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Pro Poker Player Moves Down in Stakes (to Help You Move Up)

If you play relatively low stakes (online or live), read on.

One of our coaches, Gary “GazzyB123” Blackwood, recently dropped down to 10NL ($0.05/$0.10) at the request of Upswing Lab members who play those games.

(Note: If you’re a Lab member, you can watch the full 10NL session here. Not a Lab member? Click here to learn more about it and join.)

In this article, you’re going to get a sneak peek at his session. I’ll go over two interesting hands that he played, supplemented by insightful analysis from Gary that will help micro stakes online players and low stakes live players alike win more money.

Let’s dive in.

How Gary Adjusts His Preflop Strategy as the Stakes Get Smaller

Before diving into the hands, it’s important to understand a key factor at these stakes: high rake.

Whether you play low stakes live (like $1/$2) or micro stakes online (like $0.10/$0.25), chances are the casino/poker site is taking at least a couple of big blinds out of every pot. Because of the negative impact this has on your pot odds, you need to play quite a bit tighter preflop, especially when it comes to calling preflop raises (including 3-bets and 4-bets).

In short, high rake makes many marginal hands go from slightly profitable calls to breakeven/losing calls.

High Rake Strategy Example

Gary is in the Big Blind with 8 7♠. The Hijack opens to 2.2bb. The Small Blind calls. Gary folds.

Here is what he had to say about this decision (paraphrased):

Some people may think that they should call in this spot because they’re in position against the Small Blind, they’re getting good price, and they’re closing the action. However, this is never in a million years a call, particularly with the rake structure I mentioned at the start. It’s really easy for us to bleed from the Big Blind with loose calls, and this would be a perfect example of that.

People think that they are priced in because its multiway, but that’s only the case with some hands. Even a hand like Jack-Ten offsuit is not a profitable call here.

Let’s really tighten up your Big Blind defense, particularly multiway in these lower stakes games. I guarantee it will help you a lot.

Note: Want to know how to play every hand in every common preflop situation? Get instant access to extensive preflop charts and lessons (for cash games, heads-up, and tournaments) when you join the Upswing Lab training course. Lock your seat now!

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The Advanced Solver Ranges for cash games — one of six sets of preflop charts in the Upswing Lab

Hand #1: Ace-King as the 3-Bet Caller

Gary is dealt A♠ K in the Hijack. 100bb effective stacks.

Preflop:
Gary raises 2.5bb. Small Blind 3-bets 10.2bb. Gary calls.

Flop (20.4bb): J♣ 8♣ 5♠
Small Blind bets 6.3bb. Gary calls.

Turn (32.5bb): A
Small Blind bets 22.4bb. Gary raises all-in 83.5bb. Small Blind calls.

River (192bb): 4
Small Blind shows A♣ K♠. Players chop 192bb.

Preflop Analysis:

I’m going to be 4-betting Ace-King offsuit 25% of the time (which is what the Lab’s Advanced Solver Ranges recommend). I used a random number generator (RNG) and rolled a call, so let’s see a flop.

Flop Analysis:

When my opponent bets here, I am never folding Ace-King. I will have the best hand a lot of the time. It’s right on the threshold though — Ace-Queen is not calling without a club, but Ace-King continues to the turn 100% of the time.

Turn Analysis:

To help us through this decision, Gary pulls up a solver simulation for this spot. Take a look here:

Hand 1 Turn

Orange=Raise, Green=Call, Blue=Fold, Grey=Not in Range

Here’s what Gary makes of the solution:

I’m a little surprised to see Ace-King is not shoving as much as I thought it was on the turn. But my specific combination does want to shove the most (which can be seen in the bottom right corner of the screenshot). My thought process in-game was that I wanted to shove some Ace-King combos here, and the best ones to shove are the combos that don’t have a club in them.

What other hands are shoving for value? Ace-Jack and sets (Pocket Jacks / Pocket Eights). What about the bluff shoves? The solver will always find some really random hands to shove, like 8♠ 7♠. You don’t really need to do that — would be very ambitious.

The bulk of the bluffing range will be strong draws and pair + draws. 7♣ 6♣, for example. 6♣ 5♣ is another really good example. 5♣ 4♣ and T♣ 9♣ too.

Hand #2: Should He Bluff His Missed Draw?

Gary is dealt Q 9 on the Button. 100bb effective.

Preflop:
Gary raises 2.5bb. Big Blind calls.

Flop (5.3bb): T 7 2♣
Big Blind checks. Gary bets 4bb. Big Blind calls.

Turn (12.9bb): J♣
Big Blind checks. Gary bets 9.7bb. Big Blind calls.

River (31.4bb): 3
Big Blind checks. Gary checks. Big Blind shows K 2 and wins 31.4bb.

Preflop Analysis:

Not much to say here. Queen-Nine suited is a standard raise from the Button.

Flop Analysis:

My strategy dictates that, with my range, I should either bet 75% pot or check on this flop. In game, I figured I’d want to bet this specific hand around 70% of the time. It’s a really good candidate to bet, but checking back has merits too. I spin the RNG and find a bet.

Turn Analysis:

Really awesome turn card for us. It’s an overcard to the board, so if my opponent has a hand like K7, 88, 66, or 76-suited, he’s going to really struggle to continue. I think I’m going to barrel this hand always. I’ve got an open-ended straight draw, I’ve got a flush draw, and it’s a good card to keep betting, hoping to force folds from marginal hands.

River Analysis:

The river bricks off. I think giving up is the best decision with this hand. Maybe I’d bluff with a hand like 6 4. Those hearts block very little of the opponent’s folding range.

Q 9 can give up because it blocks a lot of the opponent’s folding range (such as Q 8, Q 2, or K 9). I would have played plenty of missed straight draws (K9, K8, etc.) this same way, and all of those hands make for better bluffs because they don’t block the missed flush draws.

I think having the 9 is bad here and the Q is not ideal either. Giving up is just the best option.

Ironically, Gary’s opponent showed up with one of the missed flush draws he didn’t block. He probably could have won this pot with a final bet on the river, but it’s not the Upswing way to be results-oriented!

Wrapping Up

Would you have 4-bet before the flop with Ace-King in the first hand?

Would you have bluffed on the river after missing the combo draw in the second hand?

Let us know in the comments.

Gary and the other Upswing Lab coaches will be releasing more low stakes Play & Explain videos in the next few weeks. Be sure to check those out if you want to see how veteran pros tackle the competition in those games.

Note: Ready to join 5,000+ players currently upgrading their No Limit Hold’em skills? Crush your competition with the expert strategies you will learn inside the Upswing Lab training course. Learn more now!
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