Small ball poker has become an increasingly popular style of tournament play, thanks to its primary adherent, Daniel Negreanu. Small ball players get involved in a wider range of starting hands and play them more aggressively than traditional players, but their game is based on the occasional check, small bets and small raises, so they do not lose too much money when their play bears no fruit and they have to fold. This usually means making big hands with small pairs, connectors, or one-gap hands. If you get lucky with holdings like these and your opponent is holding a big pair or two, you might be able to take his entire stack. Your savvier opponents — those who take note of the kinds of hands you play — are likely to give you credit for a big hand when the board is otherwise benign, even in situations where they might be likely to look up other players. The flip side of this coin is that you must play hands like these inexpensively.
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If you play small ball poker correctly, in the long run the amount you win from opponents when they call you down with sub standard hands should outweigh the amount you lose from making consistent raises and bets without a strong hand.
This is a reason why it is important to make small raises and bets instead of large, stronger bets source. So, by taking advantage of position and playing aggressive when you can minimize your loses you can exploit weaknesses in other people's table play.
Your second question is unanswerable. Estimating what the mix of styles in a tournament will be on average is too inflexible an assumption for any strategic use. Your first question is more interesting and problematic. Can we play small-ball poker in a cash-game? Yes, but it takes far greater personal involvement from the player, and frankly doesn't lead to vastly improved results. It's more useful against smarter opponents, but the poker community represents a bell curve of skill. Unless you're playing the top few percent, it's rarely going to matter.
Considering most game dynamics in cash games, I advocate playing slightly larger than small-ball, and don't overdo the aggression. That may sound arbitrary, but you'll soon know what I mean when your opponents won't let you play a small pot with any high frequency, and are constantly testing your weak bets and small raises with re-raises and all-ins when you inevitably have weak hands.
Big pots impact your win rate differently in cash, and small-ball will make it an incredibly difficult path to tread, where one mistake will be close to unrecoverable. If your opponent is too aggressive, it's not so bad to small-ball. Try to play a wider range, but stick to being aggressive when you have a value-hand. Almost all things in poker come down to frequencies.
Either you're doing something too much, or not enough. It's easy to call it balance. Small-ball, and conversely, big-ball strategies are about these frequencies. Small ball advocates you play a wider range, and play it more, perhaps very aggressively. Big-Ball poker advocates the opposite, tighter although not overly passive. Both of these statements concern your image , and using it deceptively. That's not a narrow subject. Without maths, that's about all of poker!
Finding the balance between them is good poker. Small-ball in my mind has its place, correctly, in tournament poker. The majority of anyones time in a tournament is short-stacked less than 50bb. That's about all. How often do you have bb or more at a tournament table? How often does more than one player have that?
At your table? The answer is rarely. There is a perpetual mindset of survival in tournament poker, which isn't there with cash games. Although it's useful to know who's scared of losing and who isn't at any table type, the result is definitive in a tournament. When you bust, that's it, game over. Extracting bluffs in this environment is more difficult than average.
This pot-to-stack ratio issue, and this survival mindset, lead to inevitably poor implied odds in a tournament for each hand. Which is why playing a high frequency, high aggressive style will reap greater dividends in this case. The idea that you steal small pots very often, balances the negative effects of increasing blinds and dwindling stack sizes.
If you get in a pot for stacks, it's unusual without two big hands showing up. Small-ball wins the day. If a tournament is about survival, then a cash game is about opulence.
In cash, big pots are king. Implied odds are far more important. The small pots are just for positioning your image. Small pots are crucial, but they are not the desired outcome like in tournaments. Try this out. Look at where you're earning your profit from. Invariably, big pots are where most profit comes from.
What you're likely to see is that big pot profitability bears a striking resemblance to your overall profitability. Gear your game to focus on deceiving your opponents into big-pot mistakes and you'll improve your win-rate. You might say that "By winning small pots, I'm setting them up for a big one later, right? True, but the frequencies you represent by playing small-ball will mean you have to adjust your understanding of what is a big hand for you now. Your value hands later will have thinner equity than what is usually considered value for a TAG, e.
You'll have to be ready take down medium and large pots with top pair-mid kicker type hands, regularly, to cover your losses and avoid being exploited by the inevitable increase in bluffs you are faced with. From my experience, there are better ways to crush poker than using a small ball strategy in a cash game. Honestly, I think that small ball strategy is significantly more effective in cash games.
Many of the benefits it provides center around people adjusting to your image. In tournaments, that can all go down the drain when players are moved to different tables.
By contrast, in cash games you are much more likely to play a large number of hands against the same opponents. Further, in tournaments, you have to balance this strategy with the necessity of survival with a limited number of chips. You need a deep stacked tournament for it to work well for any meaningful period of time, and even there, as blinds rise other factors will trump the gains from this strategy, forcing you to play differently to accommodate.
By contrast, in cash games, you can always have a deep stack, simply by adding chips to your stack if it starts to drift too low. Finally, I would argue that winning lots of small pots is more meaningful in cash games than in tournaments. This is again because of the rising blinds in tournaments, which make the small pots you win early on relatively less important. Unless you are truly expert, small ball is just an excuse to play loose and weak and likely to be a losing strategy.
What you should do instead is focus on the other players at the table and try to adjust to the way they are playing. See if you can figure out what kind of mistakes they tend to make and play in a way that has the best chance of exploiting those mistakes.
Sometimes that means playing small ball, but the difference is that when you do it, you do it for a reason. In raked cash games, small ball is terrible. The rake significantly devalues small pots. Furthermore, the usual lack of antes make the pots small relative to your small ball raise. For these reasons and others that Toby already mentioned, I would argue against small ball in cash games.
Playing loose and weak in cash-games is the fast-track to loosing money and developing bad habits, because people arent scared to put their chips in to easily counter your weakness with aggression. I think I have never seen a loose and weak winning player in a cash game.
It's right that most of your winnings should come from small pots in position, but to do this you need aggression. Small ball works for Daniel Negreanu because he is Daniel Negreanu. We have all seen his sick predictions of what someone has in their hole on TV. So he gets that cred. In theory, if you can learn to play this style perfectly then you can probably have alot of luck against someone like Negreanu, who is great at reading people, because this style will help to through him off of your actual hand.
I would argue that the Negreanues are so rare that confusing them is not worth focusing on unless you play against them regularly. Further unless this style of play suits you that trying to adapt to the new style will be more costly than rewarding. In the end the strategy that wins for you is a good strategy. I am of the opinion that learning new techniques and strategies only helps your game when it does not distract you from your strengths.
I think it helps more when your regular game has you figured out, and you need to change it up to keep from losing, or to recapture the gains you are no longer making. If there was a single magic bullet then the entire final table of every tourney would be full of people using that. Small ball poker is a "theoretically" incorrect version of poker. It appears to be an "adaptation" of the principles of the game based on the fact that the vast majority of players play too "loosely.
That's because you will "catch" more people with weak hands more often than you will be "caught. The other aspect of the game is that you can afford to play this way only when the stakes are relatively low for the level of the game in a "small ball" environment. If they suddenly "escalate," you can no long play "loose," but ought to revert standard "tight game" strategy, and fold most hands. Your second question suggests an assumption you might wish to reconsider.
Asking how many players in a tourney are likely to be using "small ball" conflicts with some fundamental realities: Decent players mix up their tactics, often playing against their table image. So, as always, the real answers depend on being able to recognize what others at the table are thinking and doing.
TIPS AND STRATEGIES
However, this term and style of play later gained more recognition through strategy articles and videos by Daniel Negreanu. You can see a bunch of videos on how to play small ball on Negreanu's PokerVT training site. In fairness though, it's hard to give either Harrington or Negreanu full credit for this style of play. It's likely that this style had been employed by many professional poker players before them, but they just hadn't named it. Essentially, small ball poker involves playing a wider range of starting hands more aggressively, but only using small bets and raises to save you from losing too much money when certain plays do not work out.
Daniel Negreanu on Poker: Starting Hands in Small Ball Poker – Part I
Indeed, that is the case. Also note that pocket aces and kings are good enough to play for all of your chips. Play these hands a bit more cautiously before the flop. Playing middle pairs like , , , and can be difficult but only if you overvalue them and mistakenly play them as you would premium hands. If you are the first to enter the pot with any of these hands, make a standard small ball raise — that is, bet slightly less in hopes of winning a lot more. Your goal with middle pairs is to win a big pot by flopping a set. Use caution, though, if you miss on the flop.
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