Here’s a poker term you need to know.
The chip leader holds the most chips in the tournament or cash game they are in. This player with the biggest chip stack has the “chip lead”. There is always a chip leader unless the game has just begun and some players have identical stacks.
This article will focus on strategy for multi-table tournaments when you have the chip lead.
Who is the Chip Leader in Poker?
You’re likely to use terms like chip lead or chip leader in tournaments (MTTs), Spins, and sit & go (SNG) events. You can use this term in cash games, but it’s more common to hear terms like big stack or deep stack.
If you are playing in a live poker tournament, it will be harder to find the chip leader. You might have to ask tournament staff or check some tables to find the player.
You can find the chip leader in online poker tournaments by checking the tournament lobby. There’s a list of all of the players remaining in the MTT or SNG, with their stack sizes.
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Advantages of Being the Chip Leader
Aside from the obvious part – having more chips than every other player – there are a few large advantages when you are the chip leader.
1. There’s no immediate risk of busting out of the tournament.
The chip leader can not lose all their chips in a single hand. They’ll always have at least a few chips remaining if call another player’s all in. This means, that whatever happens, you won’t be eliminated from the tournament – at least not in a single hand.
2. You can apply pressure to smaller stacks.
Players in MTTs and SNGs can risk elimination during a hand of poker, but not the chip leader. This is known as “covering your opponent”, meaning that your chip stack is larger. This gives them the chance to pressure their opponents, who have a lot more to risk.
3. You can add to your chip stack at your own pace.
With the chip lead, your strategy doesn’t have to be full of risky call-downs and chasing every draw. You’ve got the largest stack in the tournament, which gives you a little more time to select the right hands (playing an optimal range) and pick your spots.
As the chip leader at this PokerStars SCOOP table, Lex Velduis is in a good spot to call a shove from smaller stacks. This size of shove is attractive, especially with Lex’s over 150 bb stack. He has to call about 12 bb with A♠ Q♥, which dominates a large portion of his opponent’s push range (the hands they will choose to go all-in with).
You have more freedom to select the spots you risk chips in when you are the chip leader.
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Chip Leader MTT Strategy
The chip leader can adjust their strategy throughout an MTT. Let’s look quickly at each stage of an MTT and the strategy for each.
- Early Stages
If you double-up or triple-up at the start of a tournament, you might become the chip leader. At the very start of an MTT, this won’t be as large of an advantage as it will during the late stages.
While the average stack size in the MTT is still relatively high, being the chip leader has less effect. The pressure you can create is reduced quite a bit, but also, the blind structure will reduce your chip lead before too long.
Having a chip lead in the early stages does not guarantee you a place at the final table. Use the chip advantage to maintain and build your stack more, while playing a solid strategy.
- Middle Stages
Remember the importance of ICM and attempt to maintain your stack (relative to the big blind structure) – rather than risking it chips in sub-par spots. It’s sometimes a good idea to be especially aggressive with your strong hands and create profitable situations.
- The Bubble
The final table is getting close and the prize money is about to start getting divided up. This stage is called the button and it’s great to be the chip leader, now more than ever. While other players, especially the short stacks, jockey for a spot, yours is basically guaranteed.
The chip leader can apply immense pressure to other stacks around the bubble. Everyone with small and medium stacks will be motivated to avoid large conflicts, except with the strongest hole cards.
- Final Table
Chip leader strategy for final tables will be similar for MTTs, SNGs, and even Spins (although the blinds will ramp up much quicker). Each elimination will add to the eventual payout you collect, so you can allow some of the shorter stacks to compete while maintaining your lead.
Pick your battles and avoid using your hard-kept chip stack for coinflips. Ideally, you’re aiming for the top 5 places which pay a healthy percentage of the prize pool.
Want to host a private MTT and sit at your own final table? Check out our guide on playing online poker with friends and learn how to set up tournaments and cash games.