Every poker player dreams about playing in high-stakes games for millions of dollars. One day, that could happen for you. But before you get to that level, you have to work your way up the stakes, and it all starts by crushing the live low-stakes no-limit holdem cash games. Low-stakes includes $1-$3 (or $1-$2, depending on the casino you play at), $2-$3, and $2-$5 blinds.
What you must know first about low-stakes poker
Bad beats, the most frustrating aspect of poker (if you’re on the losing side of one), are bound to happen at any level. But they’re more prevalent in low-stakes games. That’s because so many players are unskilled and will chase any draw or any pair to the river. But that’s actually a good thing because in the long run, if you play your cards right consistently, you’ll come out ahead, and those donkeys will eventually give you all their money. So, don’t get angry when you take a bad beat. Forget about it, accept it, and move on to the next hand. Those chips you just lost will come back to your stack before long.
Pre-flop decisions crucial to your bottomline
Before the flop, there are a few crucial decisions that will help you win at low stakes no-limit hold ‘em. Keep these key strategies in mind.
Don’t play too tight…
Contrary to what some may tell you, playing tight pre-flop is actually a poor strategy. Some players prefer playing super tight against weak opponents, because they think they’ll get paid off on their big hands. But that’s not always the case even against weak, loose calling stations.
Even some of the most inexperienced players will figure out that you have a monster hand if you’re betting for the first time in two hours. That’s not to say you should play every hand, by any means. In fact, you should be patient, especially in early position. If you’re a competent player, you should have no problem outplaying your opponents on the flop. So you shouldn’t be afraid to enter pots with holdings such as suited 7-8, small pocket pairs, and Q-J.
…or too loose
With that said, if you’re playing too many hands, you’re giving away equity and setting yourself up for a session full of bad beats. In early position, tight is right. In middle position, mix it up a bit and add some non-premium hands to your raising range, such as suited connectors and small pocket pairs. When you’re on the button, add even more hands to your range. Just make sure you never play mediocre, unprofitable hands such as 7-2, 5-2, 10-2, 8-3, etc.
Raise in the small blind
As for the blinds, these are the toughest pre-flop spots because you’ll be out of position on the flop. Get in the habit of either raising (or re-raising) in the small blind often, so you can take control of the hand and limit how many opponents you’ll face on the flop out of position. In most cases, from the small blind, the proper play is either to raise or fold.
Why position is so important
Generally, you should play far more hands in late position than under-the-gun or other early positions. That’s because you’ll have more information about the strength of your opponent’s hand on the flop.
Weak low-stakes poker players either always trap or always check back a weak hand. So, let’s say you’re on the button against a tight player who always bets out a made hand. Then imagine that the player checks back to you. There’s a pretty good chance that if you bet, your opponent will fold.
You should never lead out of position into a pre-flop raiser on the flop. Never, ever, under any circumstances. Every skilled poker player knows that, but weak low-stakes players often bet right into the pre-flop raiser.
That’s good for you if you’re holding a weak hand in position and planned to make a continuation bet on the flop. By your opponent betting into you, they’re saying they have a made hand. You can then fold your hand without putting additional chips in the pot.
Don’t play too many hands out of position
If you’re playing too many hands out of position, you’re giving up equity. Let’s say you raised pre-flop under-the-gun with A-5 off-suit. That’s a mediocre hand that you should have instantly mucked because it isn’t profitable from that position. The flop comes out 9-3-3. Sure, your hand could be good here. But you could be drawing nearly dead to a hand like A-9, or to a three-outer, or backdoor straight draw.
You do the right thing and check it to your opponent on the button. Your opponent could have a wide range of hands, and he bets half pot. What’s your play here? Your hand could be good but only if he’s bluffing. If you call and he has a made hand, you’re just giving away more money. These are the types of situations to avoid in low stakes no-limit hold ‘em. You can do that by playing tight in early position and expanding your range in later position.
Finding spots to bluff
In general, low-stakes no-limit hold’em players are loose. That means there are fewer opportunities to bluff than in higher stakes games. In high-stakes games, the players are smart enough to realize that it’s okay to fold a middling pair once in a while. But there are some opportunities to win big pots on a bluff even against loose calling stations.
Bluff the missed flush draw
The first spot you should look for is the obvious missed flush draw. Let’s say you bet out (in position, of course!) on a connected flop of, say, K-J-3 with two clubs. Your opponent quickly calls, and then he calls again when you bet the turn, which doesn’t bring another club. Then he checks back to you on the river, which also isn’t a club. That’s the perfect opportunity to bluff.
In some cases, your opponent will have a king or a jack and call your river bet. But in many cases, check-calling the flop and turn, and then checking the river on a connected board like that is a sign of a missed flush draw. You can’t always be right, but you don’t have to be to win out in the long run.
Bluff against tight players
Another spot to pull off a bluff fairly consistently is by taking advantage of tight players with big bets. One important fact to help you win against tight players is understanding why they play so tight. It’s because they’re afraid to lose money. You can’t lose what you don’t put in the pot, and they know that, so they’re easy to bluff. Now, you should almost never raise a tight player with nothing. It’s very rare for a super tight player to bluff. So, if they’re betting, they have the goods.
But just because they don’t bet and check it to you, that doesn’t always mean they have a weak holding. They could have middle pair or a flush draw or a straight draw. And that’s why it’s important to bet large when bluffing this type of player. If you bet small, you’re inviting the tight player to continue in the hand with a marginal hand or a draw. They don’t fear small bets. They fear big bets because big bets force them to put a lot of money at risk.
Knowing how to win at NLH comes down to a few key tips. Play smart, play tight in early position, expand your range in later position, don’t bluff too often but don’t avoid bluffing completely. Do those things, along with having good bankroll management, and the odds are in your favor.
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