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The (Stupid-Simple) Golden Rule for Low Stakes Cash

You probably know that live poker games are far softer than online games.

If you want to maximize your win-rate in live cash games, you have to get good at identifying and attacking the leaks that are commonly exhibited by live players. Like in online games, an in-depth understanding of game theory is an asset, but balanced plays often take a back seat to exploitative tactics.

We’ve covered 8 amazing tips for crushing live poker games in this article. If you haven’t read that, I highly recommend you do that now. The tips in that article apply to almost all live poker games, regardless of stakes.

This article is the first part of a new series on money-making adjustments for low stakes live, specifically. By “low stakes” I’m talking about $1/$2, $1/$3, and $2/$5 cash games. If you play those games, this series is a must-read for you.

To start off, I’ll focus on a relatively obvious live poker tip that might as well be the “Golden Rule” to beating $1/$3 and $2/$5. This rule may be obvious to some readers, but it’s important we cover it before moving onto the future parts of this series.

Let’s begin!

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The Golden Rule: Don’t Put Too Much Emphasis on Balance and Try to Play Exploititively

In his course “Elite Cash Game Exploits” Upswing coach and exploitative beast Uri Peleg discusses the importance of not giving your opponents respect until they have earned it.

Said another way, you should actively focus on trying to exploit holes in your opponent’s strategy, only playing balanced when your opponent is playing well enough to justify it.

Some poker players, especially those who’ve studied fundamental strategy, will too often try to play a balanced game against opponents that might otherwise be easily exploited. This is the silly mistake that you must avoid in low stakes live cash games.

If you’re across the table from Doug Polk or Nick Petrangelo, you should probably try to play balanced. But if your opponent is a recreational player who has probably never seen a preflop chart, don’t worry about balance. Here’s why:

Why Not Just Play Balanced?

Exploitative strategies, when executed correctly and against the right opponent, make way more money. Nowhere is this more true than at low stakes live where opponents are pretty transparent in their tendencies.

It’s also worth noting that in most live games, the entire player pool is collectively playing so far from game theory optimal (GTO) that playing GTO — especially an imperfect version of GTO — can actually cost you money (which is only possible in multi-player games). I’ll touch more on this idea in the next article.

For now, check out these very simple adjustments you could make in low-stakes live games.

5 Example Exploits to Consider Using in Low Stakes Cash Games

1. Change your open-raising range based on how tight/loose the players behind you are

Example: You’re in the hijack and 3 players behind you are very loose, including the player in the Big Blind. In this situation, speculative hands that lack high cards (such as 6♠ 5♠) suffer greatly since you will rarely steal the blinds and will often face resistance. So, you can fold hands like that more often.

On the flip side, if the players behind are very tight and weak, you can actually play even more of those low speculative hands.

2. Change the size to which you open-raise (typically based on the call/3-bet frequencies of players behind)

Example: You’re in the Cutoff and both of the players in the blinds are very loose, inexperienced players who rarely 3-bet. In this situation, you can make more money by raising to a bigger size (with a solid range of hands), essentially charging the blinds more to play their loose strategy.

3. Use smart bet sizes postflop to target parts of an opponent’s range when bluffing/betting for value 

Example: You flop a very strong hand (let’s say bottom set) and your opponent is a very sticky player who rarely folding to bets on the flop. In this situation, you can make more money by using a bigger-than-usual your bet size. Related article: How to Snowball Your Winnings vs Bad Poker Players

4. Adjust your c-bet frequency against opponents who check-raise too often or too infrequently

Example: You raise on the Button and a very passive player calls in the Big Blind. The player checks to you on the flop (it doesn’t really matter what the specific flop is). In this situation, you can c-bet more often because your opponent will not punish you by check-raising.

On the flip side, if your opponent is a very aggressive player who will check-raise often, you should c-bet less often (especially with marginal hands).

5. Over-folding to opponents that don’t bluff enough. 

Example: You’re on the river with a good bluff-catcher (in other words, a hand that only beats bluffs). Your opponent (a very tight and passive player) makes a big bet. In this situation, you can probably let your hand go because your opponent simply won’t be bluffing often enough.

Knowing how and when to make adjustments like the ones above is key to boosting your win-rate at low-stakes live poker.

Some Thoughts on Deception

Generally speaking, playing exploitatively is only a problem if your opponents catch on to what you’re doing. And many opponents aren’t capable of that — they simply don’t have a strong enough understanding of poker to do so.

That said, it’s also on you to make sure that whatever adjustments you are making aren’t being detected by your opponents.

At the highest levels of the game, exploitative poker being played between great players can turn into a fascinating game of cat and mouse. This meta-game is something you’ll need to be aware of when you encounter good players at the table.

But, that will almost never be the case in low-stakes live games. In these games, it is very rare that you’ll need to put a lot of emphasis on deception and table image. This fact is part of what makes low-stakes live games an awesome place for practicing and experimenting with non-balanced plays.

Final Thoughts

Low-limit live games can be a ton of fun and offer very low variance once you get a sense of just how much exploitative shenanigans you can get away with. 

If you have any questions, thoughts, or other cool low stakes live strategies please post them in the comments. 

Stay tuned for future parts of this series + more information about the upcoming Smash Live Cash course with Nick Petrangelo and Brad Owen!

In the meantime, check this out if you to keep improving your poker skills and knowledge for free: 3 Spots You Should Almost Never C-Bet

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