How to Beat Small Stakes Poker Every Time (Just Do This!)

How to Beat Small Stakes Games
This article was written by contributor Fran Ferlan.

Poker has a short term luck element involved, meaning that everyone has a chance of winning, regardless of their skill level.

This means that you can’t win every single time, even if you are the best player at your table.

With that said, it’s entirely possible to win at poker consistently, especially if you’re playing small stakes games.

In this article, you will learn how to crush small stakes poker games, and maybe even a decent side income in the process.

Let’s get right into it.

1. Play Only Strong Starting Poker Hands

One of the easiest ways to beat small stakes poker games is to only play strong starting hands. 

This includes starting hands that are strong in and of themselves, as well as speculative hands that have a reasonable chance to connect with the flop in some meaningful way.

Speculative hands are hands that aren’t strong by themselves, but have the ability to make strong combinations post flop.

Hands that are strong enough on their own are big pocket pairs, and speculative hands include other pocket pairs, suited Aces, suited connectors, and broadway hands. 

Broadway hands are hands that can make the strongest possible straight postflop, like AQ or KJ. If these hands are also suited, they have an additional ability to make strong flushes as well.

Check out my other article on EXACTLY which starting hands to play for more info on the topic.

These hands make up the top 20% of all starting hands in no-limit hold’em.

If you are playing a 6-max cash game, for example, you should aim to play about 20% of starting hands on average.

This is just a rule of thumb, of course. You should actually play less starting hands in early table positions, and more hands in the late positions (more about that in the next tip on playing in position).

Playing only 20% of hands may seem restrictive, and even counterintuitive at first.

But in small stakes poker games in particular, being selective with the hands you choose to play is a great way to improve your poker results.

There are a few reasons for this.

First of all, if you play stronger hands than your opponents on average, you can expect to win more money on average.

If you play only strong starting hands, you will often make stronger combinations than your opponents, like stronger pairs, stronger straights and flushes and so on.

This is especially effective if you are playing against opponents who aren’t very selective with the hands they’re playing, which is often the case at small stakes games.

A lot of beginner poker players make the mistake of playing a lot of junk hands, because they don’t realize that it automatically puts them at a disadvantage.

For example, if you play a hand like AK, your hand will dominate all the other Ax hands. So if you encounter a player that plays just about any random Ace, your hand will win far more often due to a stronger kicker.

A dominated hand is unlikely to win against a stronger hand because it has a weaker kicker. 

A kicker is the card in your hand that doesn’t help you make a certain hand combination, but can determine the winner of the hand if both players have the same hand combination.

For example, if both players have a pair of Aces, a player with the stronger kicker wins the pot.

You always want your hand to dominate your opponent’s, instead of the other way around.

Another reason you should be selective with the hands you play is the fact that it’s actually quite rare to make a strong combination in poker.

In no-limit hold’em, hands miss the flop completely two out of three times.

So the more hands you play, the more often you’ll miss the flop, and lose more money as a consequence.

This means you should only play hands that have a reasonable chance of connecting with the flop, and ditch the rest.

Your poker winnings will follow Pareto's distribution: 20% of the hands will bring you 80% of the profits.

Now, folding 80% of the time may not seem like fun, and fair enough.

But if your goal is to win at least somewhat consistently, being selective with the hands you play is your best bet.

Unfortunately, playing poker for fun and playing to win are not the same thing. 

If you want to win consistently, you will need to sacrifice a bit of boredom to achieve that goal. That is a fair tradeoff in my book.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should just zone out any time you’re not directly involved in the hand.

Instead, use the downtime to observe the action and try to pick up on tells from your opponents.

Tells include anything from betting patterns, timing tells, physical tells and so on. Pay attention to the action sequence and try to narrow down your opponent’s range street by street.

This mental exercise will help you stay focused, avoid boredom, and make your sessions more profitable all at once.

Check out Nathan's recent video for more small stakes poker tips.

2. Play in Position to Get an Edge

One of the best ways to give yourself an edge over your competition is to play most hands in position.

Playing in position means being the last to act in a betting round. This is a huge advantage for multiple reasons.

Here’s why playing more hands in position can dramatically improve your poker results:

a) you have an informational advantage

Poker is a game of incomplete information, and the player with the informational advantage will come out on top more often than not. 

If you are the last player to act in a betting round, you get to see what your opponents did, while they have no idea what you are going to do.

b) you can dictate the price of the pot

By being the last player to act, you get a final say at the price of the pot. If you have a strong value hand, you can bet if your opponent checks to you, or you can raise if your opponent bets first.

Conversely, if you have a mediocre or a drawing hand, you can exercise pot control by checking back or flat calling your opponent's bet.

c) you can bluff more effectively

Due to the informational disadvantage, your opponents won’t be as willing to fight back against you. This means you can often push them out of the pot with a well timed bluff.

However, you should be careful when trying to bluff recreational players, because they usually have a hard time folding and tend to overcall.

So how do you play more hands in position?

You simply open-raise more hands from late positions, and open-raise less hands from the early table positions.

The late table positions are the button and the cutoff (the seat one the direct right of the button).

When you play on the button in particular, you will ALWAYS play in position post flop.

For this reason, the button will be your most profitable seat by far. If you’re using a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4, you can check these stats yourself.

Chances are, you’d be surprised by just how much more money you earn on the button compared to other table positions.

If the player at your direct left happens to be a nit, this means you’re going to be able to play even more hands in position post flop.

Nits are players who play extremely tight ranges, and tend to play fairly straightforwardly, both preflop and post flop.

So if you are open-raising from the cutoff, the nit on your left won’t give you too much trouble by flat calling you and 3-betting you with a wide range.

Conversely, if the player on your left plays a wider range, the cutoff open-raises won’t be as profitable, because the player on the button will have a positional advantage over you.

So when you’re open-raising, always look to your left and see what kind of players are left to act to make more +EV decisions.

When you are playing in the blinds, on the other hand, you will always play out of position post flop.

The only exception is when you are playing in the big blind against the player who open-raises in the small blind.

For this reason, you should be very careful when playing in the blinds, because you will often play the hand with a disadvantage.

Over the long run, the blinds won’t be profitable seats for you. 

This is just the way the game of poker is set up.

The money always flows from the players out of position to the players in position.

So when playing in the blinds, your goal is not to win any money, but to lose as little as possible.

Of course, this doesn’t mean folding every hand that’s dealt to you in the blinds.

If you fold too much in the blinds, other players may notice this and start stealing your blinds with impunity.

This means you need to defend your blinds from time to time, either by flat calling or 3-betting against the stealing attempts.

For more information on the blind defense and other advanced poker strategies, check out Modern Small Stakes.

3. Play in Games With Recreational Players

Poker is a game of skill, and the only way to win at poker consistently is to play in games where you have a significant skill edge over your competition.

Fortunately, if you are playing small stakes, you are bound to run into a lot of recreational poker players.

Recreational poker players (aka the fish) primarily play the game for fun, and don’t put a lot of effort into improving their game. 

A lot of them don’t even see the point in doing it because they believe poker is nothing more than a game of chance.

This means they make a number of large, fundamental mistakes you can take advantage of.

These mistakes include playing too many hands, playing too passively, calling down too much, disregarding math, getting frustrated and tilting easily, just to name a few.

Check out my other article on the most common amateur poker mistakes for more info on the topic.

Most of the money you make in this game won’t come from your genius plays, but from the mistakes of your opponents.

This means you don’t have to be one of the best players in the world to have success in this game. You only need to be the best player at your table.

One of the keys to beating small stakes poker games is to practice proper game selection.

Game selection means finding games where you have a significant skill edge over your opponents, as well as games you are properly bankrolled for.

Having a sufficient bankroll will help you ride out the negative variance without the risk of going broke.

It’s worth mentioning, however, that bankroll management only applies if you are a winning poker player to begin with.

If you are a losing poker player, the biggest bankroll in the world is not going to save you. It’s just going to take you longer to go broke.

If you are beating your current limit over a significant sample size, however, having a bankroll will give you a piece of mind to keep playing your best despite the negative short term results.

This is useful because you are still not guaranteed to win every time, even if you play against totally clueless fish.

Poker has a short term luck element involved, meaning that even a bad player can win from time to time.

This can be frustrating to say the least, but it’s worth remembering this is what makes poker profitable in the first place.

Everyone thinks they know how to play, and everyone has a theoretical chance of winning every time.

This is what makes poker exciting and what keeps the bad poker players coming back.

So if you are beating your current limit, there’s no reason to be upset with short term negative results.

If not, you should drop down in limits until you find the one that you can comfortably beat with your current skill set.

There are two ways you can improve your poker results: you can either improve your skills by studying the advanced poker strategy, or you can drop down in stakes until you find games where you’re the best player at the table.

The latter is obviously quicker and easier, but it also requires you to leave your ego at the door, and figure out the true extent of your current skill set.

It’s not about how much you know, but how much you know in relation to other players you choose to play against.

If you are the sixth best poker player in the world, but go up against the top five players, you are still going to lose over the long run.

Bottom line: if you want to win at poker consistently, make sure to practice proper game selection and bankroll management.

It doesn't matter how good of a player you are. If you ignore these two factors, you're still going to be a losing or breakeven player at best.

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4. Don’t Bluff Too Much at Small Stakes Poker Games

Bluffing is arguably one of the most exciting parts of poker. Nothing can make you feel like true pro like pushing your opponent out of a huge pot while holding absolute air.

Knowing how to bluff effectively is a crucial part of any advanced poker strategy, but if you are playing small stakes games, you should avoid the urge to bluff too often (or even at all in some cases).

In order for a bluff to be effective, your opponent needs to be capable of actually folding their hand.

And if you’re playing against a bunch of recreational poker players, this is usually not the case.

As mentioned, recreational players make a lot of fundamental mistakes, one of them being their tendency to call too much and having a general aversion to folding.

Against this type of player, bluffing is obviously not the most effective strategy.

There’s a few reasons why recreational players don’t like folding their hand.

First of all, recreational players play for fun, and folding is anything but fun. 

They’re here to play and splash some chips around, not to sit around and watch everyone else have fun around them.

They want to experience action and excitement, and folding is antithetical to this goal.

Another reason fish don’t fold is because they usually have a very poor grasp of the mathematical side of poker.

In essence, poker is all about making sound, logical decisions based on math and probability. 

It’s about maximizing the expected value of each play, while avoiding the spots with negative expected value.

Fish don’t think in terms of expected value, but make their decisions based on hunches, emotions, and superstitions.

This is why they will choose to continue playing the hand in spots where anything but folding makes zero sense.

Finally, bluffing recreational players is a bad idea because they are often under the wrong impression that everyone is out to bluff them all the time.

That’s why they love to make crazy “hero calls” and "keep everyone honest".

Don’t prove them right. Let them think you are bluffing and just keep value betting relentlessly.

Save your bluffs for players who are actually capable of folding.

If you want more tips on how to bluff effectively, check out my other article on why they always call your bluffs.

5. Master the Thin Value Bet to Crush Small Stakes Games

When playing small stakes games, value betting heavily is the best way to produce great results.

Value betting means betting when you have the best hand and you can get called by weaker hands.

Notice that value betting only works if you can actually get called by worse hands. If your bet is just going to cause your opponent to fold, you can’t really bet for value then.

Example Hand #1

You are dealt AA on the BU (button). You open-raise to 3x. Big blind calls. 

Flop: A83

In this spot, you have a monster hand, but it’s questionable whether or not you can bet for value.

That’s because there simply aren’t that many hands that will be willing to give you action. The board is bone dry, there aren’t any draws on the board, and it’s highly unlikely for your opponent to have an Ax hand.

If you make a c-bet on this flop, your opponent will fold a vast majority of the time, so you can’t really bet for value.

You can check behind and allow your opponent to catch up on future streets, by getting some sort of a draw, a middle pair, and so on.

If your opponent is a huge fish, on the other hand, you can still bet for value, because they will often call you with a lot of nonsense hands, like a second pair, weak pocket pair, backdoor draws and so on.

A backdoor draw means you need both turn AND river cards to complete your draw.

Fortunately, if you are playing small stakes games, there are likely to be plenty of opportunities for value betting.

That’s because you will likely play against a bunch of recreational players who tend to call way too often.

Against these players, it may be useful to significantly expand your value betting range.

This means you don’t have to wait for the stone cold nuts to try and take away their stack.

Enter the thin value bet.

You are thin value betting when your hand is likely ahead of your opponent’s calling range, but not by a huge margin.

In other words, you are thin value betting when you expect to win the hand just slightly more often than 50% of the time.

In the above example where you flop a set, you expect to win the hand a vast majority of the time. You have the stone cold nuts, and your hand is so far ahead that it’s actually hard to even get any action from weaker hands.

A lot of poker players make the mistake of waiting around for these monster hands to try and win a huge pot, but this is not the most effective strategy to completely crush the game.

That’s because these monster hands don’t come around often, and even when they do, you’re still not guaranteed to win a huge pot, because your opponents can simply fold if they don't have anything worth calling with.

A much better strategy is to take advantage of your opponent’s overcalling tendencies by thin value betting with a wider range.

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How to Beat Small Stakes Games Every Time - Summary

Poker has a short term luck element involved, so it’s impossible to win every single time, even if you play perfectly. 

You can learn the most cutting edge advanced poker strategy, but you’re still going to have to make peace with losing from time to time.

With that said, it’s entirely possible to win at poker consistently, especially if you’re playing small stakes.

Here are 5 tips on how to beat small stakes games (almost) every time.

1. Play only strong starting hands

A lot of players at the lower stakes play way too many hands, so by only playing strong starting hands, you are automatically giving yourself an advantage over players who play just about any random hand.

This means that you will make stronger hand combinations more often, and your hand will dominate your opponent’s, instead of the other way around.

2. Play more hands in position

Being the last to act in a betting round is just about the biggest advantage to have in no-limit hold’em, period.

If you play in position, you will have an informational advantage, you can dictate the price of the pot, and you can value bet and/or bluff more effectively.

3. Play in games with recreational players

Most of the money you earn in poker won’t come from your genius plays, but from the mistakes of your opponents. Ideally, you want to play in games with plenty of recreational players (aka the fish), because they tend to make a lot of fundamental mistakes, and they are going to be your primary source of income.

4. Don’t bluff too much

If you play against a bunch of recreational players, bluffing is not going to be the most effective strategy. You can only bluff players who are capable of folding, which is often not the case with recreational players. Save your bluffs for players who are actually paying attention.

5. Master the thin value bet

Instead of bluffing, stick with value betting your strong hands. Also, don’t be afraid to expand your value betting range if you are playing against a bunch of calling stations.

You don’t need to wait around for the stone cold nuts to value bet. Instead, learn to thin value bet in order to truly crush the small stakes games.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $2000+ per month in small/mid stakes games, grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

How to Beat Small Stakes Poker