Heads up SNG Strategy

Effective Stacks in HU Sit and Gos – Overview and Strategy

This is part of an ongoing series of basic strategy for heads up Sit and Go tournaments. For more articles, click here.

Heads up poker can be overwhelming at times. So much is going on and you are being put to so many decisions. However, if you stop, take a breath, do some simple math, things appear much clearer. What am I talking about? Effective stacks of course.

Effective stacks transcend all forms of poker, but they are vitally important to success at heads up poker. So you may be asking yourself ok, what is an effective stack? Well, that can be a loaded question. In its simplest form, the effective stack is the smaller of the two stacks in heads up play. To illustrate a clear picture let’s look at an example. In the example you will be the hero; your opponent will be the villain.

Hero: 2,000

Villain: 1,000

Because your opponent has fewer chips, he is the effective stack. Another way to look at this is to say that if you (the hero) went all in your opponent (the villain) could only call 1,000 chips not 2,000 so that is all that is effective: the 1,000 chips. Make sense so far? Good.

Moving forward in our discussion of effective stacks, effective stacks incorporates the number of blinds relative to the “effective stack.” Let’s use the same example from above. The only difference this time is that the small blind is 50 and the big blind is 100 for an easy math equation. To understand effective stacks more, try this. Calculate the number of effective blinds that are in play.

Hero: 2,000

Villain: 1,000

SB: 50

BB: 100

Answer: 10 Effective blinds

How did we accomplish this? We did two things, both which are very simple. First we have to figure out and identify the smaller of the two stacks. The hero has 2,000 chips, while the villain has only 1,000. Easy enough. The villain is the smaller stack. Next, we divide the smaller stack (villains 1,000 chips) by the big blind. In this case, the big blind is 100.

1,000/100= 10

So now we’ve done a few things. First, we have figured out which stack is smaller of the two, thus, giving us the effective stack. Second, we have determined the number of blinds in play. In this example, there are only ten blinds in play or another way of saying it is that there are effective stacks of ten.

The last part to using and applying effective stacks to heads up poker is understanding our opening size or raise. This part may be the most confusing aspect to effective stacks, yet it is still simple. Continuing with the same example, we know the effective stacks are ten blinds. Hand strengths adjust on a spectrum according to the number of blinds in play. That is to say, if you as the hero have with ten effectives, this would be a clear shove (ignoring any reads you may have on your opponent for simplicity sake). Your opening size should thus adjust based on the number of effective blinds that are in play.

The table below should help illustrate a clearer picture regarding your opening size.

Effective blinds / Opening size / Actual opening size


3x from the button

(60@ 10/20)


2.5x from the button

(50@ 10/20, 75 @ 15/30)


2x from the button

(40 @ 10/20, 60 @ 15/30, 100 @ 25/50)





In future articles we’ll further discuss how effective stacks develop through a match and the adjustments you’ll need to make as a result.

Read more articles from our HU SNG Basics series.


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