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Monday, March 21, 2011

                                                       (Back from holidays !)

This is ostensibly common knowledge. If you ask some randomly chosen small stakes no-limit players for strategy advice, you’re guaranteed to be told that you should be aggressive. But something gets lost in translation between their “be aggressive” advice and how these same players actually play when they are at the table. Most small stakes players are way, way too passive. My goal with this series has been to show you some common situations where average players often miss the opportunity to be aggressive.
Aggressive preflop play pays. Here are four tips to make your preflop game tougher.

Tip 1. Don’t limp in without being willing to sometimes limp-reraise as a bluff.
Small stakes no-limit players love to limp into pots. Most, but not all, of these limps are bad. The typical preflop open limp is made with a weak hand like T-7 suited that the limper should have folded instead.
Limping in is okay with a hand like T-9 suited in a game where raising won’t win you the blinds, and you’re likely to see a flop without a raise behind you.
If you limp in with a weak suited hand and someone makes a substantial raise behind you, generally fold. But you should be willing sometimes to turn the hand into a bluff with a limp-reraise. Here’s an example.
You limp in for $2 in a loose live $1-$2 game with T :heart: 9 :heart: . Another player limps, and then the cutoff raises to $12. The cutoff is the most aggressive player at the table, and he raises fairly frequently with position. The blinds fold. Both you and the cutoff have $300 stacks. Consider reraising to $35 or $40.
It’s a simple play. A limp-reraise often means pocket aces, and your opponent raises loosely. Your opponent will usually have a so-so hand and fold for fear you have aces. Don’t try this against players who tighten their raising standards after limpers. Don’t overuse this play. Don’t limp into lots of pots. But if you do limp and get raised, this bluff should be in your bag of tricks.


Tip 2. Raise limpers with position.
Most of the time when someone limps into a pot, they have a trashy hand like T-7 suited. When you’re on the button and there’s one or two limpers to you, raise a lot of hands. Raise K-6 suited. Raise T-9 offsuit. Raise A-4 offsuit. Raise 6-5 suited.
If your opponents like to limp in and then fold to a raise, make the raise big enough that they’ll fold. You’ll win lots of small pots uncontested. When you get called, you’ll have position against someone with a trashy hand. As long as your opponent isn’t lucky enough to make two pair or better by the turn, you should be able to steal most of the pots with flop and turn bets regardless of what you hold.
This is my bread-and-butter play at small stakes no-limit hold’em. One or two players limp. I have two passable cards and position. I raise preflop planning to bet most flops and many turns. It works again and again.

Tip 3. Never call a reraise without a specific postflop plan.
In small stakes games, preflop reraises usually mean business. For a random player in a live $1-$2 or $2-$5 game, I’d guess a reraiser had pocket queens or better or possibly A-K. Don’t call these reraises. There’s no money in it.
Some players will reraise with more hands than these. They’ll reraise with pocket jacks and pocket tens, with A-Q and even some weaker hands. Against these relatively few players who reraise light, you can consider calling. But even then, never call a reraise without a specific postflop plan.
What do I mean by that? Basically I mean that you need to win some pots without hitting your hand. If you call a $60 reraise in a $2-$5 game with 5-5, and your plan is to fold if you don’t flop a set, you are going to lose a ton of money. (Fold small pairs to a large preflop reraise. They don’t play well in reraised pots.)
There are two ways to win pots without hitting your hand. You can count on your opponent to check it down when he misses, or you can run some bluffs. In small stakes games, the former plan is likely to be your best chance. So don’t call a preflop reraise unless you know that your opponent will reraise without a super premium hand, and you also know that your opponent will frequently just check postflop without a strong pair or better.

Tip 4. Pay attention.
“Duh,” you say. Okay, maybe you know to pay attention, but do you really do it hand after hand? You should. People give off far more tells preflop than on any other betting round. It’s because they aren’t invested in the hand yet, so they are careless about their mannerisms.
You’re in the cutoff with Q :club: 9 :club: . A bad player limped in, and everyone else folded to you. What should you do? According to Tip 2, you should raise. But before you do that, look to your left. What is the button doing? Does he look like he plans to fold? Or is he counting out chips for a raise? If he’s folding, raise away. If he’s counting out chips, maybe you should fold instead. Always look to your left preflop, particularly when you are one or two positions off the button, and you have a borderline hand. The information your opponents give away is extremely valuable.
Thinking about limping into the pot with a weak hand? Don’t. That didn’t convince you? Okay, at least check to see if someone straddled. Straddled pots play much bigger than unstraddled pots. Don’t try to sneak into straddled pots. Pay attention. Paying attention preflop will save you and make you a lot of money over time.

Final Thoughts
Many small stakes players approach preflop play in a fundamentally different way than they approach play after the flop. Postflop they are cautious, unwilling to put much money at risk without good prospects to make a strong hand. Preflop, on the other hand, they view like playing the lottery, tossing in a few chips with any old hand.
Good preflop play follows the same principles as good postflop play. Fold trash hands. When you’re out of position, be even more selective. Don’t call aimlessly trying to see a flop. Put money in the pot only with purpose. When other players show weakness, attack them with aggression. If you follow these principles, you’ll be well ahead of the game.


  1. I like the bit about being aggressive when players show weakness. good info thanks

  2. Awesome blog man! Keep up the good work! It will pay off!

  3. Thanks, this should improve my postflop play.

  4. Good tips. There is so much to think about when playing poker, but I've been trying to break it down into simple steps, and that seems to be helping quite a bit.