Explanation of Effective Stacks

Due to the “table stakes” ruling, it is now impossible to force a player to wager more than the amount of chips they have brought to the table. The maximum amount that can be wagered in any given hand is referred to as the effective stacks.

Imagine the following two players playing hand of poker heads-up.

Player A: Stack 150bb
Player B: Stack 85bb

Although player A has 150bb in his stack, player B can only wager 85bb since that’s all he has left. The additional 65bb that player A has hence makes no difference to the action since he can never wager them. We can express this by saying the stack sizes are at “85bb effective”.

Things get slightly more complex when there are several players involved in a hand. Imagine the following.

Player A: Stack 150bb
Player B: Stack 85bb
Player C: Stack 50bb

There is clearly more than one effective stack occurring within the same hand. Player A can only ever wager 50bb against player C, but he can wager up to 85bb against player B. In situations where all three players are all-in, a side-pot will be generated. Each of the three players will compete for a main pot of 150bb (50bb * 3) while player A and B will compete for a side pot of 70bb (35bb * 2).

Example of Effective Stacks used in a sentence -> Most online cash games play with an effective stack of 100bb, although there are short stackers around from time to time.

How to Use Effective Stacks as Part of Your Poker Strategy

In all variants of poker, the effective stacks have a big influence on postflop strategy. The basic guidelines are as follows.

Shallow (small) effective stacks. This usually refers to stacks which are noticeably below 100bb. The shallower the stacks get, the wider the range of hands that can be profitably stacked off postflop.

Deep (large) effective stacks. This usually refers to stacks which are noticeably above 100bb. The deeper the effective stacks, the stronger a holding needs to be in order to profitably commit the stacks postflop.

100bb is considered the standard buyin amount for the majority of cash games, although some games, especially live, allow the players to buy in deeper (200bb or more). Playing well with shallow effective stacks is especially important for tournament players. Although they often start out with 100bb, the number of chips quickly diminishes as the blind levels increase.

See Also 

Postflop, Table Stakes, Side Pot

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