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Playing big Online Poker Tournaments and the Average Stack Involved

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Tournament poker and especially online tournament poker is very big business these days. Big online events start all the time at various buy-in levels and so offer great variety for the budding tournament player.

There is a large luck element that governs who wins any poker tournament but if you can learn to play them well and then get your fair share of luck then big rewards can come your way.

In this article we are going to look at the “average stack” in online tournament poker and how that affects your overall tournament strategy. The average stack is simply the sum total of all of the chips in circulation divided by the number of participants.

So if there are 100 players left in an online poker tournament and 1 million in chips in circulation then the average stack is 10,000. Much has been written about average stack sizes and the “tournament curve” and much of it is misleading.

The average starting stack in an online poker tournament may be something like 100bb. This is not much when you consider how quickly the blinds escalate. However the real skill to playing MTT’s in online poker is in how you time your moves and watching your opponents.

As the blinds increase and the number of players decrease the average stack increases. Many novice online tournament players simply base their play too strongly around the average stack size and that is a mistake.

This can lead to players seeing that they have say 3000 in chips when the average stack is say 5000 and then making crazy moves in a desperate fashion as if their stack was a short one. This is a mistake as a below average stack is not a short stack. If I had to put a figure on what actually constituted a short stack then I would put that figure at around 15bb.

So having 3000 in chips when the blinds are 50-100 and with an average stack of 5000 is not a short stack situation as you have 30bb!

Although cash games and online poker tournaments are vastly different in many ways, they also have strong similarities as well. For example if you were to buy into a cash game as a minimum stack player for 20bb then that would be a short stack. Players with those amounts would be looking to raise and re-raise pre-flop or no later than the flop and get their stack in the middle hopefully as a favourite.

However when that stack increases to 30-35bb then the dynamic changes!

Suddenly getting all in pre-flop is a mistake as you are laying your opponent too great a price and the amount that you risk is too great compared to the amount that you stand to gain. This is when many minimum stack players leave the table because they understand that they are now playing too deep to be able to play the same tactics.

So this is why in online poker tournaments you should not consider your stack to be short until you have at most 20bb. In fact even that amount is a good working stack in online tournament poker because most of your opponents will not have deep stacks either.

Carl Sampson is a professional poker player who plays online at 888poker.

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