This is sort of an ambitious topic to tackle, because entire books can be written on small stakes poker strategy. However, there are a few basic principles that you can use to beat small stakes games without too much effort.
If you already know basic poker strategy but seem to have a hard time winning consistently in small stakes poker games, this article is just for you.
The best strategy for small stakes poker games basically involves playing a simple, straightforward game that avoids a lot of trickery. Small stakes opponents make enough mistakes on their own that you don’t really need to go out of your way to induce mistakes. If you simply play a smart, tight game, you’ll make money.
Practice Table Selection
Table selection is the practice of picking and choosing tables that work well for your style. In this case, the best tables are ones that have a lot of loose-passive calling stations. You can find these types of tables by looking for tables in which few pots are raised before the flop and players do a lot of checking / calling but not a lot of betting / raising.
Table selection is important even in small stakes games because not all small stakes games are full of loose-passive players. The strategy on this page is designed specifically for weak players. If you find yourself in an aggressive small stakes game, you will make more money by simply leaving that table and looking for one that’s full of weak calling stations.
Bet Your Big Hands and Fold Your Weak Hands
Sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Well, this concept actually is pretty obvious but it’s still worth talking about. The only thing you need to do to beat small stakes poker games is bet when you have a big hand and fold everything else. Bluffing, semi-bluffing and slow-playing are all great tactics, but they are best used against slightly more sophisticated, observant opponents.
Small stakes poker players don’t typically take notes or adjust to your playing style. This means that you don’t have to worry about becoming too predictable in small stakes poker games. Hell, your opponents have enough trouble figuring out whether they have five cards to a straight or not.
I don’t mean to talk down too much on small stakes poker players by the way. There are quite a few sophisticated players out there who just happen to play in small stakes games. But those players are a minority. The average small stakes poker player is simply happy to be playing online poker and having a little fun. These players do not record every hand you play and constantly try to think of new ways to exploit you.
So all you need to do is play a game that keeps you out of trouble. Play only strong hands before the flop and fold everything else. After the flop, you should only continue when you have a made hand. There will be exceptions to these rules sometimes (there are exceptions to every rule in poker), but if you play with this mindset, you won’t be able to help but make money.
Play a Tight Preflop Game
The preflop stage in poker sets the stage for the rest of the hand. In small stakes games, you do not need to mix up your game and raise random hands from random positions. All you have to do is wait for strong hands and raise those hands. Everything else can be folded.
Preflop strategy covers quite a bit of ground, but we have a section devoted to that already. In summary, play a tight and patient game before the flop. You don’t have to worry about being a predictable player. Just practice your self-discipline and hand reading skills while you wait for good hands. You will have plenty of opportunities to mix up your game as you move up in stakes.
Play a Tight-Aggressive Postflop Game
The postflop stage is where you make all your money in small stakes poker games. Once again, the best strategy here is to wait for strong hands and fold everything else. When you finally do catch a strong hand, bet it for all it’s worth. Don’t worry about scaring away your opponents – they’ll find plenty of reasons to call your bets.
The tight-aggressive playing style was originally designed for the specific purpose of exploiting small stakes opponents. If you play a tight-aggressive game, you’ll make money. Bet when you have strong hands; fold when you have weak hands. It sounds super predictable (and it is) but it works.
Value Bet A Lot
Value bets are bets that you make with the intention of getting a call from a weaker hand. Value bets work wonders in small stakes games because your opponents love to call. One of the funny things about small stakes players is that they always somehow manage to convince themselves that you’re either bluffing or are betting with something weak.
Against a sophisticated opponent, I would be hesitant to bet the full pot on the flop, turn and river with TPTK. Against a loose, calling-station, I’ll do it all day long. Sometimes you’ll run into strong hands (small stakes players play their hands very passively), but you’ll usually be ahead. Remember: all you have to do is bet when you have strong hands and you’ll make money.
You also don’t have to worry about small stakes players raising your value bets or check-raising you with bluffs. One of the risks to value betting light in medium and high stakes games is being put into a bad position by an opponent who knows what you’re doing. Small stakes players don’t pull major aggressive moves like that very often, so you can get away with value betting a wide range of hands.
Forget About Bluffing
Bluffing serves no purpose in small stakes games. Sure, you might win the occasional pot by bluffing, but you don’t need to take the risk when there is so much easy money to be had out there. Besides, small stakes players like to consider themselves professional bluff catchers. Woe to the player who tries to bluff often in small stakes games.
The only types of bluffs that are worth anything in small stakes games are continuation bets on the flop with hands that whiffed the flop. If you raise with something like AK and get a single caller, you can go ahead and place a bet on the flop. You’ll get a fold often enough to make it worthwhile. Just don’t get into the habit of firing multiple barrels when you miss your hands. If a small stakes player calls you on the flop, there’s a good chance he’ll call again on the turn and river.
Fold If You Get Action
One of the few times you’ll encounter aggression in small stakes poker games is when your opponents have legitimate hands. If you’re just doing whatever it is you do and then one of your opponents suddenly slams in a big raise, the odds are it’s a real hand. Small stakes opponents do make some pretty random bluffs, but not often enough to make it worth finding out.
The only time you should stick around in the face of aggression in a small stakes game is if you have an extremely strong hand or your opponent is known for making big bluffs. Otherwise, you can fold and move on to the next hand. As long as you stay out of trouble, you can make money in small stakes poker games. You should be the one betting and raising – let your opponents be the ones who make mistakes and call those bets and raises.
Drawing Hands Are Good in Late Position
One of the nice things about playing in loose-passive small stakes games is that you can see a lot of flop for cheap. Small stakes poker players are notorious for limping in to lots of pots without raising. If you find yourself in late position and a few other players have limped in, feel free to join them with your small pocket pairs, suited connectors and even the occasional suited ace.
These small drawing hands are weak on their own, but they can occasionally hit big hands. They don’t hit big hands often enough to make them worth playing from early position or middle position, but they are great hands for late position. If you can get in cheap and there are a few other people in the pot, go ahead and join ‘em.
But remember that you have to be able to get away from these hands if they don’t pan out after the flop. If your hand doesn’t flop something big or a strong draw to something big, you have to be able to let it go. Don’t let yourself get wrapped up with middle pairs and weak draws. Those will only cost you money in the long run.