The 2-5 No Limit Hold’em level of cash games is the beginning point where a significant amount of money can be made. At lower levels, the lack of stack depth and higher relative rake cut into profits to a large degree. An intelligent player at these stakes in poker can make enough money to grind out a living if need be. Through countless hours playing in these games, I have recognized a few key traits that are possessed by the best players at these stakes. This article will focus on 100 Big Blind capped buy-in games because 1) This was the structure used when I came up playing and I have a lot of experience, and 2) There are specific adjustments that must be made to maximize your win rate in these games due to the shallower stacks. Some of the topics I will be covering will include: calling too much pre-flop, value betting, recognizing player types, avoiding fancy play, limping and 3-betting.
The ability to recognize player types that you will encounter in these specific games is critical in determining the correct strategy. By correctly identifying player types, we can play an exploitative strategy that in most situations is the most profitable. The most common player type encountered will be the Loose Passive (LP) recreational player. This player type limps into many pots pre-flop and rarely shows aggression without a strong holding. These are the most profitable and lowest variance players to play against. When encountering LP players pre-flop, you will be using a lot of isolating pre-flop raises in position, as well as limping behind. Due to their lack of aggression, we can play more hands profitably versus this player type. A leak that many strong players make in these games is raising too many hands pre-flop in position, instead of limping behind. When multiple LP players have already limped into the pot and you are on the button with a hand such as T-9s, raising pre-flop is unlikely to result in a heads-up pot. With 2-3 limpers, your raise would be $30-$35. The likely result that I have found is a 3-4 way pot with $100-$150 in it. The stack to pot ratio has now dwindled to 3 to 1 or 4 to 1 and that’s if they are all playing full $500 stacks. The maneuverability has decreased post-flop. By limping behind in spots like this, you will now see a 5-6 way pot with a 10+ stack to pot ratio and find more profitable spots post-flop with your hand. Unless you are confident you can get the pot heads-up or at most 3-ways, consider limping behind with hands that have large implied odds and raising hands that can flop strong top pairs (AJo, KQo, QJo) because the play better at a lower stack to pot ratio.
The LP players that you encounter are very single-minded thinkers in poker. They focus on their hand, not the opponents. Absolute hand strength is more important (one pair, two pair, straight) than the relative strength of their hand (a set on four-flush board). The key strategy to exploit these players is to be very aggressive. Due to their lack of aggressiveness, there is little reasoning behind pot controlling weak hands or draws. There is also little fear of folding away your equity incorrectly, since most of their aggressive action is an indication of superior strength. Bet-folding hands on turns and river will be your biggest money maker. You are able to go for more semi-bluffs and thinner value versus these players due to their lack of aggression.
Another common player type in these games are the Tight Passive (TP) grinders. This player is similar to the LP, but is very selective in the type of hands played. AJ off-suit is an easy fold under the gun for this player. This player tends to play very fit or fold with hands such as pocket pairs and suited connectors. Like the LP player, this player shows little aggression without a strong hand. A 3-bet pre-flop is likely a big pocket pair, and a check-raise is an indication of a flopped set. The main difference is that the TP player is playing a tight range pre-flop. With a tight range, he will flop stronger hands and be able to continue on more flops. We want to have a lower continuation bet percentage versus this player than against the LP who is more likely to miss flops due to a wider range. An example may be a TP player calling my early position raise and the flop coming KQ5. I may just check fold this flop versus a TP player since they have many big card hands and fewer hands like 87 and 76 that the LP player would have. Just like the flop, we will value bet the river less often versus a TP player. When a TP player gets to the river, they will have a much stronger range and be able to profitably call thin value bets. In general, there is less money to be made off of a TP player (they are not making much money either though) and with a table full of TP players, your best bet is to look for a table change.
The Loose Aggressive (LAG) player type needs to be divided into two categories. First, will be the LAG who does not possess hand reading abilities. We can call this player the Gambler. The other type of LAG player is the toughest player you will encounter at these tables. The LAG plays many hands in a smart aggressive fashion.
The Gambler is playing many hands, just like the LP, but is coming in for a raise pre-flop. The Gambler is there for entertainment and lacks patience and discipline of a LAG player. The Gambler doesn’t like to be bluffed out of pots, thus we should resort to less bluffs and thinner value bets versus this player. The Gambler will be playing very wide ranges pre-flop, thus they will miss lots of flops. They will use their post-flop aggression to make up for missing flops. They are likely to have a very high continuation bet frequency, thus we should fold less flops versus this player. One of the biggest edges playing post-flop versus the Gambler is going for thin value bets. Top pair top kicker becomes a premium hand versus this player type and should be played accordingly. The Gambler is there to play hands, not fold. Use this tactic against them and punish them by going for value, as well as being very selective with your bluff attempts.
The other type of LAG is the smart LAG. This style is used by many of the best players in the game. They are aware of their image and know how to exploit it with thin value bets and continually putting their opponents in tough situations. These players use a high variance strategy that maximizes potential profits, but does bring downside risk into play. If you catch a LAG player who tilts and doesn’t adjust his play with a poor image, he can quickly turn into a Gambler that is very profitable to play against. In general, you want to avoid playing hands with the smart LAGs, since many you encounter will make great decisions post-flop and it will be difficult to show a profit.
It may seem like a simple concept, but many players fail to properly categorize their opponents when first sitting down at the table. Throughout the first 20-30 minutes in your session, you should be focusing on your opponents and learning their style. Also remember that players change their style throughout the session (and regulars in the game change styles over multiple sessions). Continuously have a mental checkup on how they are playing every couple of orbits. Recognize how players change in style (especially the ones frequenting the game) when losing money, winning money, and after facing a bad beat. All players will react differently and your ability to recognize and adjust will translate into more profit. You can also use player types to help with your table selection, which is vital (especially at lower limits when there are often multiple games running). Choose tables with Gamblers and Loose Passive players. Refocus on these important concepts to help refocus your game!
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