Play Small Ball Poker – Negreanu Loves It, So Do We!
The decision to start playing small ball poker and integrate it into an overall adaptive poker strategy is a change made by players at all levels. The style of play now known as ‘little ball’ has probably been around for as long as poker has. However, its recognition and emergence as a lucrative form of play has been helped through its adoption by poker player Daniel Negreanu, the man who is also responsible for the moniker’s current style. For those of us who have suffered too many bad beats at the end of the big pot business, there seem to be some pretty tempting reasons to incorporate small ball poker into our gaming repertoire .
Small Ball is an advanced poker game whose main benefits are the formation of a very loose table image without abandoning proper hand selection, and the prospect of seeing a high percentage of flops while still maintaining a small pot size. Significantly, at the heart of this method is the desire not to harm our stack, unless of course we want to. While this method relies heavily on post-flop ability, it encourages action by fostering a perception in our opposition that we are loose aggressive players who are constantly aiming for the pot, even though we want to consciously control the pot size.
While the premise can be summed up quite simply, there are a number of factors that mean playing profitable small ball poker requires a bit of brain power.
Firstly, the decision to adopt a small ball poker approach in any session is up to our opponents. If we are facing a very aggressive table that is ready to increase the size of the pot regardless of any play we may make, then we are better off adjusting to a tight posture and waiting for a place to capitalize on the spirit of our opponent.
Similarly, our opponents should have at least some understanding of how we play. If they lack the situational awareness to understand the image we want to project, this may be a limiting factor in how profitable this method of playing is for them.
The real advantage in small ball comes from making poker table images that don’t reflect the way we play, and dropping lots of small pots with marginal hands because our opponents failed to give us credit for our respectable holdings, and also paying us off when we hit our monsters. It is the making of this table drawing and making the narrow calls, bets and bluffs of poker on time which is linked to the skill factor required to apply this method of play.
The Nitty Gritty
Poker position and hand selection is very important for playing small ball poker. We want to play as many hands with position as possible, and with a range of hands that still have potential. Matched connectors and matched gapers are prime real estate, with a matching Ax playable. Our opening may span a lot of Sklansky Groups, especially groups 1-6, but we will continue to throw trash hands.
Small ball poker involves a smaller raise than usual. Against the right a 2.5xBB increase in the early and 3xBB at the end can have slightly the same effect as a double that size increase, but the difference in final pot size can be significant.
Seeing lots of flops is a big part of small ball poker as it contributes to a loose aggressive image. However by controlling the size of the pot we can minimize our chip bleeds on hands that are not developing to their potential.
Pot control may also require checking at some point in the hand, although logic suggests this should be done against a less heavy board. The benefit of the small ball is being able to evaluate your opponent’s possession on every street without putting our stack at significant risk. Checking the flop or turning behind can help us to determine their hand strength based on their response. A check on the river can be used to make a small bluff, or avoid situations where your opponent is over our bet with their own river bluff.
With a small ball, it’s also important to be prepared to change gears. By occasionally taking advantage of the bigger stakes in situations where we think our opponent’s holdings are low, or when we have good holdings, it can make it easier to get paid when we finally hit our monster hand. Selective aggression will be needed here.
Small ball poker may be best suited for cash games or in tournaments where the blinds are relatively small for the stack size (especially the early stages). This can be a very successful strategy and tends to produce profitable results if used correctly.