Deep Play Thoughts in NLHE Part 1

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Author’s Note: This is part I of a Deep Stack Thoughts series.

Introduction:Different variations in stack depth allow for many different strategies and concepts in No-Limit Hold’em (NLHE). Tournament structures encourage shorter stack play (50 > big blinds (bb)), while live cash games can get much deeper (500bbs

This article will not be a street by street guide on how to play deep stacked NLHE. Like other strategy articles, it is here to offer different tidbits of knowledge and things to think about while at the tables. This article primarily applies to ring games (6-10 max) and not so much heads up, which is a completely different game.

Mentality: What kind of mentality should you have going in to the game? How do you psychologically prepare for large pre-flop wars or being out of position as the non aggressor?

Don’t Be Scared- A preemptive thought on going into a deep game- You cannot play scared poker. This is very true in a general poker sense, but even more so in deep games. Mistakes get amplified in a much larger sense and if you are not capable of making a big call or a big bluff while deep, reconsider your participation in the game. Please read up on bankroll management for poker if you don’t understand why you don’t have to play with scared money.

Crazy Can Be Better- The ability to run a big bluff can be very beneficial in poker; even more so in a deep game. Aggression within reason can be rewarded heavily in deep games and there are many players who pick up many uncontested pots through aggression. While this is true in 100bb stack poker, deeper stacked games encourage a higher non-showdown winning style. For instance, one player may feel comfortable check/calling a marginal/medium hand out of position for a few streets in 100bb stack poker. But as stacks get larger, decisions can become much harder with larger bet sizes.

Pre-flop Discussion-

Pre-flop strategy varies heavily with stack sizes. Deep stacked NLHE *generally* offers more flexibility in terms of hand selection. Take a common situation:

We open pre flop with 9s Ts from MP for $3.50 at a $.50/$1 NLHE game. The BB 3-bets us to $14. We are both 300bb deep and call his 3-bet.

Had this been 100bbs, we might fold much more frequently. When the stack to pot ratio (SPR) is smaller, it makes committing to a hand more worse in terms of payoff.

Here are some reasons why calling is much more attractive when deep (some of these may be obvious and others not so much):

  1. Implied Odds- TexasHoldemOnline already has a brief article with regards to implied odds ( This basic concept is amplified as the stack sizes go up- meaning that your expected pay off can be much larger if you and your opponent both hit strong hands. There are many scenarios in this hand (9T in the 3-bet pot) where we can make a deceptive hand and villain may get married to his over pair. A basic example might be if the flop was TT2 and villain had AA- he would rarely expect us to have a Ten.
  2. More options post-flop- We do not necessarily need to hit a monster hand in order to win the pot- with position and deep stacks, we can apply lots of pressure on our opponent otherwise. Say the flop comes 6d 7d Js and the opponent bets and we raise. Put yourself in his shoes with a hand like QQ- you probably are not too happy. And with 300bbs, we know that we have two more streets to play out of position with deep stacks. This is but a small example of different plays we can make in order to win the pot (other than actually hitting a strong hand).

There are, of course, other reasons to call pre-flop in this scenario. The above two are two of the larger considerations when calling 3-bets in position in deep stacked situations.

Pre-flop Discussion 2.0-

Equity Flexibility– You may read that a hand has very ‘elastic’ or ‘inelastic’ equity in strategy discussion. ‘Static’ can also be another term thrown around. These terms are based a bit off the above discussion- hands such as 67s may be very elastic or flexible in terms of equity options post-flop (in that there are numerous ways for it to improve- pair/2pair/straight/flush/etc). Alternately, hands such as KK are very inelastic- it rarely improves post-flop and (obviously) has the strongest equity edge the fewer cards there are (meaning it is at its strongest pre-flop and weakens street by street). Simply put, this is an implied odds concept that is very relevant in deep stack poker (perhaps more so in Pot-Limit Omaha than NLHE, but still relevant).

This line of thinking is very important in deep games. Some pre-flop hands become more attractive due to their ability to make strong draws: Suited connectors and suited aces go up in hand value while stronger 1 pair hands go down in value as the stack sizes increase. Suited Aces are excellent due to over flushing your opponent (See: Reverse Implied Odds). Using the same concept, one must not get too attached to top pair if they have a weak suited Ace due to possibly being dominated by a higher Ace.

A common equity flexibility situation may be presented when you have AA and raise pre-flop. When you bet the flop and get raised on a 578cc board, realize that your equity is very inelastic- you have little hope of improving. Alternately, you might even wish you had a hand such as Jc Tc vs. your opponent’s overall range despite AA being stronger head to head vs. JTcc (52% favorite) on this board. Understanding your equity versus a variety of ranges will help you understand the correct play. This thought applies to all streets and elements in poker, not just pre-flop.

Pre-flop Discussion 3.0-

When stacks get larger, players will be more apt to 3-4- and possibly 5 bet pre-flop. This does a few things for players.

  1. It narrows the stack to pot ratio (SPR) with stronger hands. Meaning that players will push their equity edge as far as they can pre-flop with deeper stacks. This is a concept widely seen in Pot-Limit Omaha, where players will try to jam as much of their stack in with AAxx type hands. The concept is similar in NLHE- When players have deeper stacks, they do not want to be stuck in situations where they have vulnerable over pair hands and face a variety of textures post flop (for example: You open AA, your opponent 3-bets, you flat call for deception. The flop is not favorable and he bets out. This pre-flop action can be a mistake if stacks are large enough).
  2. Balance- With deeper stacks, players will have more deceptive ranges in large pre-flop wars. With shorter stacks, some players will be less likely to 3-bet more deceptive hands such as suited connectors. The SPR is so small that players have no post-flop options. But with deeper stacks, players are able to 3-bet more frequently knowing that a) they can be more aggressive post-flop with stack sizes and b) they are more priced in to calling 4-bets. This will occasionally lead to very wide 3-betting ranges; both for balance and deception.
  3. Dead Money- This concept is present in all NLHE- more aggressive players will pick up many more uncontested pots. This may include raising continuation bets on the flop, check-raising more often, or something else. When the pot is often 3 or 4 bet pre-flop, this leaves much more dead money than normal. And because stacks are deep, one can actually raise the flop in a 3-bet pot with more to play behind. Good, aggressive players can take advantage of this and pick up more money in 3-bet spots.

Thus concludes our pre-flop discussion. The next article will be about later streets and other concepts in deep stacked NLHE.