The small ball poker strategy is believed to have been given its name by pro player Dan “Action Dan” Harrington, who won the World Series of Poker Main Event in 1995 and has written several books on tournament strategy. The small ball style has also become more popular through videos and articles by Daniel Negreanu, who is one of the most recognizable and successful players in the game today. Small ball poker has also been used by countless pros prior to Harrington giving the concept a name.
Small ball poker consists of playing a wide assortment of starting hands in aggressive fashion, but making only small bets and raises in order to minimize losses when particular hands or plays don’t happen to work out. The small ball style can be effective due to creating a loose image that may allow you to get more action from other players when holding a good hand because players perceive your style as loose-aggressive and won’t give you proper credit when holding a hand that is strong. Basically, they may think you are bluffing when you are not. When used correctly, small ball can be beneficial in the long run because players tend to call your bets with mediocre or lesser hands, which will make up for the bets that you do make without strong hands that don’t pan out. For this reason, small bets and raises are essential to minimize losses.
In order for small ball to work as intended, the other players must be aware of your loose playing style. If there are other players at your table who are playing loosely and will call your raises no matter what, you may have to lean toward a tight-aggressive style. The basic tips for playing small ball poker are: you should play as many hands as possible when in good position, you must excel at post-flop play, your starting hands should be chosen wisely, and playing somewhat weak starting hands should have drawing possibilities.
Position is key in small ball poker, as your raises of two and a half times the big blind will not be effective in early position. The likelihood of callers or raisers acting behind you is high and puts you out of position with marginal hands. Your raises will be much more effective in later position and if few or no players have called the bet. You must have excellent post-flop skills because you will tend to be involved in a lot of pots and will also allow others to get in cheaply. Therefore, your success at outplaying your opponents will be greater the less players in the hand and the better your position.
Selecting the correct starting small ball hands is also crucial because you will be raising and involved in pots with somewhat less than the typical premium hands. In that regard, your hand must then have some sort of potential to win. You will be making small raises with hands that are not the best and may often get called due to the size of your raises, so it’s necessary to be holding a hand that you can work with post-flop. Connecting and suited cards are the type of small ball hands that work well due to the winning possibilities after the flop. Playing hands with possibilities and the potential to win affords skilled post-flop players the ability to make plays and sometimes connect with very strong hands.
Small ball poker is most effective when the blinds are relatively small in proportion to the chip stacks of the players. This will usually be in the early stages of MTTs and Sit-N-Go’s. Experienced players can also use the concept in cash games. The middle to end of tournament play is not conducive to effective small ball play because the blinds are too high when compared to players’ stack sizes. There is not as much room for skilled post-flop play and it is not advantageous to risking, say, a quarter of your stack on marginal hands pre-flop. Small ball’s shelf life of effectiveness in Sit-N-Go’s is usually rather small because the blinds tend to escalate fairly quickly. Also, the image you created as a loose player will evaporate in Sit-N-Go’s sooner because players get to the point where they are forced to go all-in or fold before being blinded out.
Small ball poker can be described as a loose-aggressive style, but with smaller betting amounts. The concept calls for you to use your late position as an advantage, but to minimize losses by making small bets. Keep in mind that successful players have the ability to mix up their game and playing styles at various stages and situations to remain unpredictable and hard to read by opponents. Small ball poker should definitely not be employed at all times. However, it is another playing style to be added to your arsenal. The concept can be used effectively in the right situations and with the proper amount of practice.