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Beating Small-Stakes Cash Games

A few years ago I wrote an article for a poker magazine called “coming in under the radar”. In that article I mentioned playing lower stakes games than you normally would and taking advantage of weaker players. In essence, online poker has grown up an awful lot since I wrote that article and players have wised up.

But recently I have been doing some research on low-stakes no-limit ring games and its amazing how badly supposedly good players perform in these games. They approach them trying to play “poker” and to be a “player”. I saw a player only last week in a NL25 game run his whole stack on a big bluff when it was obvious that his opponent wasn’t going to lay down.

It turned out that the villain of the piece held second pair…… a measly second pair and he went with his remaining $18. But if you want to make money at levels like NL10 then you are going to have to eliminate bluffing from your bag of tricks. These really are levels where your play must be as straight forward as straight forward can get.

At NL10, the play is so bad that a good solid non-bluffing approach could extract 5BB/table/per hour from these games. This means that someone who is playing six tables of full-ring could be making $3/hour. Not enough to pack up the day job but made even better when you consider that you can make money while working off your sign-up bonus and earning rakeback on top.

With these games then the betting really does tell the truth. But you have to be careful if you have advanced knowledge of the game or are too eager to bluff because if you try and be “Gus Hansen” at these tables then you will suffer, plain and simple. In fact, “simple” is the name of the game. Sit there and play tight… very tight!

Don’t get loose around the blinds just because its NL10. Because its NL10 means that the players will make plays that they wouldn’t make at NL50. Wait for good hands and simply bet them and a large part of the time, you will get paid off. I played some NL25 in the early part of the year, around 10,000 hands in fact and for a while I actually struggled to make money.

It’s amazing how your past experiences and game history can prevent you from beating games that are trivially small by comparison and speaking from someone who has played $25-$50 NLHE on a regular basis then that’s quite something. Sometimes you will get to a stage where the average player base is so bad that your style of play is no longer optimal.

This works in reverse of course when you encounter better players but few people comprehend how the adverse applies also. Anyone who has read the Harrington series will tell you how in book 2, there is an interview with Bobby Hoff who goes to explain how even the great Stu Ungar and Johnny Moss were very poor in certain games and in full-ring.

But this just underlines how even great players can be bad players in many situations. This even applies to when high-stakes players for whatever reason play far lower than they are used to. But it can be a big problem when a player with a vast amount of knowledge suddenly drops down several levels where most of that knowledge simply isn’t needed.

In many cases then simply having that knowledge can be a handicap as you always have the option to use it even when it is totally inappropriate to do so. This is an underlying problem with having a vast amount of poker knowledge. It is also why many financial institutions insist on training their staff from scratch and do not hire industry professionals who have been trained in the ways of other companies.

They understand all too well how past knowledge impacts on how you behave and operate. So playing low-stakes isn’t a licence to print money if you have been playing far higher although it should be if you adjust properly. The problem is though that many players are so enamoured of their superior knowledge and ability that they constantly try to show it and to prove it.

What happens then is that you basically allow your weak opponents to play better. If you bluff too often into weak calling stations then what do you think that you have just done? Well I will tell you…..you have suddenly turned them into “great players”. How is this possible? It is possible because now they are calling you down with weak hands and they are correct to do so because you have nothing most of the time.

But because they are fundamentally weak then they don’t even notice what you have been doing. They just see a hand that they want to play and go with it. So what you are doing is essentially giving them the opportunity to make really great plays by calling. If they want to call you down to the river with second and third pairs then let them do it when you have a hand and value bet them to death.

Carl “The Dean” Sampson can be seen at his blog at www.pokersharkpool.com

Carl Sampson

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