Ever get asked to recommend a strategy book for someone who has just started playing poker and wants to learn how to get better? Ever ask that question for yourself?
Poker pro and coach Jonathan Little’s Mastering Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em has emerged as a book many knowledgeable players have begun recommending more and more as a great place to start for lower-stakes players looking to improve their games.
In the book Little teaches how to play a solid, competent, decently aggressive style that will be profitable in these games. He provides both a basic strategy to crush small stakes games and identifies adjustments needed when facing more challenging competition.
Little starts with chapters about preflop strategy, including how to play when you are first in as the open-raiser, when facing limpers, when facing a raise, and other situations. After that come chapters focused on postflop strategy covering how to proceed after being the preflop aggressor and after calling before the flop, and other technical skills applicable to postflop play.
Little goes on from there to share advice about game selection, tournaments, bankroll management for a wide variety of formats, and how to avoid tilt yourself while taking advantage of it in others.
The following excerpts come from the long chapter covering “Post-Flop Strategy: As the Pre-Flop Caller” in which Little focuses on situations where you’ve called a preflop raise and thus don’t have the initiative going to the flop.
In the chapter Little looks at several different postflop scenarios, starting with the one where you are heads-up in position after the flop. After covering a number of different situations regarding different hand types and flops, Little then describes “Adjustments” players need to make when facing various player types.
Against a Weak Player
These players typically continuation bet premium made hands and check everything else. When they bet, you should fold unless you also have a premium made hand or are getting the right price to draw. When they check, you should often be willing to fire all three streets, assuming your opponent will fold almost his entire range by the river. It’s that simple. The way you beat these players is by essentially never paying them off for more than a flop bet, and by stealing every pot when it becomes clear they don’t like their hand….
Many weak, tight players continuation bet the flop with a wide range but then play very straightforwardly on the turn and river. Against these players, you should float with a wide range, including all bottom pairs and better made hands, gutshot straight draws, and backdoor flush draws. Since these players only give honest information once they arrive at the turn, you should make a point to get to the turn. When your opponent continues betting, you should then make tight, exploitative folds, and when he checks, you should bet with 100% of your range. If you find that your opponent frequently calls your turn plus river bets, you should rethink your strategy against this opponent because your read is clearly not accurate.
Against a Calling Station
Calling stations are difficult to exploit when they continuation bet unless they are willing to call flop raises with an incredibly wide range, including any draw and Ace-high. If they will call raises with a wide range, you can crush them.
Suppose a calling station raises to 3 big blinds out of his 80 big blind effective stack from middle position and you call on the button. The flop comes J♥10♣7♦. If the calling station bets 4 big blinds, you should use this strategy (Diagram 195).
This is what many amateurs blindly do versus other amateurs. They raise to about 3 times their opponent’s bet with top pair and better, call with their marginal made hands and draws, and fold their junk. While this strategy is quite poor against competent opponents, it is an excellent strategy against someone who will call your flop raises much too wide.
If you raise the flop and your opponent 3-bets, you should proceed with caution, probably only continuing with A-J and better. This is because most calling stations act in a passive manner once they are raised. If your opponent calls your flop raise, you can continue betting for value on the turn with most of your premium made hands (top pair and better).
If you have a marginal made hand and your opponent keeps betting on the turn, you should usually ditch all hands worse than 8-8, and then fold perhaps your entire marginal made hand range on the river to a third barrel. This is because most calling stations only bet all three streets when they are convinced they have the best hand. Again, this is often how amateurs play versus each other (folding their entire range on the river), but if your opponent will rarely bluff or overvalue worse made hands, folding most of your range is an excellent exploitative strategy. If your opponent checks on the turn, tend to value bet middle pair and better, and try to see a cheap showdown with everything else.
If your opponent checks to you on the flop, you should use the same range as above, except you should bet about 65% pot with all premium made hands, marginal made hands, and draws. This will result in you extracting value from marginal made hands, Ace-high, weak pairs, and weak draws. If your opponent calls your flop bet, you should bet about 50% pot on the turn with middle pair and better made hands. You should not bet the turn with draws because at that point, you are putting money in poorly (unless you assume you have some fold equity on the turn or river). If your opponent will call a 50% pot turn bet with a wide range and an 85% pot turn bet with almost no hands, you should bet 50% pot with your made hands and 85% pot with your bluffs. If you bet the turn with middle pair and better made hands and your opponent calls, you should continue betting the river for an amount that you think your opponent can realistically call with worse made hands most of the time.
Against a Maniac
Many amateurs understand they will miss the flop about 65% of the time, but they fail to recognize that their opponent will also miss that often. This means that if your opponent is continuation betting too often, as many players do, you can either raise or float the flop with a wide range, stealing the pot whenever your opponent doesn’t have a strong hand. Maniacs are the prime target for these plays because they often bet whenever they have the opportunity.
Suppose someone who is a bit too aggressive raises from middle position and you call on the button. The flop comes K♠7♣4♦. This is a spot where many players make a 65% pot continuation bet with nearly 100% of their range. Clearly, they will not have a strong hand very often and, even when they do, they may not be able to withstand significant pressure. This is an excellent spot to call the flop with any sort of equity and then bet the turn and river if your opponent checks, or raise if your opponent continues betting. When you raise the flop, you are usually risking about 12 big blinds to win a pot of 12 big blinds, meaning if your bluff works more than 50% of the time, you immediately profit….
Against slightly more maniacal players who will pile their stacks in with an extremely wide range if you call, you should usually call their flop bets with all premium and marginal made hands with the intention of calling down unless the board becomes incredibly scary. If your opponent will fold most of his range if you show aggression, you should play in the manner that leads to the result you want, raising with your junk and draws while calling with your made hands.
Against absolutely crazy players who will blindly pile their stacks in regardless of your action, feel free to raise with your best hands and get the money in immediately. You should call with your draws and marginal made hands, and fold your junk. This strategy ensures you play a large pot with your premium hands and a manageable pot with your marginal hands and draws. In my experience, almost no one is oblivious to the fact that flop raises usually indicate strength. I essentially never assume my opponents will play in this manner, which leads me to call with all my made hands.
Mastering Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em is available in paperback, as an e-book, and as an audio book at D&B Poker.
D&B Publishing (using the imprint D&B Poker) was created by Dan Addelman and Byron Jacobs 15 years ago. Since then it has become one of the leading publishers of poker books with titles by Phil Hellmuth, Jonathan Little, Mike Sexton, Chris Moorman, Dr. Patricia Cardner, Lance Bradley, Martin Harris and more, all of which are available at D&B Poker.