The challenge of playing low, low stakes

September 10, 2007

Since I’ve made this blog available to the outside world I should state some things that are common general statements before I get to aspects that I want to look at.

  1. There are good and bad players at all levels of buyins. Some claim there is very little difference from one level to another.
  2. When playing at the lowest levels, play straightforward. Don’t make fancy plays as the players won’t notice them.

Somewhat contradictory statements to some degree, but both have aspects of truth.

Since I’ve started a new bankroll on a new site to work on a deposit bonus, I’m trying to force myself to play at the lowest level until I achieve a certain increase in bankroll whereupon I will allow myself to move up. The difficulty is that this site has no really low buyin levels for NLHE so the lowest anyone can start at is the level that I’m playing, meaning that 1) there are more raw beginner players and 2) there are more short buyin players, beginners who don’t want to risk too much so they only buy into the table with 20-40% of the table maximum.

This causes additional difficulties. Raw beginners can be very hard to read as they don’t know what they are doing so it’s pretty hard to read their hand. All I can do is rely on pot odds to tell me if they are giving me odds to chase or not, and to value bet good hands hoping that they won’t suck out since they won’t fold. I also have to be able to fold to most surprise big bets as most of the time these are not bluffs, but someone who has hit some unlikely holding. In addition, short stacks are a problem as if you value bet them and they call, then they push the turn or river you have to call because they have so few chips that you can’t fold anymore.

I wasn’t planning to have actual hand histories in this blog, but this one might be an example of both issues.

(6 handed) Hand History Converter Tool from FlopTurnRiver.com (Format: HTML)

SB ($13.05)
BB ($11.25)
UTG ($3.80)
MP ($2.65)
CO ($9.85)
Button ($10.80)

Preflop: Hero is Button with Ac, 6h.
UTG calls $0.10, 2 folds, Button raises to $0.45, 2 folds, UTG calls $0.35. Here I’m basically on a blind steal. A6o is not a hand I would do much else with, but on the button with only a limper it figures to be the best hand. UTG limper calls, implying mid pair or connectors that are hoping to catch a hand.

Flop: ($1.05) 9c, Jh, Ah (2 players)
UTG checks, Button bets $0.6, UTG calls $0.60. I’ve hit top pair, he doesn’t show any interest so I bet, giving him 1.75:1 odds to call, not enough unless he has the Th9h or something close.

Turn: ($2.25) 3d (2 players)
UTG checks, Button bets $1.1, UTG calls $1.10. The 3 shouldn’t have helped him, so I bet again and he calls again.

River: ($4.45) 2c (2 players)
UTG bets $1.65 (All-In), Hero calls $1.65. Now another card that shouldn’t have helped him comes, and he leads out giving me 2.70-1 odds. I can’t figure out what he could have except for a bluff. A slowplay of trips or two pair on the flop is rare at these short tables (much more common to the point of being overdone at full tables), so I call. I should have him beat because I can’t see what calls the preflop, flop and turn bets. Because he’s bought in short and called the raise and two bets, he can’t bet enough to chase me now if even if he wanted to, and since I can’t figure out what he might have I feel I have to call.

Final Pot: $7.75

UTG has 3h 2h (two pair, threes and twos).
Hero has Ac 6h (one pair, aces).
Outcome: UTG wins $7.75.

Not well played by me, but that’s the disadvantage of playing people who don’t know how to play; who else limp/calls preflop with 32s (32suited) and then calls the flop bet against pot odds. In retrospect I should have bet more on the flop in the slim chance that it would have made him realize he had bad odds, then checked the turn rather than trying to push him off since after the flop call it’s obvious he’s not folding. This would have kept the pot about the same size, but increased the chance of him folding on the flop. The weakness in this strategy though is that when some players see a check on the turn, instead of seeing that as an attempt to keep the pot small they think that represents weakness and then they will bet big on the river and you can’t tell if they hit the river or if they think they can push you off and you don’t know which is more likely.

So both his bad playing and the short stack were problems for me here. I should have folded or maybe limped preflop because once players limp, they don’t often fold to raises. If I limped, I then could have potted the flop, checked the turn and call/folded the river depending on his bet size.

I don’t like to build big pots with so-so hands and these players do not seem to feel the additional pressure of calling a flop or turn bet with a drawing/weak hand, which means that they often won’t fold. All you can seem to do is to steal a few blinds preflop, pick up the odd hand from the blinds on the flop, and be very patient and wait for big hands and then encourage them to put as many chips in the middle as possible.

I don’t know how else to approach playing these players, other than to watch how they play carefully for clues. Some are hyperaggressive with nothing, others overvalue marginal hands (these do well against the hyperaggressive players as they’ll call and win with one medium pair), others never bet but call, others are afraid to play anything, others buy in short and push all-in every second or third hand, others think J5s is a hand to raise with from UTG. And the other nasty about these particular short tables is the rake. I’m plus 10 BB over 750 hands so far with winnings of $15 but the rake has been over $18.


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