Live & Casino Poker Strategy 101

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Live poker, and poker played in casinos and cardrooms, requires some strategic nuance to win more per hour. With some basic adjustments and a deeper understanding of the game flow, you’ll find both preflop and postflop much easier to play.

This guide is going to break down some easy adjustments you can make to your game to capitalize on the uniqueness of live poker games. Learn how to play in games where players hate folding preflop, playing with different stack sizes, the mechanics of bluffing, beating slow players, and even how to craft your own preflop ranges.

Live Poker Strategy 101

Everything we’re going to discuss applies to most $1/$2 cash games, $1/$3 cash games, $2/$5 when it’s not the biggest game a poker room spreads, and live tournaments with <$200 buyins. Good luck!

Playing Live Poker When Nobody Folds

The thing about live poker, whether it’s a home game or played in a casino, is that nobody comes to fold. They didn’t shower (well, hopefully, they showered), get dressed, jump in the car, and make an effort to show up just to play like a nit and fold hand after hand.

So if your game has a ton of players who hate folding, push play and let’s discuss how to correctly adjust your own strategy when everyone else is playing too many hands.

If nothing else, remember these 3 things:

Your bet/raise sizes matter. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that nobody ever folds to a bet or raise when you are using the same sizes as everyone else. But if you experiment with different sizes, especially larger bets and raises, you can often find a threshold where players start folding.

Limping can work too. Assuming both normal and creative sizes are still resulting in multiway pots, limping can be a valid adjustment. There are many starting hand types, from 22 to 76s to A5s, that won’t perform well in a 5-way raised pot – but they perform wonderfully in a 5-way limped pot.

Even though poker coaches today preach aggression, there are certain dynamics where aggression with too many hands can be detrimental. And remember, these fishy live games are much different than their tight online counterparts. If nobody is abusing your limps and you aren’t getting out of control (yes, you can still fold that Q♠4♠), this can be a valid approach.

Balancing likely doesn’t matter. In weaker games like this, chances are that balancing your ranges isn’t a top priority. If your opponents aren’t focusing heavily on your ranges and frequencies, then why bother ensuring you have the perfect number of bluffs in your betting range? If your opponents aren’t understanding that you use a specific sizing with nutted hands, why bother balancing that size with other hand strengths as well?

In 95% of live $1/$2 and $1/$3 cash games, being balanced leaves money on the table. Instead, focus on their leaks and how you can best exploit strategic issues in their approach.

Casino Poker With Smaller Stacks

Poker formats and buy-in structures vary wildly around the globe. Some rooms offer very deep cash games where you can buy-in with hundreds of big blinds, and others offer more shallow games.

Each stack depth offers its own set of challenges and proper adjustments, but let’s specifically discuss games where the average stack depth is about 50 big blinds.  

When playing in live poker games with smaller stack sizes, keep the following things in mind:

Preflop first. You won’t have much postflop playability since the SPR will be smaller, and the SPR gets even smaller if the pot is multiway. So focus your time and energy studying preflop and small SPR pots on the flop between sessions.

Be selective with setmines & suited connectors. You likely won’t get many opportunities to correctly call preflop with suited connectors, suited gappers, nor setmines given the reduced multiplier and reduced playability postflop.

That being said, there is a massive difference between calling from the BB closing action after a raise + a few callers vs. being next to act after an EP player raises to $15 at $1/$2.

Your open-raise sizing. Just because the table wants to open to $15 off $100 starting stacks does NOT mean that you have to as well. You may actually find that as you make some preflop raises that are closer to $7-$10, that the rest of the table starts using similar sizing too.

Find extra 3bets and squeezes. There can be a lot of opportunities to improve your winrate by expanding your 3bet & squeeze ranges. Think about how many players likely open to $15 with far too many hands and aren’t willing to put their remaining $85 at risk without huge hands. This can create tons of spots where they open too wide, fold too often against your 3bet, and give you outright profitable potential.

Of course, this requires some hand reading, basic math, and the gusto to put some chips in play – but for the willing player, there is a lot of money up for grabs here.

Live Poker After Winning Some Big Hands

Sometimes we are fortunate enough to win a few big hands and find ourselves with a monster stack. When this situation occurs, some players want to leave the game and lock up their win. If you are ever fearful about playing deep stacked and possibly “losing it all back”…give this video a watch.

Assuming you won your chips by playing well and winning some sizable pots, there is likely no reason to leave the game. Why leave a situation where you are playing solid poker and now have the chips to really turn this session into a home run?

If you won a bunch of chips gambling and getting lucky – then chances are it was time to leave an hour ago!

In live poker games where stacks get deep, it’s good to remember the focus shifts from preflop play to postflop play. Remember in the previous video where we looked at shallow games and how the edges came from preflop & flop decision making? Well in deeper games, where commitment decisions likely won’t get made before the turn or river, later streets become more important.

Buying In & Reloading Chips In Live Poker

Online poker is incredibly easy when it comes to buying into a table, maintaining your stack size after you lose a pot, and cashing out when you are done playing. Live poker is a bit more complex.

So I created this video to explain how I buy-in and handle chips in live sessions.

In most live poker rooms you will go up to the front desk and let them know what game and stake you want to play. If they are busy, they will put you on a list and call your name when your seat is available. If they aren’t busy, you may be led right over to a seat.

Either way, if this is the kind of live poker room that has a cage (most casino rooms will), I make my way over there and buy chips. Now most players will only buy the number of chips they need to buyin for the game. I actually buy many more. If my plan was to buy in for $1,000 at a $2/$5 game, I will buy $3,000 in chips from the cage. I put $1K in a rack that I will bring to the table, and the remaining $2K goes in my pocket.

The chips in my pocket are for rebuying if I bust in a particular hand, or for topping off if my stack size drops too low. This ensures that the dealer doesn’t have to waste time counting my cash, handing me chips, and possibly calling the floor over and slow the game down. Live poker games are already so slow as-is (usually dealing no more than 25 hands/hour), and I never want to be the cause of the game going even slower.

Speed is one of the biggest differences between playing casino games online vs. in real life – and you want to see as many hands/hour when you have a big edge on your opponents. So keep the game flowing smoothly and your stack topped off whenever possible.

*DISCLAIMER* This is not intended to be a sneaky thing. You should never take chips from your stack and put them in your pocket, this is called “going south” and is illegal. You should never do this while a hand is in action, only between hands when the dealer is shuffling. You should also never add chips from your pocket to your stack if it puts you over the posted maximum buyin for that table. You can always announce “I’m just going to add an extra $X to my stack real quick” between hands right before you do this to ensure nobody is confused or thinks something shady is going on.

Are Casino Poker Tournaments Worth Playing?

Live poker tournaments can be an amazing way to hit a huge payday or consistently throw money away. While live tournaments with prestige like the WSOP can create multi-million dollar prize pools, the average casino tournament has a much lower buy-in and much smaller prize pool.

So are live poker tournaments worth your time and money? Push play and let’s discuss.

The biggest issue with live tournaments is that the format is usually too fast (typically closer to a turbo than a “normal speed” event) and has terrible rake. Even live tournaments that are touted as “deep stacked events” tend to be too fast given the small number of hands dealt per hour.

How do you know if your poker room’s tournaments have bad structure?

  • The blinds raise every 20-30 minutes
  • The blinds double at every increase (from 200/400 to 400/800 instead of 200/400 to 300/600)
  • The rake is higher than 17%

It’s not that a fast, or even turbo, structure is unbeatable. There are plenty of players who specialize in these formats given how mathematical they are. The issue is that fast structure + bad rake = a waste of time for your bottom line.

Couple all of this with the fact that casino tournaments are typically chopped (so you’ll be getting a percentage of first-place money), you will be pressured to tip at the end (yes, they want rake AND a tip), and you had to spend time/money to get to the card room – I typically suggest waiting until a notable series like RunGood or WSOP-Circuit is nearby with more viable structures.

How To Play Preflop In Live Poker Games?

Preflop strategy can differ between online and live poker games. But the core concepts and things to consider before putting in any chips preflop are largely the same.

Press play and let’s breakdown the 6 key preflop concepts.

If you focus on these 6 things preflop, your decision making gets so much easier. You’ll better understand when to play more hands, when to tighten up considerably, and when to add extra aggression into your game. And it doesn’t matter if you are playing live cash games or tournaments, these concepts are rock-solid.

Essentially, first focus on your position and where you and your opponents are relative to the button. By considering position, and how likely you are to have position postflop, you can quickly deduce where you should tighten up. As a default, you play fewer hands from early position since your likelihood of being out of position (OOP) postflop is higher. But as you near the button, and there are fewer players left to contend with and a higher likelihood that you are in position (IP) if you get action, then you should be looking to play more hands.

You should typically play 3-5x as many hands from the button as you do from UTG

Next, consider the location of the weaker players and again, what your position would be against them if you went postflop. More weak players equal a higher chance the pot goes multiway, which means you want to be more selective with the hands you play preflop.

Once you’ve considered the likelihood that a hand goes multiway or heads up, ask yourself what the aggressive option would accomplish. If it folds around to you, what would happen if you raised here? If there is a raise in front of you, what would happen if you 3bet here?

And on top of just being aggressive, how should you size your raises? Would a larger size create more folds, and if so, is that what you hope to accomplish? Would a smaller size still generate lots of folds from your opponents, and if so, could you risk less when 3bet bluffing?

After that, stay focused on the EV (expected value) & edges. This goes hand-in-hand with thinking about where the weaker players are (against whom your skill edge should be massive) and also asking yourself what the aggressive line would accomplish. Remember that multiple lines can be +EV at the same time (for instance, it could be +EV to both flat and also 3bet AA in a given spot), but our goal is to take the line with the highest EV possible.

Finally, focus on what the SPR would be if and when you go postflop. Lower SPR pots require more of a definitive bluffing plan or strong preflop cards, so don’t find yourself constantly getting into smaller SPR pots with the wrong hand types.

Not 100% sure what SPR is? Read my complete guide on how to use SPR in poker.

How To Bluff In Casino Poker?

Most poker players bluff too often or too rarely in live games, and they are pretty transparent.

Players who bluff rarely tend to be very tight and avoid getting involved in big pots (hint, if they do get into a big pot, they tend to have the winning hand). Players who bluff too often tend to be too loose, playing more than 25% of their hands preflop, and are constantly firing bets postflop.

But let’s discuss how you can dial in a bluffing strategy in your cardroom. Just press play.

Bluffs in casino poker games boil down to understanding the basic bluffing math and making some general assumptions about your opponents.

If the main thing you remember is the breakeven percentage which is:

BE% = $RISK / ($RISK + $REWARD)

And then compare the BE% to how often your opponent might fold in a given spot, you will do wonderfully. Simply put, tight players tend to fold too often on early streets. This makes them prime targets for cbetting since they may fold 60% of the time when the BE% of your bluff only requires them to fold 42% of the time.

But don’t write off bluffing entirely just because a single bet isn’t outright profitable. Instead, consider how often they might fold both now AND later. Many players will give earlier bets tons of action, but tighten up considerably when they face big bets on turns or rivers.

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Showing Bluffs In Live Poker

The times you do bluff, your opponent folds, and you scoop the pot feel great. But should you show your opponent your bluff, or should you just muck your cards?

Press play and let’s discuss the pros and cons of showing bluffs in live games.

As a default, don’t show your hand (bluff or otherwise) unless you need to at showdown.

Poker is a game of information, and why would you want to provide information for free? It may seem innocent enough to show a monster, or even a bluff, but good players will reverse engineer the spot and your actions – giving them insights to your sizing, range compositions, and your frequencies.

That being said, if I feel the upside of showing a bluff can outweigh the downside, I may opt to show a bluff from time to time. Especially if the table thinks I’m nitty and showing a bluffing may skew their perception of my strategy, showing a bluff may benefit the way those players approach me in the future. If they now think I bluff too often, they are more likely to pay off my next value bet.

Just be careful and also aware that players are different skill levels will react to this “new information” in various ways. If you are ever unsure, just muck your bluff and move on.

Beating Live Slow Players

Casinos attract poker players of all skill levels, and part of winning more is understanding how your opponents adjust and formulate their playbook.

One player type can create some confusion if you are used to playing against aggressive players. Aggressive regs will raise their monsters, 3bet their strong hands, and put nuttish hands in their aggression ranges. But slow players, also referred to as sandbaggers, will add more of these monster hands into their passive ranges and just limp or call with them preflop.

Press play and let’s talk about how to adjust to these players.

When you’ve identified a player plays monster combos passively, either partially or fully, simply add those combos as possibilities postflop. Then, be more cautious when firing multiple barrels into them with top pair – even with something as strong as AQ on A97-4 – since you now have to account for 8 combos of AK that you might not have worried about against other players who would play Ace King differently preflop.

Where players go wrong is by being overly-fearful against slow players.

Just because a player may have some extra monster combos doesn’t mean they don’t also have heaps of worse hands in their range as well. Yes, you are going to get blindsided sometimes – but don’t automatically nit up and miss out on value bets from other, and possibly more combo-rich, parts of their postflop range.

Advanced Live Poker Training

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SplitSuit

My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 500+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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