The Rule of Ten

May 21, 2012 Jordan Greene Poker strategy

I was recently playing a Sit-N-Go tournament on Pokerist when I found myself down to the final three players, with a chip stack worth less than ten times the big blind. I first learned online poker on pay sites, which proved somewhat expensive for the first year until I could get a firm grasp on the online game and recover my earlier losses. As I was playing the Pokerist tournament, though, I was reminded about my early, unskilled self. I was making mistakes I made many moons ago; fortunately, it also reminded me of a very easy tip for newer players. Its something I picked up along the way, fairly early on in my online tournament career, although I cannot remember where I first learned it.

The Rule of Ten, as I like to call it, is fairly simple: if you have less than ten times the big blind in a tournament, you only have two options, fold or go all-in. It’s a very simplified version of an “M” calculation, something that I will explain in brief at the end of this post, for those interested in refining their game even further than the Rule of Ten. For beginners, though, the Rule of Ten will help you by instantaneously fixing a very common leak amongst amateur players: weak shortstack play.

The (Simple) Math

The Rule of Ten calculation is extremely simple. Take the big blind and multiply it by ten. If you have less than ten times the big blind, you are in the Rule of Ten, and you should only fold or raise/call all-in. So, if you are in the middle-to-late stages in a tournament and the blinds are 80/160, and you have 1,500 tournament chips, you are inside the Rule of Ten (less than 1,600 chips) and should only fold or go all-in. If you have 2,400 chips at the same level of blinds, you are outside of the Rule of Ten (more than 1,600 chips) and can do as you please.

Does the Rule of Ten Work?

At my old blog, High on Poker, I used to joke that I was a shortstack specialist. It was always a tongue-in-cheek statement, since being a shortstack specialist requires you to be shortstacked often, something that is not advisable. Yet, there was some truth to my quirky joke. I had developed a style of poker in which I would often gamble in small pots early, leaving me at times shortstacked. Since I was a fan of the Rule of Ten, once I became shortstacked, I would immediately go into all-in or fold mode. Surprisingly, the Rule of Ten actually caused me to be more disciplined, shifting my style from when I was gambling in small pots. I noticed that more often than not, I was able to climb my way back from early deficits, and the Rule of Ten was one of the guiding principles to gaining that ability.

Why Does it Work?

The reason that the Rule of Ten works has everything to do with proportion. The less chips you have, the more valuable each chip becomes. If you have 10,000 in chips, it doesn’t matter if you lose a 100 pot. If you have 500 in chips, though, a 100 chip pot is huge! It is literally worth 20% of your own stack, so gaining it will be a big boost to your stack and your ability to play on.

By invoking the Rule of Ten, you will simultaneously increase the rate at which you win small pots, while reducing the amount of time you voluntarily put your chips at risk. The only major risks to the Rule of Ten are (1) getting called by a superior hand, or (2) suffering a suckout for all of your chips. By being selective with the hands you choose to push all-in with, you can hopefully minimize the risk of both.

Since you will be playing by the Rule of Ten, you will find yourself pushing all-in with almost ten times the big blind on a more regular basis. This is a good thing. Assume blinds of 50/100 and you have a chip stack of 900. You are facing three remaining opponents, all of whom have more chips than you. You are dealt 77, under the gun (first to act). Since you are in the Rule of Ten, you decide to push all-in. The pot already has 150 in it (the small and big blinds) so if all other players fold, you have increased your stack by more than 15%. You also pick up blinds to allow you to fold another orbit if necessary. Meanwhile, if your opponents have marginal hands like King Jack, they may opt to fold rather than face such a large raise. This let’s you avoid coin tosses and/or potential suckouts. It’s not risk-free chips, but it is less risky.

In contrast, if you raise to 300 preflop, the King Jack player might call. If the flop comes down Ace Nine Eight, you are still ahead, but it’d be hard to bet out if you fear your opponent has the Ace. Of course, if the flop comes down Jack Five Three, you might think yourself lucky and push all-in then...only to lose to the idiot who called you preflop with King Jack.

The other aspect of the Rule of Ten is that it will get you to fold your marginal hands. Eight Nine suited (89s) might be a fun hand to play when you have lots of chips. When you are shortstacked, though, it is a terrible hand (unless you are going to push all-in as a bluff, a/k/a, a “steal,” which we can discuss at a later date). If you are in the small blind, with blinds of 50/100 and you have 750 chips (after posting the 50 small blind), it may be tempting to call the other 50 to see a flop. But the risk is often not worth the reward in a case such as this. Even if you hit your eight or nine, another player may hit a superior pair, or may have hit the same pair with a better kicker. This is the risk you want to avoid. Sure, it will just cost 50 to see the flop, but that 50 saved is 50 earned. Plus, when you get dealt AA in the very next hand and get three callers to your all-in preflop shove, saving that 50 will pay off to the tune of 150 (the extra 50 from each of the three calls).

A Brief Explanation of “M”

After I learned of the Rule of Ten, I eventually learned of a concept called “M”, popularized by Dan Harrington and created by Paul Magriel. Your M-ratio is the ratio between the size of your stack and the amount of chips required to play a full orbit (the small blind plus the big blind, plus any antes). M gives its own guidelines on how to play based on your M-ratio, with a lot more detail than the much simple Rule of Ten. For those interested in going a bit deeper, keep a look out for next month’s article on “M” for more information.

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