Small Ball Poker Vs Home Run Poker, Skilled Vs Beginner

In the last post I talked about pot odds and betting. The topic today has a direct correlation to that. As you start to play a little bit more, you may have heard the term small ball poker and wondered what it was. Basically it means winning lots of smaller pots with smaller sized bets. Home run poker, on the other hand, is winning pots with larger bets. More skilled players tend to play small ball while it is a good idea for beginners to go for the home run. The reasoning is very simple and it has a lot to do with pot odds. Like I said in the previous post, poker is a very mathematical game and when employed properly can make you or save you lots of money. If you listen to Mike Caro (and you should) then folding when you’re supposed to actually makes you money as well. Below are the reasons for playing each:

Small Ball Poker: Like I said above, more skilled players tend to play this way. I know it is heavily endorsed by Daniel Negreanu and he has some videos on YouTube that talk about it as well. They tend to keep the pots a bit smaller but then win more pots with betting. Preflop, the raises tend to be in the 2.5-3x the big blind (BB) with an extra BB unit per person that may have already limped in front of you. For example, you’re playing $1/2 and you know you’re going to raise. Your raise will usually be $5-6 total. If one limper is in front of you, you’ll make it $7-8, two limpers, $9-10 etc. Now a flop comes out that you don’t think helped your opponent(s) and you want to bet (as most players do after raising preflop, firing the continuation bet). How much do you bet? In the last post about pot odds I talked about how half to two thirds is enough to make it the wrong call to chase most draw. Hands like open ended straight and flush draws are one of the exceptions as those draws are mathematically favoured against most hands. So, say you bet that $6, get called by one person and both blinds fold. That’s $15 in the pot (your bet + opponent’s call +$1SB +$2BB = $15). A correct bet would be between $8-10. You will get a surprising amount of callers a lot of the time and it’s because a lot of players ignore pot odds. Don’t be that person! I mean, sometimes if you’re the one that’s drawing you’re going to call because not everyone has the hand they’re representing. Everyone and their dog C-bets the flop now and sometimes you’ll have the best hand even with your draw. If you’re holding KQ of spades, the flop is J 10 2 with two spades, and your opponent has pocket 7′s, guess what? You are favoured to win by the river because if you hit one of 9 spades, 3 aces, 3 nines, 3 kings, and 3 queens, you will take the lead. So, you can’t lay it down every time. You don’t want it to look like you can just be run over. You could call one time and if they didn’t hit their hand, may check the turn to you. You can make a semi-bluff (a bluff that could turn into a big hand and another post topic for another time) and win the pot either by him folding, or him calling and you hit your draw.

OK, so I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent there. Where was I? Ah yes. You’ve bet $10 into a $15 pot making the pot $25. $10 for him to call into a $25 pot is 2.5-1. If he’s drawing to an open ended or double belly buster straight, he has 8 outs and is just over 3.2-1 to hit his hand. He is not getting the proper odds to call. If you get raised and you think you are somehow raised you can fold your hand and lose your $10. What happens when you don’t play small ball, bet the pot, get raised and fold? You’ve lost another $5 on top of it that you didn’t really need to lose. Betting half to two thirds the pot will generally wield the same information as a pot sized bet will. Now, because I recommend being the tight/aggressive small ball player, you will win lots of little pots with your image and as you build your stack can open your range a little later on and really confuse the table with where you’re at. And that’s exactly what you want. A table of confused players who don’t know how to play you. So remember, keep the bets smaller and don’t worry if you get called. Like I said, many don’t take pot odds into consideration. All they see is their hand and what they think they can win if they hit their hand. What they fail to realize is two things:
1) They’re going to lose with that chase in the long run. Ah yes, the long run. Remember, the numbers are taken over a period of time but the more you play, the more you’ll see that you’ll win in these cases.
2) Even if they hit their hand they aren’t necessarily going to win any more money from you. What if they’re chasing a flush, have just check/called the flop and turn to hit their card on the river, and now lead out with a bet? Chances are pretty good they’re not going to get any money from you because you can put them on that hand and fold. But the majority of the time their card won’t come and they’ve lost all this money on a draw they should have folded two streets ago. They’ll cry about how unlucky they are and you’ll just smile to yourself as you rake in some chips.

Home Run Poker: Definitely the style you should employ when you’re going against someone you know is a very good player or if you yourself are just starting out. I also only recommend playing a select few hands and playing them fast when you get them. In Phil Hellmuth’s book “Play Poker Like the Pros” he recommends beginners play his “Top Ten Hands”. They are: AA, KK, QQ, JJ, 10′s, 9′s, 8′s, 7′s, AK and AQ. I like this idea. Yes, it’s a very tight way to play but until you get some experience, see which hands are good hands to play in certain situations, get better at reading opponents and things of that nature I’d recommend this style too. I don’t necessarily agree with playing 9′s, 8′s, and 7′s too fast though. If you have a raise and a reraise in front of you, it’s still a good idea to fold those hands and same with AQ. As you may have read from my Top Overrated Hands post, AQ is a dangerous hand to get too involved with and while you can raise it and reraise it with position, be wary on the flop if someone comes hard at you. Also, what are you going to do when the flop comes A Q 10 and you’re holding two 7′s? Probably throwing them in the muck at any sign of an opponent wanting to play the pot. Or if you have KK, you’ve raised preflop, two people call, and an ace hits the flop? You can bet out but proceed with caution if you get either raised or they just call. One probably has an ace and you should be ready to fold your hand.

So, how should you raise preflop? In small ball I suggested 2.5-3x the BB. Now, I would suggest 5-7x the BB. Seem like a lot? Well, it is. You’re going to chase out those that are holding hands like QJ os, maybe KJos and maybe even some middle to smaller pairs. Your tight image plus the bigger sized bets will help you win a few more pots preflop. It’s a fact that more skilled players don’t want to play big pot poker, especially preflop. They want to see flops in position and try to outplay you later. They like to be the ones to put you to a decision, not have their own decisions taken away from them. If you bet $10 preflop and get a caller, how much do you bet on the flop? Right now you have $23 in the pot (your bet + his call + the two blinds = $23) so right here I would go ahead and bet $20-23. If they didn’t have a pair preflop, remember the chances of hitting a pair on the flop are about 33%. In other words, chances are they missed. If they had a pair lower than yours then they’ll hit their set 1 out of 8 times, or 11%. If they do hit, you’re probably going to lose some money. That happens and unless you get a great read on the person when they raise, you’ll probably end up paying them off. But for the most part they’re going to fold when they miss and you will take down a decent pot. (Warning: When you go into a brick and mortar casino to play the $1/2 games, you’ll notice that there’s a lot of preflop raising to $10, $15, and even over $20. I don’t understand it and when I’ve asked people at the table it’s because they say they want action. Now, to me that seems almost like an oxymoron because if you want action you bet less. Or they say they want to gamble. It’s not gambling, it’s just dumb betting and if they really wanted to get action or gamble with those stupid bets they’d move up to $2/5 where the bets make sense. And lots of people call those dumb bets with marginal hands. I don’t get it. I’m not throwing in $20 with KJos when my hand could very well be dominated but that’s me I guess)

OK, so there you have it. Home Run, or bigger bets for the less experienced player until you get that feel for the game, for your opponents, and especially a feel for your own game. As you start to learn and get that experience, you can start seeing a few more flops with a few more hands (playing some suited connectors, Ax suited etc.) while betting a little less. Remember, you’re still getting the same information with those smaller bets and you’re still making it incorrect for your opponent to call. As I’ve pointed out before, your main goal in poker is to make correct decisions but also to capitilize on opponents’ mistakes. Making them do something incorrectly is making money for you

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