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Poker Strategy With Ed Miller -- Fear and Opportunity In Deep-Stacked No-Limit Hold'em

Most Players Are Unwilling To Play For Stacks


Ed MillerSince no-limit hold’em broke out in the middle of the last decade as the predominant form of poker, there’s been a trend towards playing with deeper stacks. At online rooms, for instance, the game started with 100 big blind stacks as the norm. But a few years ago the major sites added 200 big blind deep-stacked tables.
Live cardrooms, too, have increased buy-in caps and permitted small stakes no-limit games to play deeper and deeper.

There’s something I’ve noticed about these deep, small-stakes live games. For the most part, no one plays with the extra money.

For instance, at a few of the major cardrooms in Las Vegas, you can buy in for up to $1,000 in the $2-$5 game. While many players buy in for less, it’s common to see someone buy in for the full amount.

Therefore, it’s not uncommon to see two players, both with over 200 big blinds to start the hand, square off in a pot. What is quite uncommon, however, is to see all of this money get into the middle. It’s even uncommon just to see someone make an uncalled all-in bet for these stacks. And, more often than not, it’s clear that a player who makes an all-in bet with these deep stacks holds the nuts.

Theoretically, of course, it should indeed be rarer to get $1,000 into the middle versus $500 or $300. But in many games, you’ll see at your table least one all-in pot for $300 or $500 every hour. In these same games, you can go days without seeing an all-in pot for $1,000 – even when a number of players are playing this deep. Deep stacks should make all-in pots rarer, but not this much rarer.

I think it’s fear. Regular players at the $2-$5 level are very used to gambling for $300 or $500, so relatively little fear plays into decisions for these stacks. But in this player pool there is sort of a collective fear about playing for $1,000 or more. If you have the bankroll for it, exploiting this fear is, in my opinion, an opportunity to generate considerable profit.

Put The Money In Play

If you watch regular Vegas $2-$5 players spar with deep stacks, you’ll see a consistent pattern. Playing deep doesn’t affect play too much preflop or on the flop. Preflop raises sizes are similar whether playing for $300 or $1,300, and players seem to play roughly the same mix of hands in both cases. (Theoretically, both raise size and the mix of hands should depend on stack sizes.)

On the flop it’s frequently a continuation bet and call (or a bet, raise, and a call), and this play too is relatively unaffected by the depth of the stacks.
On the turn, however, many regular $2-$5 players like to take half the money (or more) out of play by checking or making a small-sized bet. For example, say someone opens for $20 and gets two calls. Everyone has over $1,000. The preflop raiser bets $50 on the Q-T-7 flop and gets raised to $160. The preflop raiser calls.

The turn is an 8. It goes check-check.

The river is a 3. It goes check-check. The preflop raiser shows K-K and beats the flop raiser’s A-Q.

In this hand, the flop raise to $160 realistically puts all the money into play. A turn bet could be around $300, and a river bet could be for the rest. Both players realize this, and therefore both players aim to check the hand down to avoid any serious damage.

Often at the end of a pot like this one, the player with K-K will say, “Just glad I won that one,” or the player with A-Q will say, “Could have lost a lot more on that hand.”

Had the hand started with only $300 stacks, however, both players likely would have gotten all the money in without too much thought about it.

You take advantage of these players by being willing to put all the money into play. After raising the flop, you follow up with that $300 bet on the turn. And sometimes you follow up with the river all-in. Opponents who know you will happily go all the way in a deep pot may begin to make serious, serious folding errors.

A Key Realization

When I tell people that they can instantly improve their winrates in deep games by simply putting all the money in play, they often look at me skeptically. They’re thinking about getting snapped off for over a grand on some foolish-looking bluff.

So I ask, “When was the last time you flopped a set and got paid off for over 200 big blinds? When did you play a hand where you raised the flop, got called, bet the turn huge, got called, made a monster all-in bet on the river, and got called? And you were good the whole way?”

In modern $2-$5 games, this simply doesn’t happen very often. Most players willing to put $1,000-plus on the table know about this general reluctance to put the money in play. Therefore, if someone does want to put the money in the middle, they know to steer clear.

The bottom line is that most $2-$5 regulars, at least in Las Vegas, will eventually give you credit for a set or some other big hand once it becomes clear you are willing to go all the way.

If it’s nearly impossible against certain players to get your sets paid off for 200 big blinds, doesn’t it follow that your monster bluff is a near lock to work against these same players?

Consider the following hand. It’s a $2-$5 game with $1,200 stacks.

A tight, regular player opens for $20 from middle position. A poor player calls, and you call on the button with QDiamond Suit JDiamond Suit. The big blind calls. There’s $82 in the pot.

The flop comes 10Club Suit 9Spade Suit 4Club Suit. The big blind checks, the preflop raiser bets $40. The poor player folds, and you raise to $140. The big blind folds, and the preflop raiser calls quickly.

The turn is the 7Heart Suit. The preflop raiser checks, and you bet $310 into the $362 pot. The preflop raiser thinks for three minutes and calls.

The river is the 3Spade Suit. The preflop raiser checks, and you move all-in for $730 into the $982 pot.

Against regulars who are reluctant to play for their deep stacks, you will get a fold here the majority of the time. They’ll fold hands as strong as two pair against you, and you might even get someone to fold 4-4.

Along with these strong hands, you’ll also get people to fold hands like K-K and other hands like J-J, 8-8, ace-high flush draws, combo draws, and the like.

Final Thoughts

Many $2-$5 regulars are simply afraid to play for deep stacks. I am not. Therefore, I can use my opponents’ fears against them by putting all of their money in play and stealing pots. It’s basically that simple. Give it a try. ♠

Ed’s newest book, Playing The Player: Moving Beyond ABC Poker To Dominate Your Opponents, is on sale at Find Ed on Facebook at and on Twitter @EdMillerPoker.



almost 9 years ago

Nice article. Question for you: at what stakes do you think this mentality goes away?


almost 9 years ago

I think this is a bigger issue when the table is young full of internet kids.

If the table is older full of experienced live cash game players, the money goes in.

The fact that they don't want to get it in, provides alot of bluffing opportunities for experience players.


Mark Clyde Brant V
almost 8 years ago

This article is actually codification of the highest level of poker. If Tom Dwan can bluff out Phil Ivey then you are playing an optimal skill game if u do as Durrr does and watch even the best players fold.


over 7 years ago

I'm amazed that people think it's okay to play with money they're afraid to lose. Bob Ciaffone has always said once you're thinking of the chips in front of you as money for buying anything but a pot it's time to get up and go home.