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19/05/2006 No.48
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday May 19, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

Last week's advice on tournament stack size has a simple yet vital corollary. What was the advice? In brief: that with only five big blinds left in your stack, you might as well go all-in as soon as you have a chance to be the first person voluntarily entering the pot. With 10 big blinds you can wait longer for a hand, but you still might as well go all-in because you can't really afford to raise and pass. With 20 big blinds you can be much choosier about hands and bet sizes, but you must still play aggressively, because hopeful calling-and-folding will drain you into one of the weaker states. With 30 big blinds or more, you are in comfortable shape with plenty of options.


And what is the corollary? That the same applies to everybody else. This is why you must also keep a close eye on your opponents' stack sizes, because their chip position will affect the way they play and alter the strength of the hands you can wield against them.

Here's a simple example: let's say you have A9 or A10. Your chips are in the healthy bracket, and somebody has raised before you.

If the raiser has 20 big blinds or more, your hand plays weakly. There will be further decisions to make after the flop, and you might hit the flop but still be losing. So you can throw this hand away - or, playing aggressively against a loose opponent, make a raise, which is essentially a bluff to end the action then and there.

But what if the raiser has gone all-in for only five big blinds? Suddenly, A10 is quite a strong hand - because this short-stacked opponent is forced to make a move with almost anything. It isn't illegal for him to have AQ, but it isn't likely either; and the hand won't cost you too much either way.

If the raiser has moved all in for 10 big blinds, you can ascribe him better cards, but he may well be overplaying something middling; you should make a decision based on his history at the table.

Of course, if you choose to confront one of these short-stacked all-in merchants with your reasonable ace, you must reraise. You certainly don't want some canny sod behind you to spot a marginal call and raise you out. So you raise, commanding other players to leave you alone with the desperado. Ideally, the reraise will be given back to you, and you'll take a cheap shot at knocking out an impoverished opponent.