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12/05/2006 No.47
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday May 12, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

In order to win a poker tournament, you must feel a greed for every chip in the game. You want them all, by any means necessary. Except actually cheating. In that sense, it doesn't really matter how many chips you have at any point while fellow players remain in contention: however many you've got, it isn't enough. Nevertheless, you should not play in blind disregard of your chip stack's relative size.

Last week we discussed staying aware (and ahead) of the average number of chips per remaining player. You also need a sense of your chips relative to the increasing blinds. So: how many big blinds should your stack contain, for decent tournament health? The short answer is that you want enough chips to give yourself plenty of options. Poker is all about decisions, and you need the freedom to make them. Let's say that your stack equals the sum of one big blind. This gives you only two choices: call before the big blind gets around to you, or be forced all-in when it does. In that situation, you are not playing poker. You're tossing a coin.

Now let's say that you have five big blinds. You don't have enough chips to call and then pass - you can't afford the loss - but this does give you a further option of the all-in raise. You would be advised to make this move the first time you find half a hand, or even just the opportunity to be the first player voluntarily joining the pot. But for the chance to eliminate a player this cheaply, at least one opponent is likely to call. So you're still gambling.

With 10 big blinds, another option joins the party; the all-in reraise. In this spot (and certainly if you can make an ordinary raise all-in), you might force opponents to pass. Now you are starting to play poker. But you can't really afford to make an ordinary raise and then pass for a reraise, so your options are still limited.

If you have 20 big blinds, you can put in (or even call) a standard raise and still be in a position to make decisions after the flop. This flexibility means that you are reasonably healthy. But with more than 30 or 40 big blinds, pretty much every option is available to you; this is the state you should be aiming for.

Incidentally, if you ever find yourself in a tournament situation where everybody has 10 big blinds or fewer, you are in what they call a "crap shoot", and you should not play this tournament again.