Deep Stack Poker Thoughts Part 3

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This is the third and final piece of the Deep Stack Thoughts series. In the previous articles, we discussed the mentality of deep stack play as well as some different pre-flop and flop concepts. This article will discuss alternative plays in deep stack NLHE, polarization, and other concepts.

Turn Play and Different Lines When Deep

The turn is a vital street when deep. Unlike the flop, where players continuation bet quite frequently, the turn will often dictate the action on the river- meaning that if a player has been aggressive up until the river, he will typically continue the trend (if a player has bet the flop and bet the turn, a river bet is very possible). Alternately, if a player has been passive on the turn as well, one may make an assumption that he will be passive on the river (check/called flop and check/called turn, a river check is very likely).

There are a few plays that can be played in an alternate manner in deep stacked poker-

The Baluga Whale Theorem- The Baluga Whale Theorem is a popular online theorem that is summarized as “In most cases, when we bet the turn and are raised with a one pair hand, we are often beat.” A basic hand example might be:

Hand 1.0- 6-Max, NLHE- We open from MP with KK, getting one call from the BTN. The flop is 792r and we bet and get called. The turn is the 5x and we bet again, BTN raises, and we fold.

More on the Baluga Whale Theorem (

As with everything in poker, the Baluga Whale Theorem is not absolute. There are certainly situations when calling the turn raise can be the correct play. Nevertheless, the theorem holds true the majority of the time- If a fish raises your bet on the turn when you have an over pair, you should still probably be folding (in most cases). However, when two regulars square off on a table with both knowing and understanding the Baluga Whale Theorem, the play itself loses its effectiveness for the turn raiser (or BTN in the above KK hand).

So assume the above hand (KK) is played between two regulars. MP bets the turn and gets raised by BTN. Typically, MP would fold to the raise. But because he knows about the Baluga Theorem (and that he is supposed to fold), and he knows that his opponent recognizes the same, he decides to call the raise, knowing that BTN will be doing this with a weaker range than normal. With 100bb stacks, MP does not have much to fear on the river as he is nearly pot committed.

How does this play differ with deeper stacks? In short, it makes turn raises much more powerful, even if both players know and understand the BW Theorem. Assume we take the above example- no longer can MP simply call the raise and assume that he will be pot committed with 100bbs. He now has a large river bet that he must possibly face.

In summary, one should consider more turn bluff raises when deep. The same can be said with bluff raising different flops in position- These plays will make your opponent very uncomfortable; knowing that he might be facing large turn and river bets out of position.

Check-Calling Can Be Fine- Players must be willing to mix up their play against better opponents. This often means taking similar lines (or plays) with different types of hands (bluffs, semi bluffs, and value hands). While we DID discuss some aggressive flop plays in the previous article, there are situations when check-calling may be the best play. When caught in passive situations, check calling the turn can be a fine play, especially when deep. This is primarily due to more implied odds and better river options.

Hand 2.0: 9 handed, 200bb- MP opens, BTN calls, we call with 9s Ts in the BB. The flop is 8s 2c 7h. We check, MP bets, BTN folds, and we call. The turn is the 3c and we check-call again.

Is this the optimal way to play the hand? Maybe not- perhaps it would be stronger if we took a more aggressive line. We may rarely take this line with 100bbs due to less implied odds and a lack of river options. What can we do differently with 200bbs?

  1. We can adequately bluff the river to a larger amount. With 100bbs, a river check-raise may not be the most threatening given the stack to pot ratio (SPR). In the hand above, we do not necessarily have to hit a J or a 6 in order to bluff- we can use any club as well (backdoor club draw). Open betting the river after check- calling multiple streets is a very scary play as well.
  2. Given the deeper stacks, our implied odds go up. We may stand to win more money if we both hit stronger hands on this board.

As long as we can adequately make up for the times that we miss the river by bluffing, check-calling can be acceptable when deep stacked. This hand was perhaps not the best example in terms of clarifying it, but the point stands- with bigger implied odds and more room to bluff on the river, check-calling can be a more standard play when deeper (though, other options still may be better yet).

As stated earlier, deep stacks allow for a different dynamic post-flop. What are some different plays?

Over Betting- With only 100bbs, a simple bet/bet/bet line will typically not get stacks in post flop (given standard 2/3rds-full pot sized bets- obviously depends). A bet/bet/bet line will be even farther from getting stacks in 200bbs deep. The simple answer to this problem is over betting. This is an extremely strong play to use when deep stacked, and very effective on the turn and river.

Hand 3.0: 6-max, 200bb deep. UTG opens 3.5xbb, BTN calls, we call from the BB with Jc Tc. Flop is 8s 7c 3h and we lead out for 8bbs (into 11.5bbs). UTG calls, BTN folds. Turn is the 4s and we over bet the pot (pot = 27.5) for 55bbs.

What does this do for us? For one, it threatens UTG’s stack much more than a standard bet sizing would have. UTG may be willing to call a pot sized bet and feel fine about it. But with us 2x potting the turn, he must now consider the river action- is he willing to call the turn AND river now for the rest of his stack?

Take a simple pot odds problem. If an opponent were to bet 50bbs in a 100bb pot on the river, we would need to call 50bbs in order to win a pot of 200bbs, or 4-1 (meaning we need to be good 25% of the time in order to justify the call). Contrast that with a pot sized bet (100bbs into 100bb pot) and we will need 33% (100bbs to win 300bbs). Going even further, imagine our opponents betting 150bb bet into a 100bb pot- We will need to call 150 to win 400bbs- or 37.5%. The larger the bet, the more often we need to be correct in order to justify our call.

Over betting is a nice play to use when both value betting and semi-bluffing on the turn. On the river, it is an excellent play to use either a) against poor players for value or b) against better players with a more balanced range (this is hard to do). Over betting allows players to set up stacks for the river, something that is difficult to do otherwise.

The turn is not the only place to over bet. Over bets are frequently used on the river as well, where there are no more cards to come and equity is static. Hand strength is absolute, and a player either has the best hand or he doesn’t. Larger river bet sizing will be briefly discussed in the next section.

One more different play that one can use is the river open jam, which will be discussed in the next section.

The River:

This section will be brief. There is not much advice to give for river play. The players in the pot SHOULD have some vague idea of what each other have, given the board texture and action. River concepts differ in many areas when comparing deep to non deep NLHE, and two examples are– Polarized betting ranges and caution when raising for value.

Polarized Betting Ranges: A ‘polarized bet’ is summarized as a bet with two poles- a bluff or the nuts. Polarized bets generally do not have a large medium range. A simple example:

Hand 4.0- We get to the river and the board is 4h 5h Th 2h 9s, putting 4 hearts on board. Our opponent over bet shoves the river, putting 200bbs into a 50bb pot. This is often an example of a polarized bet- his bet signifies either the Ah or a bluff. Rarely will one see this play with the Qh or even the Kh.

So this is something to keep in mind when facing large river bets or over bets. Understand that large river bets will rarely have a medium range (unless the players are both very good). In aggressive situations, the combinations of strong value hands are (typically) smaller than the overall range of bluffs that an opponent can have. Obviously this is not always the case- perhaps you are facing a nitty player who will only shove the nuts in particular spots, in which case you should fold.

With that stated, let us discuss an interesting play to use on the flip side when deeper- the River Lead (or Open Jam)-

River Leading- Leading the river in this instance is only in reference to having passive play on previous streets. Perhaps you bet the flop and check-called the turn. Or you check-called the flop AND turn. Regardless, this play is in reference to check-calling the turn and then open leading the river into your opponent.

Why is this a better play when deep and when should we use it?

Refer to Hand 2.0. Assume the river is the 5c. We have missed our draw but can represent the flush draw by open leading the river in this situation. Put yourself in your opponent’s shoes with an over pair – in what cases are your opponents ever doing this with a bluff? Most often, players will open donk or lead into the aggressor with only very strong hands. The check-call, check-call, open bet river (likely when draws hit) is a very strong play that players use with the nuts. The river open bet is a strong one to use with over betting as well.

A concept in Pot-Limit Omaha is to use ‘blockers’. This means that you hold a key card to the nuts and can thus use it in bluffing situations to represent such hand. For instance, say that you have Ac 6x on a 4c 5c 7d Kh Qc board. Though you have Ace high in this spot, you have the Ace of clubs- and you can represent the nut flush. Your opponent may have a very strong hand, but he can NEVER have the nuts due to you having the Ac. Imagine you check-calling the flop and turn and then open betting the river. This play should garner decent fold equity.

This concept is less used in NLHE but still viable. Using blockers in congruence with an over bet can be a profitable play in a river lead play. This is something that is amplified when deep stacked- at 100bbs, the SPR is smaller. Over bets allow for stronger bluff options.

Summarizing river thoughts- Understand that large bets are often polarized. Against more aggressive players, the range of value hands is often smaller than the total range of bluffs. River open leading is a unique play that is an option in deep stack NLHE.

Closing Thoughts- Deep stack NLHE is an incredibly fun form of poker. Players can be as creative as they wish when the stacks get very deep. Bluffing situations and hand ranges can often be very unique due to the large stack depth. Aggression is rewarded in most cases, and players can truly ask themselves how much heart they have when facing a 200bb bet on the river. :)