Chapter 9: Big Blinds Remaining
What is “big blinds remaining”?
“Big blinds remaining” expresses the size of your stack in terms of how many big blinds it is worth.
In a standard cash game you can buy in to a maximum of 100 big blinds (this is written as 100bb). When talking about a stake, you talk about it in terms of a 100bb stack. For example, 100nl (no limit) is a cash game with a small blind of $0.50 and a big blind of $1.00. 10nl on the other hand would be a cash game with blinds of $0.05 and $0.10. If you are buying in to the maximum at a cash game, you will always have 100bb.
Why should you think in terms of "big blinds remaining"?
No matter how high stakes you are playing, you always want to think of your decisions in terms of the blinds. A $200 stack when the blinds are $0.25/$0.50 is very different from a $200 stack when the blinds are $2.00/$4.00. Thinking in terms of big blinds remaining is a standardized way of understanding the game.
What are the advantages of assessing player stack size in number of big blinds remaining?
To make clear decisions, you need to understand poker in terms of big blinds rather than money. Distancing yourself emotionally allows you to make the best decisions.
Understanding the effective stack
Understanding your own stack and your opponents’ stacks in terms of big blinds gives you the “effective stack” of any situation. If you raise preflop with a 200bb stack and are called by a single player in the big blind who has a stack of 100bb, then you can only win or lose up to 100bb. Therefore, the effective stack is 100bb. If the player in the big blind had 20bb, then the effective stack would have been 20bb.
How to play when "big blinds remaining" is low
In tournaments, you will find yourself in situations where your big blind remaining is low. Once you are in the range of 15bb or less, you should be open-shoving your hands preflop. (Open-shoving means going “all in” when the action is folded to you, in order to pick up the blinds and antes.)
The key is to use fold equity to take down pots preflop. A good beginner’s resource is pushfoldcharts.com.
When you are in the range of 15–35bb, you have a “re-shove stack.” This means that you go all in against a single raise or a 3-bet by an opponent using fold equity. (While our guide to 3-betting is focused on cash games, many of the concepts covered in it are also useful for re-shoving in tournaments.)
When you have this slightly larger stack size, you have more choices. Instead of having to always go all in preflop, you have a little more room to maneuver. You can raise preflop and decide whether to fold to aggression. The lower your big blinds remaining, the less you want to fold once you have invested money into the pot.
You need a basic understanding of the “Independent Chip Model” (ICM) to succeed at short-stack play. The ICM calculates the value of your chips in terms of the prize pool of a tournament. At the core of the ICM is the fact that your survival in the tournament is worth more than gaining chips. In a tournament, the negative effect of losing 30% of your stack is much greater than the positive effect of gaining 30% of your stack.
This is why shoving and re-shoving is such a powerful play. You can go all in with a range of hands that is wider than the range your opponent has.
Some aggressive professional tournament players prefer to go all in preflop at stack depths of under 25bb. Shoving wider can be beneficial with a hand like 55, which, while usually having good equity when called, is very difficult to play profitably postflop when you do not hit a set.
In general, beginners do not go all in with a wide enough short stack, nor do they call shoves wide enough.
How to play against an opponent whose “big blinds remaining” is low
First, you need to determine whether your opponent is strong or weak. This is done through observation of playing style and by using VPIP and PFR to determine player type.
One of the most difficult opponents to play against is a strong player who has only a few big blinds remaining. In tournaments stronger players generally go all in preflop at a short stack depth with a wider range than weaker players, whereas weaker players tend to be too tight and do not understand correct shoving ranges.
In tournaments, you need to be very cautious opening a hand when you have short stacks to your left who can go all in and force you to fold. In fact, if all the stacks to your left are under 15bb, you may decide to simply go all in yourself, as the effective stack depth is short.
It does not matter if you have a stack of 100bb or 1000bb. If all the players to your left have 10bb, then you are effectively playing the hand with 10bb because you cannot win or lose more than 10bb. You are playing with an “effective stack” of 10bb.
Cash games can be incredibly tough when you have a strong “short-stacker” playing. There are some professional poker players who prefer to buy in at a stack depth of 40bb or less. They will 3-bet, 4-bet, and generally make your life miserable. Unless you have a good reason to stay at these tables, such as if there are one or more very poor players present, you may prefer to simply leave.
Weak short-stackers at a cash game are simple to play against. You simply need to determine whether they are calling too light or folding too much. Against the former, you can widen your value range and generally go all in on the flop or turn hoping for a call. Against the latter, you can use fold equity, and you may prefer to use a smaller raise sizing and simply fold to aggression.
When playing against a 100bb stack, you need to be able to play the turn and river. Against a short stack, the most important street is the flop. Our guide to continuation betting will give you a good, solid understanding of when to bet.
Quick tips for playing against short stacks
- Implied odds are low. Because you cannot get a large payoff when you hit a flush or straight, you should be less inclined to play hands like small suited connectors.
- The value of pairs and high cards are increased. A hand like A2o is much better against a short stack than against a big stack.
Another way to evaluate your stack in a tournament with antes is the M-ratio. This is a formula to understand your vulnerability in a tournament.
M = Stack Size / (BB + SB + One Full Round of Antes)
For example, you have a stack of 2000 chips. The big blind is 100 and the small blind is 50. Antes are 1, and it is a 10-handed table, so one round of antes is 10 chips.
2000 / (100 + 50 + 10) = 12.5
In this case, we would have an M of 12.5.
M-ratio has the following guidelines:
- An M higher than 20 is a healthy stack. You can play as you wish.
- When M is between 10 and 20 you should take more risks.
- when M is between 6 and 10 you should focus on being first to act.
- when M is less than 6 you should be either going all in or folding.
In modern poker, most players prefer to understand their stack in big blinds remaining rather than M-ratio.