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When Min is Correct

Sooted recently wrote about his return to NL cash games. His current strategy is to buy in for the minimum to limit his exposure. Of course, many players are of the mind that you should always buy in for the max. One of the most vocal is SirFWalGman. According to a Waffle comment at Sooted's site, "Poker is all about maximizing your profit on the edges you have not minimizing your risk." Therein lies the issue, and actually the solution to the question of when is it correct to buy in for the minimum. I agree with Waffle generally, but I think that those people who are max-buy in fans should also be able to see why a player might be correct in buying in for the minimum.

Now, this is nothing new, I assure you, but I'd like to discuss it anyway.

An inexperienced player or a player who is unsure of his post-flop skills would actually be assisted by buying in short. Essentially, this will minimize the amount of options for the unskilled player, and in doing so, will eliminate some of the opportunities to make mistakes.

On the flipside, the confident, skilled player wants to have the max buy-in, since he wants to have all of his weapons ready, including the threatening all-in, the continuation bet (and second continuation bet on the turn), and manipulating pot odds.

Let's take a look at 2 scenarios in which stack sizes control play.

In Scenario 1, Joe Poker buys in for $10 at a .50/1 NL game. He has 10x the BB. In his first hand, he is dealt AA under the gun (i.e., in the first seat to the left of the big blind. He raises to $3 to induce some callers. The button calls, but all of the other players fold. The pot is $7.50 (his $3, button's $3, SB's $.50, BB's $1). The flop comes down 8s9hTs (two spades). Joe Poker decides to push. His hand is done, no matter what happens. If he is called or folded to, he has no more decisions to make.

Scenario 1 might go another way. We'll call this Scenario 1A. On the same flop, Joe might decide to check. If his competition bets $3, Joe is pot committed and has to essentially push anyway. If his opponent bets Joe all-in, with AA, Joe will be hard pressed to fold. In most cases, he is getting all in before the turn. That's the bottom line.

Scenario 2, Joe Poker buys in for $100 at .50/1 NL. He had 100x the BB. In his first hand, he is dealt AA under the gun. He raises to $4, because he has more money and he wants to build the pot. The button calls, but everyone else folds. The pot is now $9.50. The flop comes down 8s9hTs. Joe likes the flop and bets $10 to try to win the hand right away. The button, though, pauses for a minute before raising to $50. Joe is in a tough spot. He's not experienced, but he has Aces. Maybe he folds. In that case, he may've been folding the best hand. But let's say he calls. Now the turn is a Queen. Joe is scared of the straight and checks. The button senses weakness and pushes all-in. Now Joe has to fold.

See the difference? You might play Scenario 2 differently, but that's because you are confident in your abililties. Maybe you decide to re-raise all-in on the flop, and push out any draws. Maybe you don't like AA when faced with all of those draws and a raise, and you fold right there and are correct to do so. But you aren't Joe, and Joe isn't you. He sucks. So, if he wants to play at these stakes, Scenario 1 is preferable. When he wins the hand, he'll feel great. If he loses, he'll rebuy. He only lost $10, after all.

And that's all there is to it. Buying in for the minimum is a smart move when you are outclassed by your competition, or when you are uncertain of your abilities. Just writing about it makes me want to buy in for the minimum at a 5/10 table to see what I can do!


posted by Jordan @ 12:25 PM,


At 1:04 PM, Blogger FloppyJT said...

I know where my skills lie, or don't, and will definitely be buying in short when I start splashing around in the NL pool. It is a great starting point for a beginner. I don't think anyone will argue that it is the optimal way to play but it is hard to argue that it isn't a profitable way to play either, assuming tight aggressive play.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger Raveen said...

the problem i have with this strategy is promotes people to play bad. First off i understand if you want to take shots at higher levels which is fine...but if u consistently play a higher level shortstacked you will never learn how to play at that level....let alone get better at poker. But i do understand that in some circumstances it will work but its is a short term theory and will not work out well for the benefit of the player in the long run. Also what happens when he gets used to playing like that later on when he sits with a full stack in a pot of say 200 when he has 1000 behind...and he pushes all in and is called instantly by a set cause the player has no clue how to play a real stack. I would say get that idea out of ur head and learn to play poker for the long run not short run.

At 1:32 PM, Blogger jjok said...

I can see a point in short-buying, but typically I don't like to do it, for the same reason Waffles points out.

There are times when short-buying is probably the smart choice. I see alot of times where a 6-max $100NL has 4 or 5 players that have less than $50, and the avg pot is over $15. I want into this table badly.....but what reason would I have to plunk down $100? It would be like putting a target on my back. Buy in for 60 or 75 and proceed to kick some ass.

If you are going to shortbuy, make it something like 75 or 80 bucks. That way, you aren't risking as much, but you can still make a solid coin when you get the cards.

Playing scared is weak.....Move down until comfortable.

You can never go wrong in buying for the max. Yes, you are risking alot more, but the rewards are alot more too.

The difference between getting to $200 when buying in at 50 and buying in at 100 is an extra double up. Easier said than done.

At 1:37 PM, Blogger MrGoss said...

Very clean comparison. That's the whole arguement in a nut shell. Nice write up man.


At 1:51 PM, Blogger HighOnPoker said...

Just for the record, by no means am I encouraging anyone to buy in for the minimum. However, I do think that it is a reasonable strategy.

The hardest part about discussing poker is that every player has different styles of play and in their analysis of the game.

At the table, I like to think of myself as adaptable, but overall, I'm a showboater.

When analyzing the game, I consider myself a devil's advocate, always willing to question the usual way of thinking and always willing to analyze things in different lights.

So, my point is, you may not agree with ever buying in for the minimimum. It may not mesh with your style or your poker philosophy. But it is something worth thinking about, and it is actually not as bad as some people make out. It just has to be used in the right situation.

Case in point. You are at a casino. and there is a slew of ridiculous donators at a table that is generally above your bankroll. You might miss an opportunity by NOT buying in for the minimum (assuming you can't afford more).

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Keep them coming.

At 1:52 PM, Blogger HighOnPoker said...

Also, I advocate new players at casinos to buy in short at the 1/2 NL game, until they get used to the game. Their natural fear can only hurt them, so buying in short in that situation is helpful to let them get their feet wet.

At 3:08 PM, Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Jordan I think you hit the main point right on the head, in your post and in your comments here. Buying in for the max is really the only smart way to play the game on a long-term basis. If you can't handle the swings by buying in for the full amount, then you should move down in limits until you can handle it.
Buying in for less than the max, although not advisable from a general poker perspective, might be a fine alternative for someone who is either (1) not confident in his or her abilities, or (2) new to the game, new to those limits, new to the casino, etc. But I don't think this changes the fact that buying in for less than the max is a scared strategy that almost by definition goes against the general idea of sitting down at a cash nlh table in the first place. It's just something that might be done by a player who is concerned and desirous of limiting his or her losses.

At 4:31 PM, Blogger Bloody P said...

I think Hammer's got it. Since I play teeny-tiny poker, I almost always buy in for the max because I know (in a general sense) what my competition is going to be. With a larger stack you can put a TON of pressure on the shorties and come out ahead.

The one time I bought in at a table that was well above my comfort level, I did a min-buy. The sharks smelled the blood and put the pressure on ME until I busted.

Although I have moved up in levels, I won't be back to that high of a level anytime soon.

At 5:13 PM, Blogger MrGoss said...

As and anti-strategy I will sometimes buy-in for minimum to TRY and induce the shark attacks. This is purely a strategic move and works well at mid and upper level games. Also, I vary my buy-ins when online to include some change. This keeps the table from knowing if you are on your "last leg' or just passing through.

One more angle to throw out there.


+ 12.00 on Poland loss. Thx J.

At 5:26 PM, Blogger HighOnPoker said...

Nice, Mr. G!

Here's the thing. When I see someone buy in for the minimum, I attack them hard too. I think Mr. G makes a good argument that you can buy in short for an advantage.

However, OVERALL, buy in for the max.

At 1:18 AM, Blogger Alan said...

A small buy-in (and being willing to rebuy) can be an advantage at a very loose aggressive table. I have seen tables where it seems that someone goes all-in every hand. It is incredibly difficult to win at these table even with good hands. If several people are always chasing draws then there is a good chance someone is going to hit planning for the loose implied odds to pay them off. Even AA often do well when five players are willing to call 10-20% of the buyin preflop.

A short stack offers worse implied odds. A short stack can't chase long shots for implied odds. Similarly a long stack can't chase for implied odds against a short stack. If you play with a short stack at a table like this and only play premium cards and your opponents don't adapt then you can get an edge. You may lose a few buy-ins, but when you finally win it will be several of these buyins from several players. Basically you are reducing your variance with a small stack.

I don't see tables like this very often.

At 3:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Playing live in Vegas we hammer small stacks from the minute they sit at the table.

Now usually there are at least three people at the table with doubled stacks and as soon as a player sits down with the minimum it becomes almost a contest to see who can first isolate them and take their small stack as quickly as possible.

I think its a horrible move to short stack 100% of the time.

At 8:49 AM, Blogger MrGoss said...

I agree with you Miami. Along with creating a "weak" image when I purposefully sit down short stacked, it makes me change my game up. This in turn allows me to work on my "short game."

It's been stated many times that in poker stasis = death. I'm just trying to live man. You guys are great with the comments.



At 11:35 AM, Anonymous Matty Ebs said...

I'm a huge fan of the larger stack in general, I abuse implied odds and I love splashing around which is impossible with a large stack but sometimes in cash games I make my first nuyin short so I can play as stupid as I want with miniml risk and create an ideal table image for the rest of the session, this works especially well if u double up chasing a gutshot and then have a stack to play ur normal game, people always remember how u build ur stack and if u buy in for 300 at a 1-2 nl people play u as a player, if u buy in for 60 and build it to 220, u would not believe the loose action, I love to shift gears and pushing allin over a raiser with 47 os and showing it is a much less risky play with a 50 stack then a 300 stack and later action pays dividends. So Never say never, especially in the card rooms where u frequent often enough, then one night of stories can last for weeks.

At 11:37 AM, Blogger Own the Flop said...

it's nice to see everyone agree that it's never a good idea to buy in for less than the maximum. there's really nothing I can add that hasn't already been said.

At 6:59 AM, Blogger DP said...

Tournament players with less experience in cash games are well served by buying in short, and playing very tight aggressive.


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