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Small Ball strategy

Small Ball strategy is a NL Holdem tournament strategy which is especially suited for deep stack tournaments with slow blinds structures and it can also be applied to deep stack cash games. Deep stack is important, small ball requires playing a relative wider range of playing hands and to be active, competing for pots. Just playing a wide range of hands can't be justified mathematically on bluffing and stealing a lot. This might work on a very weak table but this will not give us a consistent tournament winning strategy. The small ball strategy makes mathematical sense cause deep stacks offer the right implied pot odds to play a wider range of hole cards then usual.

Most professional poker players use the small ball strategy in NL Holdem poker tournaments. The small ball strategy was brought to the public by Doyle Brunson by his books Super Systems I and II.

The mental approach of small ball at poker tournaments is to steal a lot of pots and make the big hands like straights, flushes, trips and two pairs. This system is different form average tight aggressive players who wait for premium hands like AA or KK and then hope they hold up. The small baller waits for very strong hands beyond a pair before putting big percentages of his stack on the line. This is why you almost never see a pro going out of a tournament in the early blind stages, with a pocket pair or top pair. Only the weak players think a big pair is worth their entire stack. Making hands like straights and flushes is rare and that's why you need to be in a deep stack situation to get the correct implied odds.

Even though small ball involves a lot of raising and betting, it's quite a defensive approach to poker, by only stacking with very strong poker hands you protect your stack. Only put a lot of your chips on the line when you have a huge advantage over the other player.

Everyone wants to make flushes and straights but the small baller is more likely to get them. The small baller is not randomly playing more hands, playing a lot of random hands would mean a negative EV, even for the most aggressive players. Small ball strategy involves a lot of suited connectors and small pairs, with the goal to make big draws or trips on the flop or beyond that, to make flushes and straights by the river. Suited connectors and medium small pairs are cards that tight aggressive players will not play and won't raise or bluf with such cards while these cards are ideal for the small baller. These hands are tricky but they a lot of potential, so suited connectors often offer enough outs to justify a lot of semi-blufs on the flop and they can make the big hands that break the big pairs.

Let's assume a super tight player raises in front of you and you think that his oversized raise can only mean AA. Would you rather hold KK or 67 hearts? With KK, you only get a 17% chance to win the pot. With 67 h, you actually have a 23% chance to win. The biggest advantage is that you will only throw in a few chips pre-flop and if you totally miss the flop, you can throw the hand away easily. If you do hit the flop, when the big chips go in on the turn and river, the aces have a big disadvantage. Holding KK on a Jd 4h 8c flop can be a very tricky situation. The suited connectors break AA and KK.

Most of the time the poker is more of a grind, your opponents will probably not be holding AA or KK. You will not have trips, flushes or straights most of the time. The most important thing is that most of the time your opponents will be weak. Most often your opponents will miss the flop to the order of 2:1, depending on their range. Successful small ball strategy is being able to win the pots when no-one is very strong.

By playing position you can do this by making a lot of small bets and re-raises. The bet/raise size should depend on the player tendencies. You have to play around before you know the right bet size that gets people to fold when they have nothing. Even an medium player will call/raise with a re-raise with bad cards when the bet is too small. You will need to push around 50-70% of the pot but that really depends on the table and the players.

Another advantage to the small ball approach is that it relies less on psychic poker and more on getting a lot of information from your opponents betting patterns. Raising pre-flop a lot and betting a lot on the flop, you gain information on the range of hands your opponents will play, whether they fold, call or re-raise. Small raises pre-flop and on the flop gets a lot of information about your opponents and by the turn you really should have a good idea of what they are holding. You base your decisions on betting information, and will therefor be making the correct decision more often. You can bluff at the right time more often, pick off bluffs more often, correct call more often and raise when you know you have the other player beat.

Because you are raising the preflop with 67h and AKs and even raise/bet hit or missed flops, it becomes very difficult for opponents to narrow your range of hands, and keeps them guessing. Therefor it is very important to keep your bets to a similar size whether you have a strong or weak hand and also when you are bluffing and when you are not.

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