The world’s most successful tournament competitors, such as me, Phil Ivey, Erick Lindgren, Phil Hellmuth and countless others, like to play small ball poker. It’s a style that we use to steadily increase our stacks in no-limit hold’em tournaments without having to assume significant risk.
The first thing you’ll notice when you watch a player who uses the small ball approach is that he appears to be in total control of the table, yet at the same time, seems to be playing with reckless abandon. It also might appear as if he’s giving little thought to the strength of his own starting hand.
Indeed, that is the case.
That’s because the theory of small ball poker dictates that you need to focus more on what your opponent doesn’t have rather than the strength of your own hand.
That being said, let’s take a look at some basic starting hand guidelines that should be considered before entering a pot.
Obviously, you’ll want to play big pairs such as aces, kings, queens or jacks from any position. Also note that pocket aces and kings are good enough to play for all of your chips.
That’s not necessarily the case with pocket queens or jacks, though. Play these hands a bit more cautiously before the flop. Don’t feel compelled to reraise with these hands, either, especially against a player who already raised from early position.
Playing middle pairs like 10-10, 9-9, 8-8, and 7-7 can be difficult but only if you overvalue them and mistakenly play them as you would premium hands.
If you are the first to enter the pot with any of these hands, make a standard small ball raise – that is, bet slightly less in hopes of winning a lot more. Your goal with middle pairs is to win a big pot by flopping a set. Use caution, though, if you miss on the flop. In that case, be prepared to muck your middle pair if the action gets too hot and heavy.
Treat small pairs much the same way as middle pairs. Some players like to reraise with these hands before the flop because it suits their style. That, however, is not what small ball players do.
Now, A-K and A-Q might be sights for sore eyes in low buy-in, fast-paced tournaments but not in big money, deep-stack events.
While Big Slick is clearly more powerful than A-Q, trust me, you still don’t want to get all your money in pre-flop with this hand. More often than not, you’ll be on the wrong end of a coin toss. You can certainly raise pre-flop with A-K but it’s just not the type of hand that plays very well after the flop.
Suppose the flop comes A-9-6 and you bet your A-K. Frankly, you don’t want even one caller!
Any player who tosses in chips could easily have A-9, A-6, 9-9 or 6-6, and you’d be dead on arrival. Unsuited A-K is simply a hand that will win small pots but is generally a dog if there is any significant action.
A-Q is much worse in every way possible. Not only are you almost certainly beat if you decide to play a big pot before the flop, there’s even more to worry about if you do get to see the flop. You’ll have the same worries you’d have with A-K except, in this case, you’ll have to worry about an opponent’s A-K too!
Stay tuned, as I’ll cover additional small ball starting hands in upcoming columns including aces and paint, ace-rag suited, king-rag and queen-rag suited, suited connectors and trash hands.
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