Sunday, July 17, 2005

playing small ball

Mike Madasow coined the phrase (in my mind) recently at the WSOP. Small ball is a VERY important and overlooked strategy. It is a great way to deal with donkey drawers and people that call 20xBB bets with Ax and crack QQ. The idea is to aggressively attack pots post flop, while trying to keep pre-flop betting. In other words, QQ is no longer a great starting hand, but a pocket pair that needs to hit a set or be an overpair. AFTER the flop, you attack, especially if there is no Ace. But NOW, if your the donkey and you hit the Ace on Ax and are worried about your kicker, you either get pushed out of the pot or "give away" the fact that you have the Ace by calling.

Small Ball:

Never get all your money in pre-flop, instead avoid the MIS (move in specialsts) and let them have their hands.

AFTER the flop, evaluate the texture and the number of players in, and attack. If the pot starts to get big, then you must be ahead to continue to play. If you can keep the pot small, you can read you opponent(s) and decide what is in your best interest.

Small Ball works when a couple of situations exist. The first is that there is no LAG at your table. If there is one, you'll need to pick him off once or twice and slow him down. The second is that you have to be a good post flop player. You have to be willing to see a flop with TT, knowing full well that it might mean mucking the hand if the flop is nasty. And three, you need to make high value river bets when the board shows broken draws. (You can also bluff someone who is chasing you down with AX when the flush card comes on the river. Ax players know the flush draw very well as its their favorite hand. They WILL notice and often muck TP to a big river bet that makes a 3 flush.)

It is a scary existance, but there is a funny effect of doing it. You will start to control the table. Not because you are TAKING control, but rather the other players will subconciously start to relinquish control. They will view you as a superior player to themselves as they can't seem to win a big pot against you, only small ones. Small Ball wages a "winter campaign in Russia" against them, wearing them down and destroying their resolve. Frustration sets in and they make major blunders on marginal hands.

Small ball only really works when the stacks are deep and the level generous, like at the WSOP. But it is definetly worth putting into your bag of tricks. You can practice this by playing PL instead of NL once in a while and practicing the adjustments that need to be made.


Raemius said...

Great post... small ball is one of the strongest styles of play in my opinion.

Pierrot said...

I was searching a "small ball" definition...
Now it's clear.

Unknown said...


Unknown said...

Daniel Negreanu is credited with naming the play and making it more widely know although pro's have been using the technique for decades.

bwtaylor said...

Small ball is generally credited to Daniel Negreanu. His book Power Hold'em details it.

I think you have the explaination of it sort of backwards. Small ball is aggressive preflop, but with small raises. DN is famouse for minraises and 2.5X raises on a wider range. You play a lot of speculative hands like suited connectors, small pairs, and even 1-gap suited connectors. Preflop strategy tries very hard to be the raiser, and does so with a very wide range. There are three keys to this working: small raises, highly leveraging position (you love the button and cutoff) and all hands make the same raise so your opponents can't tell AA vs 79s.

Post-flop, you are actually somewhat passive, as you try very hard to avoid building large pots unless you have monster hands. You only raise with quality hands, there's very little bluffing, and raises are generally in the 1/2, 2/3, 3/4, or full pot size. Pot control is an extremely important skill to play small ball. Often, when out of position with a decent hand like TPTK instead of check-raising, you will check-call and lead the turn. There's very little bluffing in small ball, except for an occasional continuation bet and an occasional stab at the pot if your opponent refuses to do it. You also generally give credit to your opponent, so if they show big strength, you tend to fold unless you have a monster. Top pair top kicker is not looking to get all the money in with small ball.

Unknown said...

Great post. I'm a new player in cash games and have employed this style without actually knowing it was an articulated style. I, however, have some slightly different thoughts as to how one approaches the strategy. I'm curious to others thoughts on this...

I play "small ball" mostly in late position, though to mix it up, I occasionally play from early or middle. I also will sometimes raise more with a "weak" hand than the top three. Of course, the game and players dictate circumstance.

My overall theory is somewhere in the middle by way of bet size. I feel, if I am to be playing with marginal hands, I want to be paid well when hitting them. In other words, rather than raising 2-2 1/2XBB, I go 4-5XBB. Or, if an aggressive player is behind me and I feel a likely raise, I may limp. If there is a raise before me, I may call. I like multi-way pots, and am more apt to call with a very marginal hand when there are 3-5 callers. Occasionally I'll come over the top.
My thoughts here are that if I am to play say an average of 5 additional hands an hour at say an average rate of 25 dollars per hand (I play 2/5 NL,) that in order to make money, I need only to hit one hand per two hours or so to make money.
In addition, I feel that it's better to play hands like 4/5, 5/6, etc. more often than 10/J 10/Q, etc. My thoughts are that, unless I nail it, I am more likely to be in a difficult position with those hands. A flop with top pair and a mediocre kicker becomes tricky, as there are many who will play A-10, etc. Regarding playing any of these hands suited or non, I try to value them more closely than others may. The reason being, I can lose much more with suited a flush unless it comes backdoor.
Of course, I adapt my play to the player and game at hand.
I'd love some feedback on my thoughts, as I speak little with others whom I play with, for obvious reasons.