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Different poker stacks

Understanding Midstacking (By: PeterPJames)

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Since I coach midstacking I often get asked questions about it, so I thought I’d write something up answering many of the questions that get repeated, or responding to some misconceptions about midstacking. So here we go!

What is midstacking?

Using the definitions of Owen Gaines in his book Poker Math That Matters, midstacking is playing with a 40-80bb stack. (20-40 is short stacking, 80-120 is full stacking, 120bb+ is deep)

Different poker stacks


Why not play a 100bb stack?

There are many reasons. First off, 100bb is arbitrary. It is just a nice round number to buy in for, but are you certain it is the most +EV depth for you to buy in for? 100bb stacks can often lead to awkward stack sizing spots, especially in 3bet pots.

  • Midstacking can reduce variance. Several times per session you may get those AK vs QQ hands which are inevitable but will swing either way, and by playing a bit shorter of a stack it doesn’t hit you so hard when you’re on the bad end of variance. Also, since you can play a very similar game to full stacking with a shorter stack, it allows you to play with a smaller bankroll or take shots more easily.
  • Midstacking reduces the edge of players who are better than you at deeper stacks.
  • Most 100bb regs are used to playing vs 100bb stacks and possibly vs short stacks also. But if you play thousands and thousands of hands at, say, 75bbs, then you can master that stack depth and gain an edge vs them.
  • Your edge may be much smaller vs regs at your stakes than you think. If fish are buying in for 50 or 75 or a random number of big blinds, why buy in than for more than what covers the fish at the table?

It is beneficial to know how to play against all stack sizes. Therefore learning midstacking poker theory can be beneficial even if you plan to continue buying in for 100bbs.


Is it ratholing?

No, although in games like Zoom you can easily do that midstacking allows you to build stacks and play a variety of stack depths. Of course you can rathole if you want, but it’s not a necessary part of midstacking.


How is it different than short stacking?

Midstacking allows for more play because your stack is larger than you may think. For instance when I started playing poker in 2005 I bought in for 100bb and the average opening size preflop was 3.5x so I was putting in 3.5% of my stack preflop. If you buy in 60bb and open to 2x you are putting in approximately the same amount preflop. As the game has shifted to smaller raise sizes preflop, people may be more comfortable with a midstack than they may originally think, especially if they are struggling in cash games in 2013.


When should I midstack and when should I buy in deeper?

I recommend to buy in for whatever amount covers the fish at the table. If you aren’t actively searching for fish than you either are playing so low there are fish everywhere or you are costing yourself money. Games are tough these days, and regs are much better than they were a few years ago. So buying in for 100bbs when the fish at the table has 50bbs is unecessary variance. Midstacking is a great route in games where you feel you are abused by the better regs, also. The concepts I teach give you ways to exploit instead of being exploited if you are uncomfortable playing with deeper stacks.

Mastering Mid Stacked PokerGet 19 videos teaching how to midstack correctly!

This is still regular poker. We are still 3betting both for value and as bluffs, we are still flatting preflop, playing postflop, trying to figure out ranges, etc. This is not a system of push/fold charts.

If you have any more questions you can always PM me at 2p2 (peterpjames).

– Pete

Why You Should Consider A Different Stack Size In Poker

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When I first began playing poker in 2005, training sites were still really coming into their own. Cardrunners really took off around that time, among others, and changed the way cash poker was played through their “aggressive in position” approach to punishing fish. One of the first things I learned studying training videos was “always make sure your stack is at 100bbs”. It made sense at the time because there was no reason not to, as tables were so fishy and regulars didn’t abuse you as much as they do today, so there was no downside to it.  It was the best way to crush micro-stakes poker games at the time.

100bb Poker

But the games have changed. Regulars are better than ever, and fish are falling further and further behind every day. Sites like Bovada and more recently Merge in the United States have changed their approaches in attempts to bring back the recreational player and stop rewarding the regulars who take money all day from any fish that deposits.

I believe this all matters because the game is indeed changing, and it’s changing towards shallower stacks and higher variance games. The reason for this is simple: shorter stacks and more variance means more of a chance that fish can win, which keeps them coming back. Fish simply are not going to last at a deep ante cash game these days, surrounded by sharks. But any fish can get on a real roll playing 20bb cap cash poker or hyper turbo SNGs. And if we know anything about self-serving bias from our psychology textbooks, it’s that we credit our achievements as being our own doing, and our losses for being external to us. So it’s easy for a fish to convince themselves they are truly skilled at these higher variance games because they’ve had some hot streaks before, and now they are only losing because they are getting unlucky.
poker fish
I think now it’s more important than ever for players to learn to play stack sizes other than 100bbs. Tournament players already have an advantage, as they are used to playing against both fish and at varying stack depths. But many cash players who have grinded 100bbs their entire career may have an idea of how to respond to professional short stackers who have “infested” their games for years, but really have no idea how to correctly play stack sizes from 5bbs to 75bbs.

My advice is to learn now. In my opinion, it’s where the games are headed. If you haven’t tried playing games like this and you are bored or frustrated with poker, give it a shot. It’s where the fish are going to be.