Success at Low Stakes Poker
Low stakes limit Holdem poker is where the majority of players start out when they’re learning to play Holdem and most players don’t end up winning in the long run. Why? Primarily, they play too many hands. The key to being a profitable player lies primarily in playing tight and playing smart. Low limit games are going to have a lot of players seeing flops. And turns. And rivers! So you’re going to see all kinds of hands turned over at the end. To combat the wild and often unconventional play of low stakes poker, develop a tight but aggressive game plan and stick with it. Every Hold ’em hand has four rounds of action: Preflop, Flop, Turn and River. The decisions you make in the first (Preflop) round of betting — do you fold, call, raise or re-raise? — Will, ultimately, have the largest effect on how profitable a player you are.
Position factors greatly into what cards you should be playing in Hold ’em and is defined by where you are sitting in relationship to the button. Generally speaking, ‘early position’ is the first three players to act after the button on a nine-handed table and first four players on a ten-handed table. ‘Middle position’ is the next three seats after them and ‘late position’ is the last three players to act.
In early position (EP) preflop you want to restrict your play to only the best hands. When you enter a pot from EP you often want to come in raising. Raise the big pocket pairs, AA to JJ, AK and AQ. Limp with caution when you have a pocket pair TT or lower. AJ is a problematic hand in EP, so play it with caution. You’re better off folding anything else in EP.
Why play so tightly in EP? Because the later you act, the more information you will have on your opponents. You don’t want to limp with a hand like A8 only to be raised by an opponent who acts after you. You are very likely up against a better hand, and will often end up in situations where you lose plenty of money due to your ace hitting but your kicker being no good. When you’re in EP throw away everything but the best hands and watch the other players at the table to see if you can learn something about how they play.
Beginners’ Tip: Playing from the blinds allows for a little wider range of hands to be played, simply because you already have money invested in the pot. But be cautious! Don’t call with weak or garbage hands simply because you’re ‘half in’ from the small blind. Be especially careful about calling too many raises with weak hands from the big blind. Smart play in the blinds will save you a lot of money in the long run — saving money by not calling off extra chips is a winning play.
In middle position your range of calling hands opens up a bit more. Play all the hands mentioned above but you can begin raising hands like TT or 99 every once in a while (when you are first to enter a pot), and limp with large suited connectors (two sequential cards of the same suit) with a value of ten or higher, such as KQ, QJ. Play unsuited face cards with caution and continue to throw away the weaker aces with a kicker of less than 9.
In late position you have the most leeway with the hands you play. Continue to play all hands mentioned above. You may now raise any pocket pair when you are first to enter a pot and you can safely limp with suited connectors down to 56. Avoid lower cards– they will lose you more money than they can win. If you are first to enter a pot, it’s usually a good idea to raise any hand you are going to play.
Once you’ve decided to play a hand, then what?
Examine the flop to see what sort of hands would have hit or missed. It’s important to know what your hand strength is but, it is equally important to consider how strong your opponents might be. Is there a possible flush or straight on the board? How about a flush or straight draw? Do you have a strong hand, draw or did you miss the flop completely?
Keep in mind that an ‘average’ winning hand in Hold ’em is two pairs. Bet your pairs but be wary of overplaying them. Especially in a low limit game with many players seeing the flop, your one pair is not as likely to be the winning hand. As a general rule, the more people that are in the pot, the stronger the winning hand will need to be.
When playing a draw from late position, or as the last to act in a hand, you can sometimes get a ‘free’ card on the turn by raising on the flop. For example, if you hold the nut flush draw on a flop with two suited cards, you may want to raise when the action gets to you. First of all, you may occasionally (but rarely) cause other players to fold. Secondly, on the turn, players are likely to check to you because of your raise on the flop. You can check behind them and see the river ‘for free’ which gives you a cheaper shot at hitting your draw.
Beginners’ Tip: When playing any hand, be aware of the potential draws that are on the board. If you have AK in your hand, and the board is A Q 3, remember that if you hit your kicker on the turn then anyone holding JT has made the nut straight. Sometimes the card that improves your hand will improve someone else’s even more!
It’s important to keep in mind what your opponents could possibly be holding. If they are betting or raising ask yourself: ‘What would they bet (or raise) with here?’ If they call a bet or a raise ask yourself what they could be holding as well. Learning to think about what other players are holding will take your game to a higher level than many players you will sit with.
One more important part of playing tight is knowing how to fold when you are beat. The ‘crying call’ is one of the biggest leaks in poker for many players, even at the highest limits. Let’s say you have a big overpair to the board, like Aces or Kings. If the board shows four cards to a straight (and your cards don’t complete the straight) and you are up against more than one opponent, odds are good that one of them has made a better hand. If there is betting action on the river, and especially if there is a raise in front of you, you are better off folding. Once in a while you might fold a winning hand but, in the long run, you will make more money folding in spots where the board looks dangerous.
We’ve covered how to play tight. How about playing smart? Smart players pay attention. This isn’t limited to watching your opponents. It means, if you’re playing online, you should minimize your distractions. Avoid chatting on IM programs, don’t surf the web, watch movies or catch up on your email. Not being focused on the games you’re playing will lead you to make uninformed and poor choices while they play. Something else the smartest players do is realize when they shouldn’t be playing. If you’re suffering bad beat after bad beat, and it’s starting to affect your decisions, you should consider ending your session. If you’re overly tired, or have a lot on your mind, you may not want to play. Essentially, anything that affects your mindset negatively and has potential to cause you to play poorly or without focusing should make you wary of playing.
Profitability can be sustained at even the lowest limits of poker when you follow simple guidelines like the ones we’ve discussed. Everyone knows poker is fun but, it’s even more fun when you’re winning!