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On Poker: How’s that stack? Here’s your plan of attack.

December 23, 2017 GMT

There are few things more satisfying in poker than being the “chip leader” in any stage of a tournament, but the title usually is little more than window dressing.

The stack makes for a good photo op and gives you the benefit of being able to knock anybody else out of the action if you move all-in and someone calls, or vice versa. It also may allow you to lean on some of the smaller stacks if you are nearing the money bubble or a final table scenario.

But you never should gauge your tournament health by the size of the largest stack or even the chip average, which is a fluctuating number that acts more as a measure of the size of the remaining field. Your focus should be solely on the amount of big blinds in your stack.

“The best way to gauge how you are playing in a tournament is based upon where you stand in relation to the blinds,” poker pro Andy Bloch, who has more than $5 million in tournament winnings, said. “If I know that I’m adding my stack in proportion to the blinds, I know I’ve played a good tournament regardless of whether or not I take a bad beat and don’t make the money.”

Here are some measures for the various stages of tournament chip health:

200 or more: Congratulations -- you either entered a deep-stack tournament or have jumped out to such a monster start that you really don’t have to do much of anything for the next three or four levels of the action. Continue to be aggressive and looking to build chips, but there is absolutely no need to be forced into any big decisions.

100: The standard rate of starting chips in your average tournament structure. With 100 big blinds, you can continue to play on your own terms. At this level of comfort, you should treat the tournament as if you were playing a cash game, in regard to hand standards, aggression and so forth.

50: This is the spot where the structure of your tournament plays a deciding factor. In a higher-buy-in event, the blinds increase slowly enough that you may still be in reasonable table shape. However, in a $50 shotgun tournament that doubles the blind values every 20 minutes, it forces a more aggressive brand of poker.

30: You are at the final point in the tournament where you still have a full arsenal of options. With 30 blinds, you still can make bets and raises without risking it all -- you even can run a well-executed bluff. And if you do move all-in, it’s a difficult bet for anybody at the table to call without actually having it.

15: It’s possible to get so deep into a tournament that 15 can still be the big stack with nosebleed blinds, but the more likely situation is that you got cut in a previous hand or are getting consumed by the price to play. You still can hold off for a good spot, but recognize that the next hand you play could be your last.

8: They used to say that whenever your chip stack fell to 10 blinds or lower, your only move was to push it all-in. That number has evolved more into eight, because the numbers geeks found that the extra hands provide a greater long-term chance at a second tournament life. After all, there is little difference between doubling up to 20 or 16 big blinds. Ideally, I am waiting for two players to enter the hand, and I am pushing a hand like J-10.