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Brick and Mortar/Live Poker Strategy

If you are an online player who’s about to try B&M poker for the first time, this sticky is meant for you. Unlike Brodie’s excellent article on B&M etiquette (a must-read), this one is intended to prepare you mentally for the unbelievable fishfest that you are about to encounter.

Every week, it seem like another FTR’er comes back here after his first time in a real casino and reports back with the shocking revelation that all B&M players are loose calling stations who suck out bizarre 2-prs and gutshots on the river.

What you have to understand is that most people in the poker room are not there to “grind it out.” They are there to GAMBLE, and poker is just one of many ways for them to do so.

Imagine you are on vacation in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Sure, there are shows and fancy places to eat and shop, but your main source of entertainment comes from the excitement of gambling. Betting on red and spinning the wheel. Doubling down on 11. Shooting the dice!

Say you decide to play some blackjack. The minimum bet is $10, so you buy in with $100. Twenty hands later, you’re broke, so you buy another $100. Maybe you recover by making some $20 and $30 bets, and you end up breaking even. Woo hoo, those dramatic ups and downs are what create the THRILL of gambling!

You take your chips and and walk around. You see a sign: POKER ROOM. Hey, you played that game in college. And those guys on TV make it look so easy. A straight beats a flush, right?

You check in at the desk and ask for the lowest stakes available. $3/$6 holdem? Sure, that sounds cheap. What’s the most you could lose, $100?

You get seated and proceed to play every hand you’re dealt, just like you do in blackjack. Because you can’t win if you don’t play. What’s $3 to see a flop when you just spent $30 on a single hand of blackjack not five minutes ago?

Each time someone raises pre-flop, you don’t get annoyed about doubling your bet, you get EXCITED, because now there’s twice as much money to win! It’s just like doubling your bet in blackjack. It never occurs to you to fold that J-7 offsuit, cuz hey, you could flop two pair. Any two cards can win, right?

It certainly does NOT occur to you that the guy who raised might have a strong hand like AA/KK. He’s probably just bluffing, cuz that’s what poker is all about. Or more likely, he’s feelin’ lucky and wants to gamble it up… just like you!

You flop AKT and the bets start flying. You’re four to a straight, so you decide to call. You catch a 7 on the turn and the bets fly even harder. Well, you can’t fold now, right? Gotta call to the river. Because the point of poker is to show down the best hand, isn’t it? Those guys are probably just bluffing anyway, trying scare out the newbie. River is another 7. Now you KNOW you played it right. You just call on the river (why raise, the pot is plenty big) and show down your lucky 7’s to beat AKs and QQ.

All of a sudden, everyone is yelling at you about something, calling you a fish and insulting your intelligence. Well jeez, if that’s their attitude, maybe you should just take your winnings and cash out.

But wait, this is really easy, so you decide to stay longer, giving back more and more of your chips until they are all gone. Well, it’s not that much money, just a hundred bucks, and you made that much in 10 minutes at the blackjack table, so you rebuy and wait for some more luck to come your way. Once in a while you hit a wacky flush or straight on the river and this sustains you for another hour, until you finally run out of chips and make room for the next fish to sit down.

Ho hum, it was fun while it lasted. You didn’t lose that much really. You’ll be back tomorrow to take another shot at this poker stuff. But first… roulette!!

Basically, the story is the same online, except the lowest limit available at most online casinos is $0.25/$0.50 or $0.50/$1. So naturally, THAT is where you find the clueless calling stations.

After making their first deposit of $50 through NETeller, which they are not sure they trust yet, they sure as hell are not diving headfirst into the “middle” stakes. They are going to dip their toes in the lowest stakes possible, where they can lose the least while they get comfortable with the software, pace, and rules of play.

So the common observation is that “$3/$6 at the casino plays just like $0.50/$1 at Party!” Well, duh… THERE IS NO $0.50/$1 AT THE CASINO.

B&M casinos cannot spread such low limits because the rake would be too small to cover their overhead — dealers, shuffling machines, KEMs, drinks, cocktail waitresses, air conditioning, mortgages, etc.

So where do the weakest, most timid and passive players naturally gravitate? To whatever the bottom limit is: $2/$4 at the Taj Mahal; $3/$6 at the Gold Strike Tunica; $3/$6 with full kill at Casino Arizona; $4/$8 with half kill at Mandalay Bay.

They are the SAME EXACT fish you play against at the bottom limits online.

They will prosecute the SAME EXACT bad beats on you that you experienced when you started playing micro limits early in your bankroll building career.

If you want to avoid such fishfests, you must start out at a higher limit, like $6/$12. Assuming, of course, you have the bankroll. The laws of probability and chance still apply regardless of the skill differential between you and your opponents.

On the other hand, if total fishfests are where your game excels, these low stakes B&M tables are a freakin’ GOLDMINE. You can just play your normal $0.50/$1 game and grind out the same BB/hr, but in terms of dollars, you will reap 4X to 8X more profit!

Actually, it’s even more because of the physical tells you can pick up in a B&M situation.

First and foremost, you’re going to need a healthy bankroll to play at higher stakes than you’re used to. I cannot emphasize this enough. Bad fortune has a not-so-funny way of striking people right on the first day they venture into higher stakes.

The first time I tried $3/$6, I quickly dropped $100 and limped away feeling dejected. But think about it… that was barely 17 BB, within the noise! If that had been a $0.50/$1 table, I wouldn’t have even noticed the loss.

The second time I played $3/$6, I brought a lot more money and came prepared for the swings. Although I dropped $300 before my cards started hitting, I managed to make it all back, and then some, simply by waiting for cards and grinding it out.

Low limit poker is a grind. Make no mistake about it. You will have to show down the best hand most of the time to win the pot. So come prepared to exercise the same patience and discipline that you used back when you were a poker noob muddling around in the kiddie pool of PartyPoker’s $0.50/$1 tables.

Actually, you will probably need MORE patience than usual, because B&M tables deal cards much slower than online tables. Some dealers actually shuffle by hand instead of using a machine, and this makes things very slow. We’re talking 30 hands/hr. So do not be surprised if you end up playing only 5-8 hands in one hour.

If you haven’t read Small Stakes Holdem (SSH) by 2+2 Publishing, by god, what are you doing on this forum? Seriously, you need this book. Don’t come back to FTR whining about all the bad beats and suckouts you suffered and how it is impossible to beat low limit tables at the casino. YOU WILL GET NO SYMPATHY WHATSOEVER.

SSH is written explicitly with low limit B&M tables in mind. By low limit, I (and the authors) mean $2/$4, $3/$6, $4/$8, $5/$10, and even $6/$12. They mean any game where 6-9 people routinely call to the flop. Read the damn book and you will learn how to beat these super loose games consistently.

Small Stakes Hold’em Review

The main thing to keep in mind is that your TPTK is often going to lose against 5-8 opponents. Although it is a strong hand, it’s almost never a lock unless you have some kind of redraw. Even AA is extremely vulnerable against so many players — though it is still by far the best preflop hand and must be raised as much as possible.

You should NOT act all surprised when your one pair loses to some unlikely 2pr or backdoor flush on the river. Just take your lumps and remind yourself that these fish are the source of ALL your chips.

With highly multiway action, drawing hands like AXs and suited connectors go way up in value. Play them even against a raise, as long as the pot is multiway, because when you hit, you will scoop gi-normous pots.

One final note about the opposition at low limit B&M tables. This is the part that consistently shocks me the most. The players can be UNBELIEVABLY passive. There is so much checking going on at B&M cardrooms, it’s ridiculous.

You can have 7 folks enter a raised pot, and every single one of them will check the flop if they don’t hit TPTK. Even people with TPTK will check if the flop is only T high, fearing a face card on the turn.

Aggression is highly effective here, but only SELECTIVE aggression. You do NOT want to bluff these guys, as they will call you down with any pair. They may be too chickenshit to bet first, but you better believe they are loose enough to call. (Never mind the fact that they invest the same amount either way.)

When the table is really passive, any raise is met with indignant surprise, as if you just crapped on the table. This is especially true pre-flop. (“What the hell? You haven’t even seen the flop yet!”) A three-bet is almost unheard of. DO NOT fall into the trap of holding back on raises just to avoid being “rude.” And, needless to say, if one of those passives ever raises back at you, get the hell out of dodge.

You should value bet up the wazoo if you flop any kind of hand or any kind of draw. This will pay off immensely when you finally scoop a pot, which may be rare since you are basically playing fit-or-fold poker. If you can win 1 big pot an hour, that should be well more than enough to keep you on track towards a consistent 5-8 BB/hr win rate. I shit you not.

1) Bring adequate bankroll.

2) Be prepared for incredibly loose play (6-9 to the flop).

3) Be prepared for incredibly passive play (tons of checking and calling).

4) READ SSH to learn how to crush loose-passive games.

5) Don’t bluff. Value bet.

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