The decision to start playing small ball poker and integrating it into an overall adaptive poker strategy is a change players on all levels are making.  The style of play now known as ‘small ball’ has probably been in circulation as long as poker has.  However, its recognition and emergence as a profitable form of play has been assisted through it’s adoption by poker pro Daniel Negreanu, the man also responsible for the styles current moniker.  For those of us who have suffered one too many bad beats at the business end of a massive pot, it seems there might be some pretty tempting reasons to implement small ball poker into our playing repertoire. 

Small Ball is an advanced poker play the primary benefits of which is the establishment of a very loose table image without abandoning proper hand selection, and the prospect of seeing a high percentage of flops whilst still maintaining small pot sizes.  Significantly, central to the method is the desire not putting our stack at risk, unless of course we want it to be.   Whilst the method is one which relies heavily on post flop ability, it promotes action by fostering the perception in our opposition that we are loose aggressive players constantly sniping at the pot, even though we’re looking to consciously control the pot size.

Whilst the premise can be summed up pretty simply, there are a couple of factors which mean playing profitable small ball poker requires a little brain power.



Firstly, the decision to implement a small ball poker approach in any given session depends on our opponents.  If we are facing a hyper aggressive table who are prepared to increase the pot size heedless of any play we might make, then we’re better off adapting a tight posture and waiting for a spot to capitalize on our opponents zeal.

Similarly, our opponents need to have at least some understanding of the way we are playing.  If they lack the situational awareness to grasp the image we seek to project, this may be a limiting factor in how profitable this method of play is against them.

The real profit in small ball comes from creating a poker table image which doesn’t reflect the way we are playing, and taking down numerous small pots with marginal hands because our opponents fail to give us credit for our respectable holdings, and also pay us off when we hit our monsters.   It is the creation of this table image and making narrow calls, bets and timely poker bluffs that attributes to the skill factor required to implement this method of play.

The Nitty Gritty

Position and poker hand selection are critical to playing small ball poker.  We’re looking to play as many hands as possible with position, and with a range of hands that still hold potential.  Suited connectors and suited gapers are prime real estate, with suited Ax becoming playable.  Our opening hands might span many of the Sklansky Groups, particularly groups 1-6, but we’ll continue to discard trash hands.
Small ball poker involves smaller than usual raises.  Against the right field a raise of 2.5xBB in early position and 3xBB in late can have the marginally same effect as raises of twice that size, but the difference to the end pot size can be significant.

Using an example:

With blinds at 100/200, a raise UTG of 2.5xBB with two callers gives a pot of 1800 (if the blinds fold).  A half pot bet on the flop, turn and river with just one caller results in an end pot of 14,400.  The same hand played out with an UTG raise of 4xBB results in an end pot of 21,600…50% larger!

Seeing a lot of flops is a large part of small ball poker as it contributes to the loose aggressive image.  However by controlling the pot size we can minimize our chip bleeding on hands which don’t develop their potential.

Pot control may also necessitate checking at some point in the hand, although logic suggests this should be against boards which aren’t draw heavy.  The benefit though of small ball is being able to evaluate your opponents holdings on each street without putting our stack at significant risk.  Checking behind on the flop or turn can assist us to determine the strength of their hand based on their response.  A check on the river can be used to induce a small bluff, or avoiding a situation where your opponents comes over the top of our bet with a river bluff of their own.

With small ball it’s also important to be prepared to change gears.  By occasionally making use of larger bets in situations where we think our opponents holdings are meager, or when we have good holdings, can make it easier to get paid off when we do finally hit our monster hands.  Selective aggression will be needed here.

Small ball poker is probably best suited to cash game play or in tournaments where blinds are small relative to stack sizes (primarily early stages).  It can be an extremely successful strategy and one apt to produce profitable results if employed correctly.

Want to play on the best sites for small ball?

We recommend Party Poker, particularly for medium level stakes.

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