Full stack vs half stack poker strategy

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Jeffrey | Poker Articles, Poker Strategy

Submitted by Adam, this article belongs to the Poker Strategy series.

Adam wrote the article below about full stack vs half stack poker strategy. What do you prefer?

There are lots of playing styles that you can adopt in NLHE cash games.  One of the most common approaches is LAG vs TAG, however we can also split poker strategy into two more topics, namely short stack and full stack.

Half Stack Strategy
Half stack strategy involves buying into tables with 50BBs.  The idea is that you will re-buy when you sink below 40BBs and you will leave the table once you lose around 100BBs.

The main advantage to half stack strategy – as opposed to full stack strategy which involves buying in with 100BBs – is that it makes your poker strategy simpler.

Half stack strategy is very common among new players since it hardly requires any skill or post-flop reading ability (it is also advantageous to sit down with a half-stack in order to make the regulars think that you are a fish). Playing with a half stack means that you’ll only be playing your top 10% of hands pre-flop i.e. AJ+/JJ+. The idea is that you can shove all-in with premium hands pre-flop and stack off with opponents whilst you’re ahead. 

When you’re dealt mid-pocket pairs in LP than you simply 3bet or shove all-in against open-raisers as opposed to slow-playing.  The value of pocket pairs and premium cards AJ+ goes up massively in half stack strategy since these hands are good enough to commit your entire stack with pre-flop.  You will win a lot of dead money pots, particularly against weak players open-raising from the blinds or opponents 3betting light in front of you.

The downside to half stack strategy is that you can’t afford to play as many hands.  You’ll be sat out of the game more, and a major consequence is that when you do get a strong hand your table image will be too strong to get enough calling value from.  For example, if you’ve been say out the entire game and suddenly 3bet AK from UTG then all the decent players will be folding around you.  You can no longer afford to limp marginal hands like suited connectors (76s) out of position,  and your implied odds for set-mining and floating bets with combo-draws going way down since your effective stack is so small.  With a half stack you can’t afford to limp to see flops since the stack to pot odds won’t be in your favor.

Full Stack Strategy
Full stack strategy is more common in the higher stakes cash games.  Having a full stack (i.e. 100BBs+) enables you do adopt a loose-aggressive strategy.  You can widen your pre-flop hand range to 30% and start limping your marginal hands like suited connectors 56s or even 3betting them light from position. The concept also applies to tournament strategy.

The main advantage to full stack strategy is that it makes more hands playable.  Set-mining with low to mid pocket pairs becomes more profitable since your effective stack is large and you will win more from monster hands on the flop.  You can also afford to start floating bets or semi-bluffing drawing hands in position which gives you a better chance of winning the pot.  With a small stack both of these moves would become unprofitable, since you wouldn’t get the fold equity required from regulars at the table.

With regards to full stack vs half stack strategy, the only realistic downside to full stack is that you need to be better to implement it.  You can end up losing more chips with a full stack from a single hand (e.g. AA running into sets) and you need to have excellent post-flop reading skills to be able to fold and recognize when you’re behind.  If you’re interested in learning full stack strategy than I suggest buying/reading a few high quality poker ebooks that are written by high stakes cash pros like Nguyen or Aaron Davis.

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4 Comments to Full stack vs half stack poker strategy

October 8, 2010

Interesting article. With the Half-Stack Strategy you advise buying in for 50 BB and re-buying when your stack sinks below 40 BB. But what if you were winning ? At what point would one’s stack become too big to use the Half-Stack Strategy ?

October 8, 2010

Hi Jeff

Glad you liked the article. I would leave the table when you double your stack, that is reach 100BB.



October 12, 2010

I played a lot with out having auto-rebuy in.

This allowed me to play with different stack sizes as I wouldn’t reload after every chip I lost.

After a long while I had enough hands in my database to comare how I did with different stack sizes.

I used that as a guide to how much I should buy in for.

October 12, 2010

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