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Geoff Fisk

What is a Deep Stack Poker Tournament?


Each Sunday at the Lodge features a $15K Guaranteed Single Re-Entry Deep Stack Tournament. That weekly event is a favorite at the Round Rock, TX card club, thanks in part to a sizable guaranteed prize pool and a deep stack structure.

A deep stack poker tournament is a poker tournament in which the starting stack is significantly larger than you might see in many other tournaments. At the Lodge, for instance, the Sunday Deep Stack event starts players off with 35,000 chips, while most other Lodge events begin with 15,000-20,000 chips in the starting stack.

Let’s take a deep dive in deep-stack tournament poker:

How Does A Deep Stack Tournament Work?

Deep stack tournaments feature a larger starting stack than most other tournaments, both in terms of chips and number of big blinds.

On the Lodge tournament schedule, for example, most tournaments begin with the blinds at 100/100. Tournaments that begin with a 15,000 stack allow players to begin with 150 big blinds.

The Sunday Deep Stack, with 35,000 chips, allows players to begin with 350 big blinds.

A bigger starting stack means more playability in the early stages of the event. All poker tournaments eventually hit a point where many players get down to stacks of 10 big blinds or less, and have to start thinking about going all in preflop the next time they pick up any kind of good hand.

That point will arrive much later in a deep stack tournament when compared to other multi-table tournament (MTT) structures. With a deeper stack to begin with, you and everyone else in the field can rely on using their level of poker skill to a higher degree, especially in the early and middle stages of the tournament.

Deep stack events also often feature longer blind levels than other tournaments. Poker players that come from a cash game background will likely enjoy the deep stack tournament format.

For example, the $1/$3 cash games at the Lodge allow for a max buy-in of $1,000 (333 big blinds). The Sunday Deep Stack tournament at the Lodge features 35,000 starting chips and blind levels that begin at 100/100 (350 big blinds).

If you’re the kind of player that comes to the poker room to play cash games and buy in for the max, you’ll find yourself in familiar territory at the beginning of a deep stack event, at least when it comes to stack depth.

You’ll find deep stack poker tournaments on the schedule at the World Series of Poker, and in main events on poker tours like the WPT. Online poker sites like PokerStars also feature plenty of opportunities to find deep-stack events.

Comparing Deep Stack Tournaments To Other Poker Formats

As mentioned, the Lodge’s weekly tournament schedule features the Sunday $15,000 Single-Re-Entry Deep Stack event. Let’s take a look at how the structure for the Sunday Deep Stack differs from the other tournaments at the Lodge:

Sunday Single Re-Entry Deep Stack at the Lodge

  • Buy-In: $250
  • Starting Stack: 35,000 chips
  • Blind levels begin at 100/100/100
  • 30-minute levels (late entry allowed through the beginning of Level 9)
  • $15,000 guaranteed prize pool
  • One re-entry allowed

This No-Limit Hold’em tournament allocates 35,000 starting chips to each player. The blinds begin at 100/100, meaning you start the tournament with 350 big blinds.

The blinds increase every 30 minutes, and here’s a look at that structure (in the format of small blind/big blind/big blind ante):

  • Level 1: Blinds 100/100/100
  • Level 2: Blinds 100/200/200
  • Level 3: Blinds 200/300/300
  • Level 4: Blinds 200/400/400
  • Level 5: Blinds 300/600/600
  • Level 6: Blinds 400/800/800
  • Level 7: Blinds 500/1,000/1,000
  • Level 8: Blinds 600/1,200/1,200
  • Level 9: Blinds 1,000/1,500/1,500

You can pretty easily play the first two hours of this tournament with upwards of 100 big blinds, a stack depth that should be very familiar to cash games players. Your ability to select good starting hands preflop, and make smart, creative moves postflop, is magnified with a 350-big-blind starting stack.

By the end of late registration (the end of Level 9), you’ll still have more than 20 big blinds to work with if you maintain your 35,000 starting stack. You could even late register at the very last minute and begin the tournament with more than 20 big blinds.

Compare the details of the $15K Deep Stack with another popular tournament on the Lodge’s weekly slate, the $1K Guaranteed Tuesday/Thursday NLH:

$1K Guaranteed NLH at the Lodge

  • Buy-In: $80
  • Starting Stack: 25,000 chips
  • Blind levels begin at 100/100/100
  • 20-minute levels (late entry and unlimited re-entry allowed through the beginning of Level 7)
  • $1,000 guaranteed prize pool
  • Unlimited re-entry allowed

The bi-weekly $1K No-Limit Hold’em event at the Lodge gives each player 25,000 chips at the start. The blinds increase every 20 minutes.

Compare that to the 35,000 starting stack and 30-minute levels of the $15K Deep Stack. While the $1K NLH still allows plenty of time to maneuver, you can’t really sit around and wait for premium hands with the blinds moving up at something closer to a turbo pace at 20-minute intervals.

While this tournament moves along faster than the $15K Deep Stack, it uses the same blind structure:

  • Level 1: Blinds 100/100/100
  • Level 2: Blinds 100/200/200
  • Level 3: Blinds 200/300/300
  • Level 4: Blinds 200/400/400
  • Level 5: Blinds 300/600/600
  • Level 6: Blinds 400/800/800
  • Level 7: Blinds 500/1,000/1,000
  • Level 8: Blinds 600/1,200/1,200
  • Level 9: Blinds 1,000/1,500/1,500

Two hours into this tournament, you’re at the end of Level 6. If you maintain your 25,000 stack, you’ll begin Level 7 with 25 big blinds.

At 25BBs, you’re not quite in short stack territory yet, but that stage of the tournament is right around the corner if you don’t accumulate chips pretty soon. In a deep stack event you can be more selective with the poker hands you proceed with preflop in the early levels.

Deep Stack Poker Tournament Strategy

The biggest advantage to playing deep stack events is your ability to use your knowledge of poker strategy and your skill edge for longer than you can with other tournament structures.

Most poker tournaments inevitably hit a stage where the average stack is pretty shallow, and many players in the field are employing an all-in or fold strategy preflop. In those scenarios, you have to push your chips in when the time is right, and let the cards determine whether you win at showdown and survive to continue in the tournament.

In a deep stack tournament, that stage is going to arrive much later than it does in an event with shallower starting stacks and or faster levels. When you start a hand with a relatively deep stack, you can still make moves like check-raises, bluffs, and other creative plays.

When you begin a hand with a relatively short stack, you have much less room to make creative plays. Your hand strength and your position pretty much determine what the correct play is in a given hand.

Keep in mind, however, that the total duration of a deep stack tournament lasts much longer than other tournament formats. It takes longer to get to the final table, and once at the final table, it takes longer to get to heads-up play.

Deep stack tournaments also allow good players a much better chance to advance to the later stages, thanks to the ability to use skill edges for a much longer period than a standard or turbo tournament.

In the WSOP Main Event, for example, you’ll often see that the final 50 players include many elite tournament players. Even though the Main Event field begins with 7,000 or more players, the best players in the field frequently find their way to the deep stages, thanks to the opportunity to play deep stacked for much of the tournament.

For more on deep stack play in general, check out the following guide from Upswing Poker:

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