How stack depth affects hand selection

Ace King

The types of hand that you select to play must differ when stacks become deep. For example let us say that you are playing against an opponent with only 20bb. It is folded around to you and you raise to 3.5bb and the short stack in the small blind 3/bets to 12bb. In this instance you are happy to play for stacks because the effective stack is only 20bb. Your opponent could have a weaker hand than your A-K and it is tougher for them to hold aces and kings when you have an A-K combination.

However if we change the scenario to one where both players have 300bb then this is a completely different scenario against a solid player! When the stacks become really deep then hand values change as pots get larger or have the potential to do so! Hands that players may choose to steal with like A-8o are suddenly very risky. If you took a situation with A-8o and 300bb effective stacks then what hand would you be comfortable playing in a 600bb pot? Even if you flopped the nuts on an A-A-8 board then a solid opponent would be unlikely to stack off on all three streets with nothing but an ace.

You are basically hoping that your opponent has the unlikely 8-8 combination in such an instance but if the final board is A-A-8-J-Q then the chances are that if there was substantial betting on the flop, turn and river then your opponent probably has A-J or A-Q. As stacks get deeper then there is a greater dependency to draw to the nuts. So a hand like A-8s is massively better than A-8o even though it wouldn’t be if the stacks were only 20bb.

A hand like A-8s can make the nut flush and cooler a lower flush whereas we can see that A-8o can get us into a world of hurt in a big pot. Even flopping a hand like 8-8-2 only gives us trip eights and even though it is the top trips, if the stacks were really deep then a solid opponent wouldn’t stack off with a hand like 8c-7c. This is why a hand like J-10s is stronger than a hand like Q-Jo when stacks are deep. The J-10s can make more straights as part of the straight continuum and it can also make the flush.

However it is substantially better than a hand like A-8o even though in a computer hot and cold simulation the A-8o is a 52-48 favourite. This is where hot and cold computer simulations can be very misleading. Hands like A-Qo do not play well in deep stacked situations. Firstly you cannot make the nut flush except with an obvious four to the flush on board. It is also very difficult to make a straight and A-Q can suffer terrible reverse implied odds when you hit hands like top two pair or trips and you are losing. So remember that in deep stacked situations then you need to be drawing to the nuts as much as possible.