Small ball poker is a playstyle where your aim is to get involved in many cheap pots and keep those pots small – unless you hit a monster hand and then you build the pot as big and as quickly as possible. This was largely popularized by Daniel Negreanu, and to a lesser-extent Harrington’s books, and is a style adopted heavily by players evolving from fishy play.
As you watch this video or read this entire guide, note that the goal is not to insult players that use this style. Heck, I used to implement a small ball strategy, and my training videos before 2014 reflect that. Instead, the goal here is to explore the pros and cons of small ball poker and get you thinking more deeply about both playing this strategy and exploiting other players that use it.
Your poker mindset and the way you process challenges during and between sessions is a major determinant of your longterm success. There are three kinds of poker players when it comes to the mental game. Essentially, they break down into these categories:
Paired boards are an interesting board texture that all poker players need to understand. First, these textures are more common than you might think. Secondly, players tend to craft their strategies in very predictable ways on these boards. And third, knowing how to choose the best lines when the board pairs will help you become a well-rounded player.
Every board texture brings something unique to the table (do you see what I did there?), so let’s break down this particular texture…
Range balancing in poker is the act of ensuring you have a proper number of bluffs and value hands when you bet or raise. If you never bluff, your range is unbalanced and your opponents can easily fold marginal hands whenever you get aggressive. On the other hand, if you bluff too often, your opponents are more likely to call you with any pair because your range is unbalanced with too many weak holdings.
So balance is clearly important. We don’t want to do anything too often, nor too rarely, and allow our opponents to make simple profitable adjustments.
Small pocket pairs tend to create lots of confusion for players preflop. But because these pairs are…well…pairs – players rarely consider folding these hands preflop and end up stacking up lots of unnecessary losses. To simplify this and avoid getting lost in the minutia, let’s agree to put 22 to 55 in this category. While these pairs may have some showdown value of their own, their true value is primarily in flopping sets and stacking opponents that won’t fold second-best hands.
This explanation could make one think that playing pocket pairs is easy, but that would only be true in an ideal setting where you could dictate all the action and give yourself just the right pot odds to get involved. In real-life situations, though, you often have to play these small pockets with lower stack depth or facing big raises or 3-bets from your opponents – which changes your strategic adjustment dramatically.
Gutshots, also known as ‘inside straight draws’ are just one kind of draw you catch in poker. The typical definition of a gutshot is that you have 4 cards to improve your draw, which is only half of the number of outs you’d have with an open-ended straight draw (OESD).
To visualize this, say the flop is QT6. On such a board, 87 is a gutshot that needs a 9 to improve to a made-straight. And AK is also a gutshot, but it needs a Jack to improve to a made-straight.
Note that gutshots can also have other qualities (for instance, AK has a gutshot straight draw AND two overcards on QT6). And in some cases, a starting hand can actually have a double gutshot (aka a double-belly buster). 98 is a double gutty here since a Jack OR a 7 would make their straight.
In this guide, we are going to look at how to play gutshots through the lens of Ace King. This material comes directly from Chapter 11 “When AK Flops A Gutshot” in the book Optimizing Ace King. So without further ado, let’s get into the strategy…
Overlimping, or limping behind, is the act of choosing to limp AFTER one (or more) players have already limped preflop. Not to be confused with open-limping (being the first person to enter a pot preflop by limping in), overlimping can have some serious advantages when done properly.
And while aggression in poker has increased exponentially over the years which has led many players to think that raising/isolating limpers is always better – there are plenty of spots where overlimping proves to be a MORE profitable approach.
Aggressive poker is winning poker. But still, most players aren’t super comfortable going all-in preflop with less-than-premium hands. This is an effect of not understanding the EV of shoving preflop, especially since the EV (expected value) of going all-in can be a bit counterintuitive. So let’s go through a few examples together and see when getting it all-in preflop is profitable!
3-BET SHOVING WITH J9
This hand comes from Tim who wants to review this hand played in a tournament. In this hand we have J9s, there’s a $40 ante, the blinds are $150/$300, and in this exact situation there’s a raise from DIOGEN, it folds around and Tim decides to rip it.
The concept of blockers in poker has been around for a while but, until recently, it’s one that has been far more stressed in Omaha games. Lately, however, we’re seeing the concept applied more in Texas Hold’em as well. While the value of blockers may not be as high in Hold’em as it is in Omaha, they’re still well worth considering as a part of a greater overall gameplan.
Ace Queen can be a tricky hand to play. Especially as the action mounts, it can be tough to discern if AQ is strong enough to go all-in with, or if it’s smarter to just fold it and save your chips. Today we’ll look at an AQ hand together and see how our answers compare to over 1K other poker players – and see if going all-in with AQ is actually the best play…