand in a three bet pot is often a mistake. Top pair hands when playing deep are often what's referred to as "two street hands," meaning that we should be looking to get two streets of value with these hands rather than three. This means that often we will be checking back a street to eliminate the risks of getting check raised and put in a tough spot for all of our chips. I'm not saying that we should play one pair hands passively, but I'm just advocating using caution when playing big pots with one pair hands when deep.
There is of course much more that goes into playing deep stacked poker. Rather than continue writing what would turn out to be a chapter in a book, I urge you to ask questions and discuss strategies below this article in the forums here at AVP. Hopefully all the questions and answers will help all of us to play better deep stacked poker. A special thanks to AVPer GoPackGo for the article suggestion. If anyone else has ideas that they want strategy articles written about please feel free to PM me with ideas. See you all at the tables!
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