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Hey, Big Stacks, Leave Them Chips Alone.

By: jergul @ 04:20 (EDT) / 403 / Comment ( 2 )
I admit it. I like Pink Floyd. Which likely profiles me nicely even without checking my profile. But there is some truth to that stunningly attactive title: While big stacks should always be predatorially aggressive, actual confontation with other stacks - and particularly small stacks - should be avoided without a significant +EV edge.

This thought is based on a fundamental poker tenant: if someone loses, then others gain (note the use of plural is valid for non-cashgames). Consider blinds and antys. If those are the enemy of small and medium stacks, then who are they the friends of? The answer is of course the aggressive big stacks. In simple terms - If a table is giving you the chips anyway, then what is the point of a risky confrontation? The answer is none really beyond maintaining a fear factor that is the reason they are giving you the chips.

So, if you are predatorally devouring blinds and antys, does that mean you should raise (or at least call) pre-flop with any cards? The answer is again no. Lets pretend you have 39o and raised preflop. Someone shoves. Do you fold? Bad move. You just mucked your fear factor. Do you call? Bad move. Even if you win, you have to show the 39o. Which mucks your fear factor. And you will likely lose. Which lowers the fearfactor through the loss of chips and even more so if your hand is shown (trackers catch mucked hands as online mechanics require mucked hands to be shown for a fraction of a second so game knows who won). So, no, its not a good idea to raise-call with anything. A good rule of thumb is to assume other players will see your hand, so make sure the hand you might show has some kind of strength to justify the move.

This thought is supported by actual EV considerations. For a predatorial big stack, the more looser players are, the more expected value he or she loses. Loose players lose more EV too, but that is not really relevant. The basis here is ideally, the best way to win chips is by taking the blinds and antys. Any other form of chip accumulation has a lower EV on average.

Elliminating a small player might be satisfactory, but it is not always the good move. First off, small stacks help trap medium stacks between desperate small stack aggression and predatorial large stack aggression. A trapped stack is a stack giving you its blinds. Secondly, the larger a stack, the less it gains in cash EV by eliminating a player. Remembering that the EV gain from elimination is split between all remaining players with smaller stacks gaining more and larger less in a quite disproportionate and frankly unfair manner (though slightly weighted towards the eliminator - who after all is getting the chips).

And what does a big stack gain in a confrontation? Well that depends really on the size of the effective stack - which is always the smaller stack in heads up. Against a small stack: You win - you get any chips he has. He wins, he doubles up. A big stack can essentially never get the implied odds required to pay for speculative hands. The opposition simply does not have the chips to reward the big stack if a hand hits. And the chips are usually already in at far to high a pot odds price.

The last point is that you know what you have at the table, but not what you might get in place of a small stack killed. Do you really fancy having a huge stack poker star pro to the left of you as replacement for the novice small stack you just killed? It could happen, and might be interesting, but it would not be a +EV change.

My point is not to sacrifice a clear +EV hand to keep players alive. But it is not a big stack's job to eliminate players. Its job is to accumulate chips as best as possible. Often, the best way of accumulating chips is to pass on coin toss confrontations, or ones with just a slight EV advantage (the EV advantage may be illusionary in any event. Calculating cash EV is not something you can do in game and it is always lower than the pot odds)

Keep the fear factor alive, then round up the blinds. Confrontation is sometime required and sometimes justified by strong cards...but probably not nearly as often as the big stack might think.
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