Playing a 20-30BB stack can be very difficult. You are not usually in a position where open-shoving this stack can be profitable, but you definitely don’t have enough chips to be opening very light. As you get closer to 20BB you should be opening less often. Now, obviously there are different dynamics and not just a general set of rules for opening this kind of stack.
If you have an extremely tight table there is definitely a case to be made for opening a wide range of hands with just over 20BB. However, as the learning curve for poker players get shorter and shorter because of the vast amount of information out there on how to play, these types of tables are quickly becoming nonexistent. So, usually as I’m dwindling down closer to 20BB, I like to save all my equity for 3-bet shoving as opposed to open-raising.
Another factor to be aware of when you approach 20BB down from 30BB is where you are in the level. Depending on how deep you are in a tourney, a sudden level jump when you have 22BB can quickly turn your stack into 18BB. I see a lot of people still opening pots with 15-20BB and folding when 3-bet. I am definitely not this type of player.
So, in general, some rules to use and apply when playing a 20-30BB stack are as follows:
- Opening a wide range of hands in the correct spots with 30BB is absolutely fine and recommended. You can open raise with a 25BB assuming your table is not overly aggressive.
- As you get closer to 20BB, you definitely only want to open hands that you want to get action from.
- Keeping an eye on the levels and the table dynamics is paramount to nursing and managing a 20-30BB stack.
One other thing you should be watching when this stack is how many BB you’re going to be left with when you get called and make a continuation bet on the flop. This is another reason to open a tighter range of hands as you get closer to 20BB.
As a general rule—obviously not in every situation—but for the most part, when I decide to play a pot with 20BB, or close to 20BB, I am prepared to play for all my chips. A lot of players out there feel this way when they are close to 10BB. However, I usually get into this mindset around the 20BB mark.