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No-Limit Hold’em – Defending a Deep Stack

by Daragh Thomas |  Published: Apr 01, 2010


One of the innovations that online poker companies have come up with is “deep tables”. These are tables on which the maximum stack is 300 big blinds (bbs) rather than the normal 100bbs. The minimum buy-in is usually higher than normal as well, although that varies. A good rule of thumb is that the deeper the effective stacks, the more complicated poker is which is why so many tournament players have difficulty playing cash games. With 300bbs as the effective stack, it’s very rare to get all in preflop, or on the flop, so this means you are going to be forced to play the turn and river.

Hands change value as well, a hand like A-K is a good example. Usually with 100bbs it’s profitable to get all in with it, almost regardless of the circumstances. Or sometimes you will commit yourself with it preflop and get it in on almost any flop.

Neither of these are good ideas at a deep table, as you will end up being shown A-A or K-K almost every time. The play is very different post-flop as well as you always need to be aware of the greater importance of each hand. Flopping the nut-flush draw and getting it in is rarely that bad for 100bbs, but for 300bbs you are costing yourself a lot of equity. (Part of this is that the average hand you will face is much stronger).
Queen Ten hand
A student came to me recently with this hand. To sum it up before I go through it in detail, he managed to lose 300bbs with the second nuts. Losing with the second nuts is usually nothing to be ashamed of, but the way this hand played out, the only hand his opponent will ever have is the nuts.

The blinds are $0.50/$1 and there are three main players — the student who is quite loose and passive, and two tight aggressive players (TAGs). The stats aren’t that important, as no action takes place preflop and no one is that aggressive.

The first two players fold, and the student limps with 5-3 suited. He should raise or fold here, what he doesn’t want to do is play a multi-way pot with such a weak holding. If he raises he can hopefully get it heads up and take down the blinds. (This is irrespective of whether it’s a deep table or not). When he limps he is inviting the button to raise behind him, which is a bad situation. I would nearly always just fold here unless the blinds were terrible.

So he limps and the button folds. The small blind, who is one of the TAGs previously mentioned, completes. The big blind, who is the other TAG, checks. The flop comes up A-7-6 rainbow. Everyone checks to the student, who checks also. I think he should bet here — it doesn’t look like anyone has anything as no one raised preflop, indicating weak starting hands, and he has a gut shot, giving him a reasonable amount of equity if called. Since he is just against the two blinds, there really is no reason not to bet. Even if he gets raised, he can call since he is so deep. (Though I wouldn’t call a raise here, as you can’t hit the nut straight).

The turn, as you may have guessed, is a four, giving the student a straight. There is no flush draw, and the only hand that beats him is 8-5. Here is where it gets interesting.

It’s important to remember that since no action took place on the flop, there is $3 in the pot. Since the stacks are $300 each, the stack to pot ratio is 100:1! The small blind leads out for $3. The big blind now makes it $12. This already is unusual — you have a full pot bet, and then a pot-sized raise as the first significant action. As always we should have a think about the ranges.

The small blind’s range is quite wide, he could be betting almost any pair, two pair, a set, a straight or even an open-ender. When the big blind raises his range is much narrower. There is always a chance he is bluffing (or far more likely, semi-bluffing), but in this case I think the chance is very slim. At this level players do not fight that hard for limped pots, and the only good semi-bluffing hand is 9-9, which was an open-ended straight draw on the flop.

If he wanted to play that aggressively he could have just led the flop. So if a bluff is unlikely, what else could he have? Well, his range is the same as the small blind’s, but heavily weighted towards two pair, sets, and straights. I would discount sets somewhat, because he is likely to raise a pair from the big blind. (This applies to the small blind too).

Folding is still out of the question for the student, his hand is still good against those two ranges. However if he raises, he is signifying a very, very strong hand. Since there is no flush draw and given that a raise is going to be very scary, a call is the best option. The student did in fact call, thereby playing at least one street optimally.

He smooth calls the $12, as does the small blind. When the small blind calls the $9 extra you can narrow his range. He probably wouldn’t smooth call with the nut straight, and he would fold any single pair. So his range is strong, but not that strong. I think he is very likely to have either a good two pair, or a set. He could have 5-3 and be worried about 8-5.

The river is a queen. No flush possible, and the board is not paired, so 5-3 is still the second nuts. The small blind then pots it for $39. At this point, given the action that has taken place, I would put him firmly on a very strong hand — a straight, one of the higher sets, or possibly two pair. The big blind thinks for a while, and then goes all in for $400. The big blind, who is a decent regular has to be aware that the small blind’s range is very strong. The fact that this is a three-way hand means neither player is likely to have any bluffs in their range. At this point, most TAGs would not shove the second nuts all in here, (and of course, no lesser hands either). So it’s either a bluff, which is extraordinarily unlikely, or it’s the nuts, 8-5.

This should be a fairly simple decision for the student, he only has invested $13 in this pot, and is now faced with a $320 bet (his stack size) where he is beaten close to 99 percent of the time. Even if he is beating the big blind, the small blind could either have him beaten, or have the same hand as him. Unfortunately for the student he called.

The small blind thought for a while and folded. The big blind of course had 8-5.

Don’t make the mistake of dismissing this hand as a learning tool because you wouldn’t limp 5-3 suited in the first place, the basic principle is the same in many similar scenarios. When several people start firing large amounts of money into small pots, make sure you have the nuts before you join them! Spade Suit

Daragh Thomas has made a living from poker over the last three years. He also coaches other players and writes extensively on the poker forum, under the name hectorjelly.