James “SplitSuit” Sweeney and Doug Hull are back this week, co-hosting an episode that answers all your questions about buying in and cashing out of cash games.
How much should we buy in for? When should we cash out? You’ll find this boils down to two main concepts: Your edge in the game, and your ability to play A game through long sessions.
These questions came up a few times from our members, and we strive to produce content around the topics our members are asking for. If you have a question, we welcome you to ask it here.
What to Buy in For at Live Poker?
One member asks: “What do you thing about starting live full ring sessions with 40 big blinds? I usually use 100 big blind stacks, but noticed I feel much better in terms of lower nerves when playing 40 big blinds. Is this strategy really useful, or am I giving up profit? And if I lose on one table and rebuy for 40 big blinds, is that OK?”
Hull and Sweeney answer this question by first focusing on the fact that in cash games, you can’t take money off the table, you can only add on chips up to the max buyin.
Hull says one viable consideration is that, especially in live cash, you don’t always know exactly what you’re getting into. He relates a story about sitting down at a $2/$5 game at Mohegan Sun, buying in full into a somewhat shorthanded game, and then realizing one of the players was tilted out of his gourd and shoving pre-flop for $1,000 each hand. This was a table he would have much rather started with a min-buy, because he’d rather gamble on the titled player’s dime.
Another thing Hull points out is that if you ever feel as if you’ve bought in too short, this is easy to remedy by adding on more chips. Removing chips is, as we pointed out, against the rules.
Short Stack Edges
Sweeney and Hull concur that if you play a short stack using a good strategy better than the other players play their stacks (regardless of size), you are always going to have an edge.
Sure, a good short stack strategy can be basic and boring to play sometimes because it is so mathematical and straightforward. But it does take skill and discipline to learn and execute this strategy, and is perhaps the fastest path to building an edge around being an expert in playing any given stack size.
One must always take into consideration one’s ability to play other stack sizes. If you’re better at playing 100BB and up, you’re leaving money on the table with a smaller stack size. And if you’re about as good with a small as with a large stack, you want the larger stack because it gives you the opportunity to make you more. But especially for starting players, short stacks can be a great way to get a mathematical edge as you get your feet wet with strategy.
Want a Specific Short Stack Strategy? Listen to our Short-Stacked Poker podcast.
Sweeney reminds listeners that getting good at playing stacks of varying depths is important. After all, if you short stack, your goal is to double up into a larger stack, and you won’t be taking money off the table after you’ve done so.
He also points out that while short stacks can be edge-producing, the “stem the bleeding” approach of buying in for $100 three times versus buying in once for $300 has no intrinsic value outside of being better playing the short stack vs. the big.
Ultimately, you want to be good at 100BB and 200BB because that’s where you make the big bucks. A short-stacked strategy is a fantastic onramp.
When to Cash Out?
“I wanted to ask you a question that I have every time I play cash games: When am I supposed to leave? Should I play a fixed number of hands? Should I play until I double up?”
Hull says “It really doesn’t matter when you leave. Life is one long poker game.”
That said, there are good and bad reasons for leaving a poker game. Standing up the second you double-up with no rationale for walking away is not so great, whereas if you’re uncomfortable with deeper stacks, you might have a strategic reason to stop.
Another good reason would be if you feel fatigue creeping in. Oftentimes, players will say, “Just a few more orbits”, when really they should have left 20 minutes ago. Just how many stacks were lost during these “just a few more orbits” we’ll never know, but we bet the number is higher than usual.
Use the fact that you can stand up whenever you want to your advantage. Be very aware of your mental game state, and understand that every grade below A game shaves some edge off your game. Be very careful when setting goals around the number of hands or hours you’re going to play, as it can easily lead to suboptimal play.
Table edge and table selection is super-important, you need to also consider your edge in any given game, versus any given player. Don’t hang around a game you feel your edge shrinking in.
Once you develop into a well-rounded strategic player, you will quit most often because you’re tired. But even the best players know to stand up and walk away from super-tough games.
Comfort at the Table
It all comes down to how comfortable you are at the table given the variety of variables we’ve discussed: Your edge playing any given stack size, your mental game and fatigue level, and the edge you have relative to the whole table and the individual players.
Hull relates a story about sitting to the left of a player who was playing incredibly poorly: a dream scenario for any poker grinder. This player doubled-up, getting really lucky, and Hull was rooting for him (“I always root for the bad player when I’m not in the hand”, he says). But just as soon as Hull was ready to mix it up, he started feeling fatigue. And as the disciplined player he is, he quit the session before making a mistake.
Sweeney says he often hears of people quitting in this spot because they don’t like the game dynamic changing from something passive and comfortable, to something splashy and more high-variance. Sweeney encourages players to work off the table to become more comfortable in these scenarios because your edge is likely to be very high here. Will it be a little boring having to tighten up to exploit this maniac play? Yes, but your edge is solid.
Hull says a benchmark in any player’s poker career development is how they view splashy maniac players. The less experienced, beginner-level player will hate this dynamic being introduced in their game, because it disrupts their passive lines and more laid-back play style. But there’s a point during every player’s development where they start to look at these maniac players as doubling or tripling their edge. They might even, as Hull says, tell the floor to call them any time that player shows up!