$1/$2 Cash Game Strategy: The Pro's Guide

$1/$2 Cash Game Strategy: The Pro's Guide
It is hard to find a lot of good $1/$2 cash game strategy information out there. And this is surprising given the fact that so many people play in these poker games in places like Las Vegas and around the world.

So I wanted to write up an article which specifically covers these games once and for all. Even though I am known primarily as an online professional player, I think there is a ton of cross-over with low stakes games on the internet and in the casino.

The best 1/2 no limit cash game strategy is to play a tight and aggressive style both preflop and postflop. You need to hammer on the loose passive recreational players and avoid going on tilt when they get lucky against you. The best 1/2 players can make $20 an hour or more in deep stacked games with this strategy.

And the reason why is that from my experience playing low stakes live games around the world, I have literally never seen a bad $1/$2 cash game (i.e. they are always full of fish). But this requires a unique strategy and a large level of patience in order to truly crush them.

So what follows is my pro's guide to 1/2 no limit cash game strategy to get you crushing the tourists and stacking those chips next time you play live!


Good 1/2 Live Cash Game Win Rate


Before I begin with the 1/2 live cash game strategy though let's talk about what sort of win rate or profits you can expect to make in these games.

Well first off, live cash game win rates are typically measured in terms of big blinds won per hour (bb/hr). A good bb/hr for $1/$2 live cash games is around 10bb.

1/2 live poker cash game profit

And so therefore, if you do the math, that would equate to about $20 an hour. Not a great hourly but certainly not too bad either especially for playing a silly little card game!

And depending on the rake structure, how deep the stacks are and how bad the other players are, it might be possible for a good poker player to make even more than this.

The whole point of course is to eventually move up to higher stakes live cash games like $2/$5 and $5/$10 where you can make a lot more money.

Your poker hourly rate in those live cash game stakes for a good player will be closer to $50 or $100 an hour. Which is a lot more like it!

However, hopefully this gives you a baseline understanding of what a good 1-2 live cash game win rate might look like. Alright, let's get to the actual strategy for these games now!


$1/$2 Cash Game Strategy for Loose and Passive Games


The first thing that you need to know about 1/2 cash games is that they often play loose and passive almost anywhere in the world. What I mean by this is that you will often see many people limping into the pot, slow playing big hands, and just a real lack of aggression in general.

It isn't until you start playing higher limits like 2/5 (and especially 10/20+) that you start seeing some real solid tight and aggressive players.

So there is one key way to counter these loose/passive games and that is to play tight and aggressive yourself. Now the easiest way to start doing this is to make sure that you are only playing relatively strong hands.


By this I mean:
  • All pairs (AA to 22)
  • All big aces (AK, AQ, AJ, AT and some lower suited aces)
  • Most broadways (Hands with BOTH cards being Ten or higher, KJ, QJ etc)
  • Suited connectors (T9s, 98s, 87s, 65s, 54s)

You want to be folding pretty much everything else. This should get you playing about the top 20% of hands dealt to you.

$1/$2 Cash Game Strategy

There is one very important point to keep in mind here though.

That is, you want to be playing the majority of your hands from seats like the cutoff and the button which are proven to be the most profitable positions at the table.

So from under the gun and the blinds for instance, you should often fold many of the weaker hands in this range such as 33, A6s or 54s.

However when you are seated on or around the button you should play everything listed above and even add in a few more hands as well such as A7o, T8s or K9s.


Tight and Aggressive Play for Small Stakes Live Cash Games


So now that you have a better idea of starting hand selection, the next obvious question is how should you actually play these hands. The answer to that is a tight and aggressive strategy which is also often called TAG.

Starting from before the flop, you should come into the pot for a raise if nobody has raised it yet. Yes, you heard that right: Do not limp.

And the reason why is because it is also a proven fact that being the aggressor in poker is more profitable in the long run than limping in and playing passively.

Here's why:

By being the aggressor in poker you simply give yourself more ways to win the pot. You can either make the best hand and win it that way OR you can take it down by bluffing because you are the one who is in control of the hand.


Raising and 3Bet Sizing in 1/2 Cash Games


What if somebody has already raised it up though you might be asking yourself? If somebody has already raised it then usually you will want to just call with hands like big aces, pairs and sometimes suited connectors.

However, if you have one of the strongest hands listed above such as AA, KK, QQ or AK, then you should definitely consider re-raising, also known as a "3Bet."


How much should you raise it? (or re-raise it?)

This is where things get interesting with live poker games especially at limits like $1/$2. How much to raise? Many people make the mistake of raising it too small.

When you are playing in loose passive games for small amounts of money, you need to raise the pot more in order to thin the field out.

1/2 poker cash game strategy bet and raise

The reason why is because the money doesn't mean enough to scare most people in a $1/$2 cash game. Also, since live poker deals much slower than online poker, people tend to get bored more easily and want to play more garbage hands.

Therefore, you want to:

1. Make them pay more for playing these trashy hands
2. Get more money in the pot when you are the mathematical favorite to win


Recommended Raise Amounts - 1/2 Cash Games

So I would recommend making your initial raise (i.e. you are first into the pot) about 4x the big blind. This is $8 at 1/2. And if somebody has already limped into the pot, then add an extra big blind for each limper as well.

If you are 3Betting though, then I would suggest making it 4x the opening raise. So for instance, if somebody has raised it to $8, then you should re-raise it to $32.


Flop, Turn and River Strategy for $1/$2 Live Cash Games


In low stakes live games like 1/2 you also want to continue with this tight and aggressive strategy postflop as well. And more specifically I am talking about the flop, turn and river.

Since I recommended above that you play aggressive before the flop, this means that you will often enter the flop with what's called the "betting lead." You are essentially in control of the pot.

So I would recommend making another bet most of the time on this street even if you didn't flop very much of anything. You should make your bet sizing anywhere between 60% and 80% of the pot.


Two Situations to Watch Out For

However, there are a few situations where you need to be a bit more careful.


1. Too Many Callers

Firstly, if you got 2 or more callers preflop, then you should have at least a pair or a good draw before you decide to make a continuation bet on the flop.

And the reason why is because when you get multiple callers the chances simply go up considerably that somebody flopped something good. This means that you yourself need to have something decent in order to put more money in the pot.


2. Unimproved on the Turn and River

Secondly, on the turn and the river you need to be even more cautious overall. If somebody called you on the flop and you still don't have anything by the turn, then most of the time you should just check and be prepared to fold if they bet. Same thing goes for the river.

One of the absolute worst things you can do in a loose/passive $1/$2 cash game is start running big bluffs against the other players. And this is because the people who play in these games are likely to call you down with light holdings because the money doesn't mean much to them. They also just love to make the big call against you.

However, if you do happen to have a strong hand such as top pair, a strong draw or better, then you should definitely keep betting at the pot, 75% of the pot's value or more. This is known as "value betting" and it is absolutely crucial to your success in 1/2 cash games just like in low stakes games online.


If they are going to play loose and call too much then the counter strategy is simple. Play better hands than them and don't bluff. But when you do make a hand, bet it hard and often.


Don't Let Tilt Beat You in Small Stakes Live Games


One of the biggest problems that many small stakes live game players face is tilt. And this is likely to be a major factor for you as well.

In live poker you are looking straight across into the eyes of your opponents at all times. It can be really easy to get frustrated and play poorly when some guy keeps getting lucky against you over and over again.

Quietly inside you might be thinking about reaching across the table and...giving him a stern lecture!

1/2 Cash Game Strategy

You have to remember though that bad poker players always lose in the end. While they might get lucky and buck the odds this time, they can't fight the math over the long run and expect to win.

This is why it is important that you learn to keep your cool and even walk away from the tables for awhile if you feel yourself steaming inside.

The great thing about playing with so many bad poker players, as live games tend to attract, is that you will typically have a much higher win-rate than in online poker. This means that you can expect to walk away from the tables with a win on most days.

However, it doesn't matter how good you are, there will simply be some days where there is nothing you can do. It will feel like the poker gods have just completely rigged the game against you!

You need to know this and be prepared for this before you even sit down to play.


How Professional Poker Players Handle Tilt


As a professional poker player though, I can tell you that one of the biggest differences between myself and all of the other amateurs out there is how I react on these days.

Most people will keep on playing to try and "win it back". And they will often end up playing poorly, making a bunch of bad bluffs or bad calls and ultimately losing even more.

A pro on the other hand will learn to walk away instead. They know that this is just one bad day and it doesn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things.


My "tilt-free" poker office:



It is only your results over months and years in fact that really matter in this game. Because that is when the short term luck element finally gets separated from skill.

Bad players will get lucky against you sometimes especially at stakes like $1/$2. You need to be prepared for this going in and keep playing your solid tight and aggressive game no matter what.

Don't ever allow yourself to be beaten mentally by these players. Always remember that this is the only way that they can win.

If you keep playing your game, then all the chips are coming your way in the long run.


Final Thoughts


1/2 cash game strategy is honestly not really that difficult. A simple tight and aggressive game like I talk about in Crushing the Microstakes is pretty much all you need to absolutely crush the bad players that these games tend to attract.

There are a few important strategy concerns to remember though.

First, you need to play selectively (only good hands) before the flop but also pay attention to your position at the table. By this I mean playing the majority of your hands when you are seated at or near the button.

You also want to make sure that your raises and bet sizes are sufficient in $1/$2 games because so many players love to call at this limit. You don't want to get 5 callers before the flop when you have AA for example!

Also make sure that you are playing disciplined in these games on the flop, turn and river. It is often going to be a big mistake to run large bluffs against the typical players you will see in live $1/$2 games.

They are just going to call you down because that is what they love to do! Making a continuation bet on the flop is fine. But usually you will want to lay off on the turn and river unless you have something really good like top pair or better.

Lastly, you need to know before you ever even sit down in these games that you are going to face plenty of bad beats. You will often encounter very bad players in these games who play terrible hands, chase every draw and never fold any pair.

They are simply going to get lucky against you sometimes.

This is the time when you can choose to react like a pro does though by taking a deep breath and letting it go or just walking away from the table if it is starting to get to you.

Always remember, they might get lucky this time, but they never win in the long run. The math will simply crush them in the end.

If you want to learn more about my strategy for low stakes cash games (whether at the casino or online), make sure you pick up a copy of my free poker strategy book.

Let me know in the comments below what kind of $1/$2 cash game strategy you use.

1/2 no limit holdem strategy

24 comments:

  1. tks 4 info if i get 2 play live will use 4 sure. i think of all the net advice yours the head of the class. excellent 4 micro limits, mtt al

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  2. Thanks for the advice. What would you recommend regarding BR management for live cash game and how much to buy in at the table knowing that a lot of ppl are 200, 300bb deep ?

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    1. If you have the bankroll to do so and you trust your game, you should always buy in for the max allowed. This ensures you get maximum value out if your session. As far as bankroll management it depends on what you want out of poker. Are a recreational player that can afford to lose a session and get more money with a regular job?. Are you someone who is taking poker more serious and wants to win consistently? Or are you making or planning to play poker as a form of income in which case I recommend u at least have 60 buy ins min.

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    2. Hey Stan,

      I would largely echo what Jose said. I personally love playing deep and I always want to buy in for the max anyways so that I can increase the amount I can win. As for how many buyins to have for the game, I think something like 20 or 30 as a recreational player is fine and 50+ as a pro sounds about right.

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    3. 10.000 bbs are fine to handle the swings fro my experience.Unless you play short stack where you ll need 4-5k bbs.

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  3. Hi Nathan, great article. I play 2/2 in the Netherlands and the games are good. Last time I won 4.5 BI’s. However, the rake is absurd. It’s 10% cap 10. Do you consider this beatable long term?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks glad it helped. Ya, the rake can be a little crazy in live games sometimes. Even with a high rake though if the games are good enough you can often still win big.

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  4. Excellent post! I'm a 1-2 NL regular and as described this is indeed the way to beat this games. Playing tight ptelfop becomes very important given that this games are very lose and players are almost never folding preflop. So stick to your premium hands and just by having the range advantage you will get value out of most hands where you and your opponents connect. It is also valuable to note that this games are full of players who love to chase draws so realizing that there is no fold equity you can take advantage of three things. Don't reraise on draw boards with mediocre holdings, since this won't get any folds and therefore it kind of becomes a negative ev play. Secondly, float in position against drawing opponents and fire the turn in all missed draws. This is extremely profitable in my experience at this low stakes. Thirdly and most valuable option, make sure ur taking this opponents to value town with all your strong hands (two pairs+) when you suspect they are drawing against you by raising and betting big. This will ensure two things. One, you will get lots of value out of your strong hands against this opponents that don't realize you are exploiting them big-time by calling you with all the wrong odds and reasons. Second, the times they do hit they would have paid a,big prise against you and that is all they are getting, since you will be check folding in most situations against their badly played draws. Well there goes my 2 cents. Happy grinding !!!

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    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed this post Jose and great advice!

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    2. As always I follow all your posts. Keep up the good work and honest advice. Thank you!

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  5. Against most opponents I also will employ the Ed Miller strategy: If they check I bet. Surprisingly simple. Surprisingly effective

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    Replies
    1. I agree, that definitely works well especially against weak regs.

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    2. Very very effective! Since most this guys are playing sort of a straight forward recreational game. No pair no bet. They are somewhat easy to exploit.

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    3. You must balance it.I make most of my money live by exploiting ppl who think they sense weakness so i
      induce their floats/bluffs.

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  6. Hi Nathan, I signed up for your ebook but never received it. I since tried to get again but it says that I already signed up for it and can't do. Can you send to me pls?

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    Replies
    1. Hi DaFrench1,

      Make sure to check any junk folders you may have. It sometimes may get sent there by accident. If you still didn't receive it, you can click the contact button at the bottom of the page and send me an email.

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  7. Hey Nathan,
    Does this guide roughly apply for online poker as well? Are there any key differences?

    Cheers

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    Replies
    1. Yes, $1/$2 live games often play very similar to the lower stakes online games like 1c/2c and 2c/5c.

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  8. Nathan,

    As always, great article. Any more solid range(s) for the early position(s)?

    And as far as your comment about the lowest online games mirroring 1/2 live, I think many online .02/.05 games are filled with more solid play than live 1/2, at least in California.

    TobDog

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    1. Hi TobDog, thanks glad you enjoyed! I list exact ranges for early position in my books. You want to keep it pretty tight, especially in a full ring which most live games are.

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  9. Ranges are constructed bassed on your skill as a player, bankroll and your tolerance to be oop playing hands. As a default if you're not sure stick to very premium hands.I would recommend UTG,UTG+1-2. Only TT+/AQs+/KQs/ and occasionally mixing AXs and pocket pairs if u dont expect to get raised a ton.:)!!

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  10. Nathan I disagree about the bet sizings.Utg open in a loose table less than 8x will most probably get called by utg +1 +2 and will invite everyone else to call as well so its gonna be a 6 handed flop with 30 bbs min in the middle and unless you smash the flop,you will have to check fold mostly.So i suggest finding the pain thresshold of the table.You wanna go heads up postflop or at worse 3 way.So bet enough to achieve that.If it needs to be 5x or 10 or if there are many limpers and they are stations,make it 20x preflop with your premiums.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the feedback Jimmy.

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