Buy-In Strategies for No Limit Hold'em

By: Cathy "LadyHoldem" Roberts and Nikki Kopp

A good poker strategy actually happens well before you find yourself staring down a leather-ass grinder from across the poker table trying to figure out if he really has your kings dominated with a wired pair of bullets; the strategizing actually starts the moment you decide on a blind level.

How Many Poker Chips Should You Buy?

Let's say for instance you're going to sit down at a $1/$2 No Limit Texas Hold'em ring game. The minimum buy in depends on the specific casino, and is generally less when you're playing poker online than when you're playing at a brick and mortar type poker room.

PokerStars Requires 10 Times the Small Blind to Buy Into a Limit Game

At PokerStars the minimum buy in at a fixed limit table is ten times the big blind. So if you're playing a $3/$6 fixed limit game the minimum amount of chips you'll need to sit down is $30 (in Fixed Limit, the big blind is the size of the small bet, so in this case $3).

Before we go any farther, sitting down at a $3/$6 game with $30 will generally do one thing for you, it'll get you familiar with the chip buying process. When you sit down at a limit table with the minimum buy in, you look like a fish, you have no cred (table credibility), and for the most part you get called down to the river by half the poker table every hand. More often than not that leads to suck outs and losing buy-ins.

In this article however, we're going to focus on No Limit Poker buy-in amounts. So if you choose to play a $1/$2 cash game at PokerStars you're going to need at least 20 times the big blind according to their 'house rules'.

That's actually a pretty standard minimum buy-in. And if you're short-stacking, it works. Perhaps you've staked out a pretty juicy table, the players are crazy passive, they raise into each other pretty deep, they get callers, but re-raises (in our dream world here) get folded to. The average chip stack at this table is between $300 and $450.

Playing the Aggressive Role with a Short Stack

A more aggressive and/or under funded player might play a short stack here, as their base strategy is making big moves to build a strong stack. So you sit down with $100, the blinds are $1 and $2, making the standard raise here $6, which is not going to scare the opposition off of a hand.

Instead you're going to raise it up a bit, and if you do get called the pot will be worth fighting for. Six bucks is the standard, so bet around $10-$16 preflop. You'll have to adjust this for the table standard of course.

If the preflop bet is already regularly $12, that's obviously not going to make a big difference in the number of callers you get. Ultimately you want one caller; two at most, you don't want 4-5 people in the hand with you to catch a couple pair or a great draw on the flop.

Buy-In Strategies ImageYou might not get any action the first few times, which is good as you're picking up blinds and small bets without risking your stack, and you're building a reputation as an aggressive over-better. Soon enough though the other players will tire of your preflop over-betting habits, and buy into your preflop bet.

That's of course why you're playing only strong hands. You're not limping here and you're not seeing a lot of flops. This isn't small ball which we'll discuss later. We're not pushing with nine ten suited until after we've built our stack.

Whenever you've got odds to bet, you're betting big. Another thing to note here is that unless you've got live monster hands, you're playing in position, taking advantage of late position, and laying down almost every single early position hand.

When the flop comes, you shove. Pure and simple, unless you absolutely know you're beat, you shove. Hint: If you've bet $18 preflop (1/5th of your stack) with KQ suited, and an ace flops onto a rainbow colored board, do not shove. You're beat.

In my own personal experience here, I always pray to God everyone folds, though I'm usually quite pleased when someone calls. Every now and then you will get beat, sucked out on etc. This is poker - that happens, and if you weren't expecting it you better get used to it quick.

You should utilize this cut throat short-stack strategy until you're no longer playing with a short stack.

Once you have built up a stack that's more comfortable, generally dominant to the other stacks at the table, it's time to put on the brakes, slow down a bit, realize that you probably have a huge target on your chip-stack, so play a bit more cautiously. Now we'll discuss how to play once you have the big stack.

Playing the Big Stack

When you're playing with a larger chip stack you can see more flops, play a larger range of hands, and perhaps if you're a more advanced poker player dip into a small ball strategy whereas you might see a flop with cards as low as 67 suited, relying more on your personal feel for the other players to make tough decisions such as when to raise them off their monsters after a bad flop, and when to fold because you were dominated by a monster wired pair all along. Learn more about playing suited connectors.

There are also reasons for starting out with a solid chip stack in the first place; for one thing, it's less likely that you'll lose your entire stack in one hand when you buy in solidly at say 50 times the big blind.

If you're stacked deep, it's also less likely that other players will pick you out as the player to poke at and steal blinds from. After all, everyone at the table needs to pick up at least one set of blinds per round just to stay even, and if they're not getting cards the best way to do this is by picking on the short-stack.

Beware however that if you buy too many chips, you can still be prematurely labeled as a fish. This could be a good thing if you're a strong player, not so good if you're weak.

Another advantage to having a large stack is taking advantage of the short stacks, especially if they're not paying close attention to table position. These guys are betting big and playing fast poker as we explained above. Maybe they've read this article, but... so did you.

So you lay in wait, you call with some trapping hands, and you catch them. They shove all in just after your 78 suited makes a double draw on the flop and you hit an eight on the flop, giving you top pair with your draw. The short stack shoves and you've got chips to play with, so you eat him up like the fish that he is.

Additionally, as the player with the biggest chip stack, you have the ability to push the table around a bit, helping you to pick up that extra pot every round, which will keep your stack even in the very least.

Before you start making any big moves you should still sit back and watch the table and try to get a feel for how the players are playing. Is it an aggressive table? Or a table full of fish? You'll have already done some of this homework if you studied lobbies before you sat down of course. Waiting and evaluating can benefit you greatly!

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