Small ball poker has become an increasingly popular style of tournament play, thanks to its primary adherent, Daniel Negreanu.
DANIEL NEGREANU SMALL BALL PDF
Small ball players get involved in a wider range of starting hands and play them more aggressively than traditional players, but their game is based on the occasional check, small bets and small raises, so they do not lose too much money when their play bears no fruit and they have to fold. This usually means making big hands with small pairs, connectors, or one-gap hands.
If you get lucky with holdings like these and your opponent is holding a big pair or two, you might be able to take his entire stack. Your savvier opponents — those who take note of the kinds of hands you play — are likely to give you credit for a big hand when the board is otherwise benign, even in situations where they might be likely to look up other players.
The flip side of this coin is that you must play hands like these inexpensively. Controlling the size of the pot and limiting the amount you might lose on a hand is a major part of small ball poker. After all, no one who fancies himself as a good poker player is eager to call a raise and see a flop out of position with a hand like You are a big favorite if your opponent holds a smaller pair and can afford to run the risk of giving a free card by checking the turn.
A small baller who fires out a continuation bet into that flop and is called will usually check the turn. Some opponents will figure you as a weak, aggressive player and look you up every chance they get.
On the other hand, if your opponent thinks that you make every hand you play and steps aside whenever you bet, you have a license to steal.
Your table image is critical to success at small ball poker, and two factors come into play here. First, you have to project a loose image so that opponents are willing, if not eager, to call with hands that are weaker than yours.
Daniel Negreanu's Small Ball Strategy
To some extent, all those small bets and raises made earlier were just part of the set-up for bigger hands you hope to play. After all, if you see a lot of flops, you must play well after the flop to make small ball work for you.
Small ball poker also gives you more than one opportunity to read your opponent.
But it also provides the same opportunity to your opponent. By learning to play well after the flop, small ball provides a huge edge over opponents who are not as adept at post-flop play as you are — because, among other things, it affords an opportunity to read and deduce their hand over several betting rounds.
While small ball poker conveys a loose image, and small ballers play more hands than their opponents, starting hand selection is still important.
When small ballers only catch part of the flop they need to be able to release their hand when it appears they are beaten — and small ballers are far more likely to be beaten than opponents who play power poker. In these circumstances, folding can even be a better course of action. At the end of most tournaments, and often during the late middle stages, blinds can be high in relation to stack sizes.
Small ball is ineffective here because the cost is too high to warrant taking a chance on speculative hands. Small ball is also highly position-dependent. Because successful small ball requires a great deal of skill after the flop, that task is eased immeasurably when you have position on your opponents.
Good small ballers are tough to play against because they read hands well and can decipher what your checks, bets, and raises really mean. You will get many good small ballers to fold better hands but you also run the risk of trapping yourself for all your chips when your small balling opponent wakes up with a really good hand. This prevents them from acquiring information about your hand before they have to act on theirs. If you are the less skilled poker player, your best tactic is often to increase the variance by making bigger bets and raises — and this includes pushing when you believe your opponent will fold — than to play small ball against an opponent whose skill differential means he is likely to grind you down over time, as long as the luck of the draw can be bled out of the equation.
By Lou Krieger.
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