The concept of small ball

Playing poker

The term “small ball” first came into poker parlance some years ago to describe a way of playing poker where the player was constantly chasing small pots. It is amazing how many players have tried to emulate the style since but most ultimately fail for one simple reason…… this is because they go wrong at key stages of hands and they fail to control the pot size. Let us say that a middle position player that plays very tightly makes it 3.5bb to go with a 130bb stack. You make a small ball call on the button with the 7c-5c.

Everybody else folds and the flop comes Qh-7h-4s and your opponent makes a c-bet of 5.5bb which you call looking to see what your opponent does on the turn. The turn card is the 5h giving you two pair and your opponent bets close to the pot this time of 18bb and you call again making the pot 50bb+. The river card is the 2c and your opponent bets 50bb and you call and are shown the Ah-Kh for the nuts. You may have been playing small ball pre-flop and on the flop but as soon as the turn bet went in then you were no longer playing small ball.

This is where many players go wrong because they simply do not have the discipline to get away from the trouble hands like two pair and small sets against tight opponents. When your opponent is tight then hand reading is much simpler. If your opponent is showing a willingness to stack off and they are tight then logic must say to you that two pair isn’t going to be the best hand. Also in many instances then your two pair will not even be the best two pair.

The key to playing small ball effectively is not to get drawn into these types of situations that get you into trouble. This is why many players go wrong when they set mine. If you play a hand like 3c-3d in a raised four way pot and the flop comes 10s-7h-3d then you could be in big trouble stacking off against tight opponents in deep stack situations. If the action had gone raise-call-call-call pre-flop and then check-bet-re/raise post flop before the action gets to you then the two post flop aggressors are the ones that called pre-flop. This indicates a bigger set than yours with 10-10 and 7-7 being distinct likelihoods.

Pot control is a key online poker strategy but it is also a strategy that many players get wrong. There are key pivot points involved in a poker hand and these identify when your opponent is looking to stack off and the likelihood of it is greatly enhanced. For example in this situation the pre-flop raise and flop c-bet was not committing our opponent to the hand. However the first big sign that our opponent was looking to bet strongly was on the turn. If we had not picked up a second pair then we would have been correct to fold. However when they bet 50bb on the river then unless our opponent is bluffing then a weak two pair isn’t going to cut it.

Carl “The Dean” Sampson can also be seen on his Google+ page