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 you have. In poker, everything is measured using the big blind.

In a standard cash game you can buy in to a maximum of 100bb (big blinds). When talking about a stake, we 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/$0.10. If you are buying in to the maximum at a cash game, you will always have a minimum of 100bb.

Why should you think in "big blinds remaining"?

A $200 stack when the blinds are $0.25/$0.50 is very different to 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 to assessing player stack size in number of big blinds remaining?

A) Psychological Factors

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 decision.

B) Understanding the effective stack

Understanding our own stack and our opponent’s stacks in terms of how many big blinds gives us the “effective stack” of any situation. If we raise pre-flop with a 200bb stack and are called by a single player in the big blind who has a stack of 100bb, then we 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 be 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, we prefer to be open-shoving our hands pre-flop. Open-shoving means going “all-in” when the action is folded to us to pick up the blinds and antes.

The key is to use fold equity to take down pots pre-flop. A good beginner’s resource is found at pushfoldcharts.com.

When we are in the range of 15-40bb, we have a “re-shove stack”. This means that we 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 will be useful for re-shoving.

Instead of having to always go all-in pre-flop, you have a little more room to maneuver. You can raise pre-flop and decide whether to fold to aggression. The lower our big blinds remaining, the less we want to fold once we have invested money into the pot.

You need a basic understanding of ICM to succeed at short stack play. ICM is the “Independent Chip Model” which calculates the value of our chips in terms of the prize pool of a tournament. At the core of ICM is the fact that our survival in the tournament is worth more than gaining chips. Losing 30% of our stack in general will have a much greater negative influence than the positive influence of gaining 30% of our stack in chips.

This explains 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 our opponent has.

Some aggressive professional tournament players prefer to go all-in preflop at stack depths of under 25bb. One advantage of shoving wider is because a hand like 55, while usually having good equity when called, is very difficult to play profitably post-flop when we do not hit a set.

How to play against an opponent whose “big blinds remaining” is low

First, you need to understand if our 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. Generally, in tournaments stronger players go all-in pre-flop at a short stack depth with a wider range than weaker players, whereas weaker players tend to be too tight and 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 effectively have 10bb because you cannot win or lose more than 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 one or more very poor players, you may prefer to simply leave.

Weak short-stackers at a cash game are simple to play against. You simply need to analyze whether they are calling too light or folding too much. Against the first, you can widen your value range and will generally be going all in on the flop or turn hoping for a call. Against the second, you can use fold and equity and 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.

M Ratio

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, we have a stack of 2000 chips. The BB is 100 and the SB 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 of 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 BB Remaining rather than M ratio.

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