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Asymmetrical stacks: How open ranges change with short stacks behind us

Asymmetrical stacks: How open ranges change with short stacks behind us

When playing live tournaments, we train ourselves to keep a close eye on every stack size at the table. After all, it can be devastating to make a play only to find out our opponent is much deeper or shallower than we thought.

Monitoring stack sizes and adjusting our play accordingly is also crucial online, of course, and it can be easier as we’re able to display stack sizes in both chips and big blinds. But it becomes more challenging to keep track of everything when playing multiple tables at once.

One thing’s for sure, though: it’s very rare for everyone at the table to have identical stack sizes.

“Other than at the start of a tournament, when do you have all equal stacks on the same table? It just doesn’t happen very often,” says BBZ coach Jon ‘apestyles’ Van Fleet in a recent BBZ Daily Seminar.

That’s why apestyles ran a seminar focusing on playing asymmetrical stack sizes.

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One of the many questions asked in the session is:

How should our opening ranges differ when the big blind has 8 big blinds or 16 big blinds?

He invited one of the best online tournament players in the world–’Millenial’– to join him.

“There are a lot of tiny little things that are very easy to implement,” says Millenial. “The dynamics and heuristics are, for the most part, very simple, but they generate a substantial amount of EV gain as people just don’t know them and don’t study them.”


Before Millenial shows his presentation, apestyles makes a few predictions:

  • “We can’t raise fold much if the big blind is super shallow, so I guess we have to be tighter on average the shorter they are.”
  • “If the big blind is shorter, we want to have a bigger raise size.”
  • “High cards are going to be more valuable.”

Let’s see if he’s right.

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How does the range we play differ when there’s a short stack or re-shove stack behind us?

In these examples, Millennial focuses on the stack of the big blind. He ran three identical sims, the only difference being how short-stacked the big blind is (8 bigs, 12 bigs, 16 bigs).

“A lot of the time people know their ranges and they just raise without looking,” he says. “But if there’s a short stack behind–and it doesn’t have to be the big blind–it’s very important that we adjust our open ranges to include more blockers.”

First, this is what a middle position (MP) raise-first-in (RFI) range looks like at 30 big blinds effective:

And here’s what it looks like when the big blind has 16 big blinds:

Pretty similar, right?

But now let’s look at the MP RFI range when the big blind has just 8 big blinds:

A8-off is now a 100% open, showing the importance of the ace blocker. Also, notice how we’ve lost some of the 8x from the range, but we’ve gained some offsuit hands with higher cards.

“The frequency of our opening doesn’t change a lot, but as you can see, the composition of our range changes,” says Millenial.

This is just one of the many examples Millenial shows throughout the session.

And how often should the big blind shove off 8 bigs facing an MP open?

Just 11% of the time. Below you can see the big blinds 3-bet range.

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It can be tempting to open those lower suited connectors, but you definitely should reconsider when there’s a re-shove stack behind you.

“I’ve noticed that this is a mistake that’s persistent for me,” says apestyles. “I overvalue 67-suited and 56-suited RFI too much. We’ve always been taught that those hands play better than K6-suited, but they don’t. High cards are key.”

It’s also the type of scenario where we know we want to increase our raise sizing to prevent the big blind from defending any two cards.

Things get really interesting when we look at how our 3-bet ranges and 3-bet sizings change when there’s a short stack behind us. That’s something we’ll cover in a future article.

To check out the full 74-minute seminar, sign up to BBZ’s Daily Seminars today.

You can immediately add 9 hours of dedicated study to your weekly poker schedule, along with complete access to 600+ hours of Seminar video content.

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