Why Ante(s) Matter

Let’s talk about antes.

When you’re playing in a tournament, it’s easy enough to spot the blinds going up. You’re looking at them sitting in front of two people before the cards are dealt. And it’s not too hard to look at the big blind, and work out how many of those you have in your stack. Big blind is 100, you have 3000 chips—great, you’ve got 30 “BBs.”

But when the antes kick in, there are a couple of things you need to notice because some dynamics have changed.
Raises need to be adjusted

Suppose the blinds are 50 and 100, with no antes. You are the first one into the pot and raise to 250. It folds round to the big blind. Let’s look at his situation; there’s 400 in the pot, and it costs him 150 to call. He’s getting 400:150 (about 2.7:1) pot odds to call. I’m not saying that’s good, bad, or indifferent, but it’s a typical scenario. And many tournament crushers would say that opening to 2.5x the big blind is a good number.

But now the antes kick in. For mathematical convenience, suppose that the antes are 10% of the big blind, and you’re playing ten-handed. Well, that’s just like adding another BB to the pot. The blinds are 50 and 100, with 100 in antes. So now you raise to 250 and it folds to the big blind. He still has to call 150, but instead of getting 2.7:1 to call, he’s getting 500:150, about 3.3:1. That’s 20% better pot odds for him, and more hands with which he can profitably call.

Again, whether 2.7:1 or 3.3:1 is a better price to offer to your villain in the blind is beyond the scope of this article. The point is, the antes substantially change the preflop calculus and you need to take them into account when picking your raise sizes. For instance, if you raise to 300 (3x the BB) instead of 250, the big blind will have to call 200 into a pot of 550, getting 2.75:1 odds. This brings the pot odds you’re offering him back in line with what a raise to 250 did before the antes kicked in.
Stacks go down faster

You’ll frequently hear people discuss the number of BBs they have to describe their tournament stack, and that’s a valuable metric. Interestingly, that perspective is relatively new among tournament players. For a long time, they’d talk about how many chips they had, which we all know is meaningless unless you know the size of the blinds.

In fact, it was poker legend and author “Action” Dan Harrington and backgammon and poker legend Paul “X-22” Magriel, who first drove home the necessity of thinking about how many orbits of the button you had rather than an absolute number of chips. Harrington called this number “M,” honoring Magriel, who he felt originated it. Your “M” is simply your chip stack divided by the sum of the blinds and all the antes. Using our example above, if the blinds are 50 and 100 and you have 1200 chips, then your “M” is 1200 / (50 + 100) = 8. That is, you could sit and do nothing for eight orbits of the blinds before your last 50 chips went into the pot as a small blind.

Now let’s add the antes back in. Your M is 1200 / (50 + 100 + 100) = 4.8. That’s a very different number from 8. You have just over half as many button orbits before you’re out of chips.

If you play a tournament, you may “sense” things are speeding up when the antes kick in. Thanks to Dan Harrington and Paul Magriel, we now have a way to quantify that increased velocity and respond correctly to it.

As an aside, while antes are rare in cash games, they’re not unheard of. If you play in a cash game that has antes, you need to be particularly aware of how that affects your correct opening raises and response to opening raises.

Antes matter, so my advice is pay attention.


Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. You can contact him at www.leejones.com.