In my last article, I covered how to play a big stack at the beginning of a tournament. As the tournament goes on, whether you gain chips or lose chips or your chip stack stays the same, the blinds will rise to a point where your stack falls below the 100 big blind threshold.
50-100 Big Blinds
When your stack is between 40 and 100 big blinds, there are no real special considerations. You basically get to play poker. You have enough chips that you can speculate with small pairs, but are short enough that you can somewhat protect your premium hand preflop. Stealing the blinds begins to have some meaning, especially if antes start going in. People also start to tighten up, so you can lower your opening raise to two and a half times the big blind instead of three or four times and see a better return on your blind steals.
31-50 Big Blinds
This level is an exceptionally difficult and dangerous level to play at. Once you get under 30 blinds it actually gets easier, because you are seriously proscribed from a lot of hands and styles simply by how short you are. With 31 to 50 big blinds, you are not truly short enough to have your choices curtailed, but your margin for error is razor-thin, and the punishment for failure is being knocked out of the tournament.
While you shouldn't truly change your style until the 30 blind level, you must realize how easy it can be to go broke here. Say the small blind is 100 and the big blind is 200 and you have 8000 in chips, for 40 big blinds. It would seem you're in fine shape. But follow some standard action:
There's a late position 3x raise (600) which you call with a Ten and a Jack of spades, a good speculative hand. The big blind calls which means there is now 1900 in the pot and your stack is 7400. The flop comes Jack high giving you top pair and a poor kicker. The original raiser bets 1200, a standard bet of about 2/3 of the pot. You'd like to raise with top pair and force out any overcards -- but if you do, can you really fold to a reraise? A decent raise would be to 3,000 or so which would leave your stack at 4,400 if you have to fold. Additionally, the pot odds you'd be getting offered on a reraise (your last 4,400 into most likely a 11,900 pot) would be very nearly 3-1 making it difficult to fold.
With a bigger stack a fold is easy if reraised, and with a smaller stack the first raise puts you all in or close enough to it to not matter. Both much easier decisions.
So what do you do with a mediocre hand when faced with this kind of action? Do you play the hand passively and just call? You may be faced with the same hard decision on the turn. Do you fold? You may be throwing away the winner in a pot that would seriously help your stack. Do you raise a regular amount? You face the tough decision I outlined above. Do you push all in? You're probably risking too many chips for the amount you could win.
The best answer is to be aware of these possibilities before playing the hand at all. Have a plan. Know what you'll do and against who. Does the original raiser always make a flop bet but then shuts down on the turn if he's behind? Then call with a lot of holdings and see what transpires on the turn. Is the original raiser a common bluffer but won't put all his chips in without a big hand? Then raise your mediocre hands and fold if he goes all in. Is the original raiser tight and aggressive but unlikely to pay you off if you hit? Fold the hand preflop and wait for a better spot.
With 31-50 big blinds you want to continue to play tight and aggressively, but understand how close you are to being all in once the flops comes.