One of the recent trends in online poker is the introduction of No Limit Hold’em cash games with an Ante. Major sites such as FullTilt, UB (formerly UltimateBet), and Absolute Poker have added these games to their lobby looking to attract more players. Ante games tend to bring more action and create bigger pots, which is great for those looking for some instant excitement.
Those who learned the game by playing live (casino) poker might already be familiar with antes. For those who are unfamiliar with antes they are another forced bet before the flop typically 20-25% the size of the Big Blind. Before each hand is dealt players will “ante up”, creating a pot prior to the start of the hand. In some live games, players ante up just once each round when they are on the button. In this case, players will ante a much larger amount, but only have to do it once every orbit.
Understanding how the ante affects the game will go a long way in adjusting your strategy for ante games. First of all, the use of the ante automatically creates a larger pot before the flop. This “dead money” in the middle attracts a lot of action as players fight over the blinds and the antes pre flop. The simple fact is ante games play looser than non-ante games, which can be both beneficial for tight and loose players.
For loose players, ante games are great because they are already used to raising and re-raising pre flop. Because of this, the antes are an added bonus they earn every time they take down a pot. Most successful loose players (called LAGs) are great at playing a wide variety of hands from later position while remaining relatively tight from earlier position. This is a great strategy for ante games because it allows them to continue to win a lot of pots all the while still being successful in the overall game. The last thing you want to do is spend your entire stack going after a few extra bucks. Finally, loose players are used to being loose. This might seem obvious but LAGs are used to marginal situations holding mediocre hands while TAG (tighter players) will be uncomfortable having to play more hands.
Tighter players can still remain profitable in ante games. Most of these players make their money by sitting back and waiting on strong hands. While this may not seem like a great idea because of the antes whittling down their stacks, remember this is a cash game, not a tournament. Even though their stacks might take a small hit each hand, the TAGs can reload their chips in between deals, thus allowing them to gain maximum value when they happen to catch a hand. Because these games play much looser, the TAGs should be able to get paid nicely when they happen to connect. Also, as the pots are bigger before the flop, they can easily become out of control post flop, which is great for those who are generally holding premium hands.
You might be asking yourself which strategy is correct? The answer is not so simple. The best advice is to continue to play your normal game and adjust accordingly. If you find the ante games are very loose and/or aggressive then tightening up and waiting for a strong hand can pay great dividends. If your table seems to be tight and unwilling to gamble, then loosening up pre-flop can result in winning a lot of additional smaller pots which ultimately add up to a big score. The main thing to remember is the ante games are still poker; you should always be trying to make the best available play by breaking down your options along with your opponents actions.