Explanation of Dirty Stack

In online poker, we always know exactly how many chips our opponent has left in his stack. It is represented as a precise number on our screen.

Unfortunately, no such luxury exists for live players, they are required to look at their opponent’s physical stack of chips and make an estimate regarding the size of the stack. 

In order to facilitate this, players are required to follow two main rules when stacking their chips.
1.    Stack denominations of chips together. 100’s should be together, 250’s should be together etc etc

2.    Larger denominations of chips should be at the front of the stack, clearly visible to all players at the table. 
Chips stacked together in denominations allow players to generate a quick estimate regarding the size of the stack. Big denominations placed at the front ensure that they are not concealed behind smaller denominations causing the stack size to be estimate inaccurately. 

Chip stacks that do not conform to either or both of the above two rules are referred to as dirty stacks.

How to Use Dirty Stack as Part of Your Poker Strategy

As a live player, we should always look to conform to the rules of building a stack. Stacking chips incorrectly is at best bad etiquette but at worst a form of angle-shooting. Players could potentially conceal their larger chips at the back of their stack, hoping that others will assume they are short stacked. 

On the flip side of the coin, we should not be afraid to ask for a chip count if we generally can’t see our opponent’s chips.
Keep in mind that our opponent is not obliged to give out a verbal chip count of his stack (he has the right to remain silent), but he must make sure his stack is properly visible at this stage – perhaps even physically moving parts of the stack to allow us to get a better count. 

If we are still struggling, perhaps as a result of a dirty stack, we can ask the dealer for help in getting a count.

Note that asking for a chip count usually takes time, so it should really only be done when relevant in the context of the game (or if we genuinely can’t enumerate our opponent’s dirty stack). Constantly asking for chip counts without reason is also considered a breach of etiquette. The majority of the chip counts on our opponent’s stacks we should be running ourselves in our head. (Estimates of chip stacks are usually fine for most decisions at the table, the specific counts are mainly for all-in scenarios). 

See Also 

Angle, Effective Stacks, Dealer, Short Stack

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