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Buying In Short To Higher Stakes Games

by Ed Miller |  Published: Jan 04, 2017


I’m doing a series of companion articles to my most recent book, The Course: Serious Hold ’Em Strategy For Smart Players. It’s a step-by-step guide to mastering the live no-limit hold’em games that you will find in most cardrooms around the world.

The companion chapter in The Course to this article is called Playing Deep. Games at the $5-$10 level and higher tend to play substantially deeper stacked than games at the $1-$2 through $2-$5 levels. If you want to master play at these higher stakes, it’s important that you learn to thrive when the stacks get deep.

But this article is going to be about the opposite—how to play in $5-$10 games (and above) with a relatively short stack. I wanted to write about this because I feel the single best way for many players to move up into the higher stakes games from $2-$5 is to start out buying in for the table minimum. There are a few reasons I recommend this.

First, it serves to defray some of the money jitters. In a typical $2-$5 game, most players will have piles of $5 red chips in front of them with a few $25 green chips or $100 black chips as well. At $5-$10, you’ll often see players with a few stacks of $10 chips and then possibly multiple stacks of green and black chips. The blinds have only doubled, but the money can feel much, much bigger.

If you buy into this $5-$10 game for the $600 table minimum, then even while half the table has black chips everywhere, you really aren’t putting more money at risk than you are already comfortable with risking at $2-$5. If you feel like you might get intimidated by the atmosphere of a $5-$10 or higher game, buying in for the minimum can help you get your feet wet without diving in head first.

Second, buying in short simplifies the game. Eventually if your goal is to win the most money possible, you want as much complexity as possible. But in the beginning, simplifying the game can help you get acclimated. There’s no reason in your first few hours at a higher level to get yourself into a situation where you’re trying to sniff out a bluff for $2,000 on the river. Buying in short will mostly protect you from wandering unprepared into these sorts of harrowing situations.

Third, buying in short gives you a structural advantage in the game. At some tables this advantage will be small, but at other tables it will give you an edge big enough by itself to let you beat the rake or time charge. I’ve talked about this intrinsic advantage many times before, so I will keep the discussion here brief. Different stack sizes call for different strategies. If your opponents are playing $3,000 stacks, then they must play one strategy against each other and a markedly different one against you and your $600 stack. Whereas if you are the shortest stack at the table, you are playing just a single strategy against all of your opponents.

If you buy into a higher stakes game for the minimum, you should generally keep two things in mind. Your strategy should mostly revolve around trying to get money in good with strong hands rather than bluffing.

And your opponents at $5-$10 will typically be better hand readers than the opponents you are used to. If you take nitty lines against them all the time, they will stop giving you action. Even the recreational players at $5-$10 can find folds that players at lower stakes might not.

But if you play in a way that obfuscates your hand strength, they will give you plenty of action because they are used to aggressive players who bluff regularly. If you are not transparent with your attempts to get action, you should get all the action you need with your short stack.

It’s $5-$10 and you have a $600 stack. You have KHeart Suit KSpade Suit. There are enough loose and aggressive players at your table to build big pots regularly.

A loose player opens for $40 from five off the button. The next player folds. It’s your action. You can three-bet here, but you can also just call and give your opponents a chance to start the action at least on the flop.

You call. The player in the cutoff also calls. There are three players to the flop and $135 in the pot with $560 behind.

The flop comes 10Heart Suit 7Club Suit 5Heart Suit. The preflop raiser bets $80.

I like shoving all-in here. Your opponents will be used to flop aggression, and there are any number of flush and/or straight draws you could be shoving with. You can expect to get called by either of your opponents (but particularly the preflop raiser) if they have a hand of any real strength.

The key here is that your stack is short, and the shoving play can easily be interpreted as a draw. This combination will tend to get you plenty of action.

If you had three-bet preflop, one of two things could have gone wrong. First, your opponents could have folded immediately to the preflop three-bet. Any reasonably aware opponent would know that a three-bet from three off the button with such a short stack would signify a very strong range.

Second, even if called preflop, you likely wouldn’t have gotten a natural opportunity to shove the flop. The most likely action after three-betting would be that everyone would fold to the preflop raiser who would call and then check any flop. You could of course shove at that point, and you might get called, but it’s a strange play that will get your opponent thinking.

A more natural play would be to bet perhaps $120 on the flop leaving one bet behind for the turn. But in this scenario, your opponent would have to call you twice to get the money in.

All-in-all, while there’s nothing wrong with playing the K-K in the straightforward way of betting and raising at every opportunity, whether you get maximum action playing this way will be dependent upon how you play other hands and what impression your opponents have of your play. If your opponents think you are nitty, you will find that they get away from top pair against your overpairs even for just 60 big blinds.

By playing it the way I recommended, however, your hand will blend easily into how you might play a range of other hands, and it will be impossible for your opponents to fold consistently.

If you buy in short, usually go for value, and attempt to play in deceptive ways that foil your opponents’ hand reading strengths, you should transition smoothly from $2-$5 to higher stakes. ♠

Ed MillerEd’s newest book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy For Smart Players is available now at his website You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the training site