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Before the Flop

Effective Stack

Playing cash games optimally requires making sure you have the right number of chips and also know how to calculate the effective stack.

In the Poker Basics course, we introduced numerous key concepts of Texas Hold'em play. This is a game of many decisions, which you will need to make through several stages of every hand.

However in a cash game, there is a decision you have to make before you are even dealt any cards. That is: How many chips do you buy when you first sit down?


Your bankroll will obviously dictate the table you have chosen and the stakes you have opted to play. But after you have sat down, you are given the opportunity to buy in for any amount you like (within the published table limits).
In general, it is usually correct to buy in for the equivalent of 100 times the table big blind, or 100 BBs. Moreover, it is correct strategy to keep your stack at at least this amount, re-buying if it drops too far below. (You are not allowed to take small portions of your winnings off the table unless you get up to leave, so you will often have a much bigger stack on the table.)
This stack size allows you to play optimum cash game strategy, and to make correct decisions based on all the criteria outlined in this course. 
Remember, new players should always try to have at least 100 big blinds in their stack. Short-, mid- and deep-stack play requires a different set of skills.


The concept of "effective stacks" is also crucial in the cash game environment. As described above, most of the advice here is assuming that we are playing with a stack of 100 big blinds, but often it is not just that figure that is important. You also need to look at what your opponents are playing with.
For instance: You sit down with 100 BB and get involved in a pot with one other player, who has a stack of 200 BB. Your stack is the smaller one, and is said to be the "effective stack". It is the stack that, in effect, is at risk. All of your chips could find their way into the pot in any one hand, but only half of your opponent's stack can be at risk.

In this case – and in every case where your stack is covered by your opponent(s) – your stack is the effective stack size: 100 BB.
In another situation, you might be heads up against another opponent. You have 100 BB, he holds 50 BB. In this case the effective stack size is 50 BB.
You should always keep an eye on the stack sizes of your opponents, especially if you are playing speculative hands that don't hit often - as discussed in the next lesson. You need to know how much you stand to win, and whether it is worth continuing in a pot.

 Please login to test your knowledge with a short exercise.
Hand Selection Pre-Flop

Choosing the right hands to play still depends on position, action and cards, but in a deep-stacked cash game y ...

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