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Small Pot Poker: Part 2

Last week we discussed the general theory of Small Pot Poker (SPP). This week we’re going to look at a real life example of the SPP style I used in the last tournament I played.

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In case you didn’t catch last week’s article, here’s a brief summary of SPP:

  1. Increase the number of starting hands you play.
  2. When you do come in, raise the minimum or just a little more.
  3. Take a shot at the flop, even if you miss. If you’re played back at, get out.
  4. The majority of the hands you take down will be on the flop, after you bet or re-raise. If you do hit the flop and someone has say an over pair, or A-K, you will get paid.
  5. As in all forms of poker, position is very important. You want to have good position so you can push the other players around.

Now that you have a general run down of small pot poker, let’s dive right in and examine some fersh examples.

I was first introduced to this style of play watching Mike “The Grinder” Misrachi play in the 2006 L.A. Poker Classic, in which he finished second in the $2500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em event. I’ve since done quite well in tournaments using this strategy.

I’ll use the last one I played in as an example; it was a $33 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament at Party Poker. There were around 700 or so players, so it was a fairly large field to go up against. Normally when I play online I will play 3 or 4 tables at a time, but I decided to just concentrate on this tournament and play a little SPP.

Right away, I noticed I had more fun playing when I was more involved, instead of just muck, fold, fold. My stats after the first break were pretty good - I was up to $8400 in chips (tournament started with $3000), and I’d never been close to all-in. I had seen an astounding 58% of the flops and been to the river only 9%. Out of the flops I’d seen, I’d won 78% without showdown, and 100% at showdown. The rest of the hands were folded on the flop to a re-raise of big bet.

After feeling out the first hour, I noticed two things:

1. I didn’t get a lot of really big action. Because I played so many hands and raised so much, even though usually only the minimum, no one really wanted to play against me. If I continued to show power on the flop, they’d let it go.

2. Near the end of the first hour I noticed a couple of the players at my table getting frustrated and starting to see a lot of flops too, only they weren’t raising, just calling. I knew that if I could really hit a flop against either of these players I could bust them, and I was right!

The first hand after the break was a big boost for me and exactly what I’d been hoping for during the previous half hour or so. I was on the button with 9c-10c, with the two players I mentioned earlier immediately to my left in the SB and BB. One player called, and I raised the minimum. The SB, BB, and the middle position player called me. The flop came, 6c-7c-8d. Wow! What a huge flop. I’d flopped the nut straight to the 10 as well as a gut-shot straight flush draw, needing the 8c. SB checks, BB bets half the pot, middle position folds and I just call, hoping he has an over pair and I can get him all-in on the turn. Then the SB re-raises. Hmmmm, that was unexpected. The BB quickly calls, but does not re-raise. I take my time and call. The turn comes a 2h - no help. At this point, I’m thinking that the BB has a big pair, maybe Aces or Kings, and the SB has the same thing, or a set of sevens or eights. SB bets half the pot, which leads me to believe that my first instinct is right, he probably has on over pair, not a set. With a set, I think he’d just push all-in. BB calls, and the action is to me. Trusting my read that both of these players are on a high over pair, there is no way I can lose this hand, so I just call the turn. The river comes, a Qd, which doesn’t really change anything. SB moves all-in and BB takes some time before calling. I, of course, call. SB shows Aces, BB shows Kings, and I show the nuts! I had both of them covered by $1000, so after the showdown they were both out. I had nearly tripled up, and was second in chips for the tournament.

The rest of the tournament pretty much played out like the first hour. I started on Table #2, which is great because I got to stay put while new players with fewer chips were moved to my table. Before the blinds got out of hand, no one really wanted to go up against me, so the only action I got was when a small stack got moved to my table. I’d make sure to raise against him to isolate, and get heads-up. I was able to get up to $95,000 in chips - never risking more than 1/3 of my total stack. The rest of the tournament was fairly uneventful with no other big hands to note. I lost my final hand playing heads up - pocket 10’s against A-K. I played perfectly, but it still came down to a coin-flip. He caught his King on the turn, and I took home second. No complaints here!

What you have to remember is this: the majority of the time you’re going to miss the flop. But, the majority of the time your opponent is also going to miss the flop as well, and the pre-flop aggression is what gives you the advantage. If you’re portraying power before the flop, and both you and your opponent miss, by maintaining that power with a bet or re-raise on the flop you will have the advantage, and most of the time your opponent will lay it down. This allows you to pick up lots of small pots, early on, without putting much of your stack at risk. There are a lot of top pros who use some variation of small pot poker - Gus Hansen, Daniel Negreanu, and the aforementioned Mike Misrachi, just to name a few. It’s a good way to build up some ammo, without putting yourself at risk of losing all your chips.

I hope that shed a little more light on Small Pot Poker for you. Give it a try in your next tournament and see how you like it. To become a great poker player, you should understand many different styles and be able to vary your play as much as possible. Small Pot Poker should definitely be a weapon in your arsenal.

Daniel Negreanu CLIps on Small Pot Poker

PART 1

PART 2

PART 3

Small Pot Poker:Part 1

No one can deny that no-limit Texas Hold’em is the premiere poker game being played right now, so this week I thought we’d look at a new strategy dubbed “small pot poker”

While the name itself may be catchy, it doesn’t sound very exciting. I know, you’re thinking, “I want to win BIG pots! I want to go all-in!” And while there have never been two sexier words in poker than “all-in,” just about half the time you go all-in you’re going to lose.

Coin-flip situations, they’re called; you’ve seen them on TV with the classic match-up - A-K all-in versus pocket 10’s. If you’re the one with the pocket 10’s you’re happy to be ahead, but you’re not ahead by much - only about a 55% favorite, hence the term “coin-flip.” In any tournament, no matter who you are, you’re going to have to come out ahead in those coin-flip situations in order to win consistently.

While small pot poker (SPP) may not make for great TV, it can be a lot more fun to play than the traditional, “by the book” style of tight and aggressive play - folding lots of hands and being very aggressive when you do play. Small pot poker is a little different. For starters, you’re going to play more hands (which is always more interesting), and you’re going to be raising a lot too! Let’s start off with a general concept of what small pot poker is:

Play More Hands

Normally you’re looking for premium cards in order to play: high pairs, A-K, that type of thing. In small pot poker, you’re going to vary the number and types of starting hands you’re going to play. For example, any pair, suited Aces, and suited connectors will all be added to the mix. With cards like this, if you hit on the flop, you’re going to do some damage.

Positioning

The next big thing is positioning - you want good position, plain and simple. Position in no-limit hold’em is power. Now this doesn’t mean just the button, it also applies to the first few spots after the button, as well as whom you’re up against in the pot.

If You’re Going to Play, Raise

SPP’s principal concept is to play more hands, and raise when you do play a hand. You want to always come in with a small raise when you’re going to play.

For example, if the big blind is $200, then the normal raise would be somewhere around three or four times the big blind (around $600 to $800).

Playing SPP, you would raise the minimum or just a bit more, so in the neighborhood of $400 to $450.

Depending on the make-up of who’s at the table, and who’s in the pot, you’ll definitely pick up some blinds along the way.

Next is throwing a bet or raise out on the flop. You raised pre-flop, representing a hand, so even if you miss, make a bet! Unless someone else really hit the flop, they will muck to you.

Now if someone bets into you, you’re going to have to read the player, and act accordingly.

Letting Go

This is where the last big concept comes in and it is one that costs even highly skilled players a lot of unnecessary chips - letting go. If a player plays back at you, you must be willing to lay down hands on the flop whether you miss or catch a draw. Unless you’ve got the CIA’s list of tells on your opponent, and you can swear on a bible he is bluffing, let it go.

Using this strategy will accomplish a few things: first, it will let you pick up some blinds and smaller pots quickly, and secondly, after a few hours of this your opponents will go crazy! When you do hit a flop and pull the standard bet/raise you may get re-raised.

I’ve pushed opponents to the end of their rope, so to speak, who end up re-raising me all-in on the flop with Ace high after I’ve flopped a set. Because I’ve been in so many hands (raising no less), my opponents assume I must be bluffing. If you’re already an above average player, and posses the ability to be able to read your opponents well, this strategy will work for you.

SPP In Action

Wondering if SPP strategy really works? Have a look at the top tournament player this year, Mike “The Grinder” Misrachi. So far, he’s been blowing the rest of the field away with an amazing stretch in January and February, during which in three consecutive weeks he placed 2nd in the 2006 Gold Strike World Poker Open, 1st in the 2006 Borgata Winter Poker Open, and then 2nd in the 2006 L.A. Poker Classic. Not a bad three weeks, and the 1.8 million dollars in his pocket can’t hurt either! Without a doubt, “The Grinder” would have to be the current poster boy for SPP.

For someone who is new to the game, there needs to be a disclaimer attached to this article. This is an advanced strategy for no-limit hold’em, and should only be used once you are completely comfortable at the table, and have a good idea of how to read your opponent. Trying to incorporate this strategy before you have a solid understanding of the game will cost you money; stick to tight and aggressive, and only play the top ten hands.

Next week we’ll go a little more in-depth with some variance and hand examples.

Remember, if you’re at my table, and I raise… I’m bluffing.

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