Bart Hanson: Attack weakness and steal the small pots

Live cash game pro, Bart Hanson, talks about increasing your win-rate at the tables by bluffing in small pots and attacking weakness

‘Don’t go broke in a limped pot’ is an old adage that’s been repeated time and time again. In Super System, Doyle Brunson writes, ‘In no-limit play, you must be very careful you don’t lose all your chips in an unraised pot.’ If you Google the phrase, you’ll see it repeated over and over again, by many well-respected pros. It makes sense and – for inexperienced players – it’s probably really smart advice to listen to. It also happens to be something that we sharks can use to fatten our wallets.

Generally speaking, when the pot is smaller, players aren’t as financially or emotionally invested and are more likely to toss their cards in the muck. It’s much easier to attack weakness and steal those small pots.

Example #1

$5/$5 no-limit hold’em
UTG+2 limps, mid position limps and the cutoff limps. Effective stacks are $700

You’re on the button with 6-4 suited. This is a spot I like to over-limp in position. If only one player had limped in, I’d either be raising or folding, but with three limpers in a loose-passive game, I prefer to toss my $5 chip in and play in position. Raising with small suited connectors or gap-suited connectors against typical competition when I’m not going to get many folds and we’re not that deep is a bit spewy.

Both blinds check and we see the flop. The pot is $30.

Flop: K-6-2 (rainbow)

Everyone checks to the cutoff who decides to bet $20. What’s my play?

I’ve got a pair of Sixes and a backdoor straight/flush draw. Our first consideration is what are we putting our opponent on? He could have Twos. It’s very hard for him to have Sixes because I have a Six, and he could have a King – which is probably his most likely holding when you consider how many combinations of Kings are possible. But how strong will his King be? He’s in position after a couple of players limped in. My guess is, he’d have raised with a premium King. Something like A-K, K-Q or maybe even K-J. Based on that, and the fact that it’s unlikely he has two pair, I’m thinking he has something along the lines of K-T.

Now, let’s go back to the adage, ‘don’t go broke in a limped pot’. Most players follow this fairly religiously. If you’re playing against a player who doesn’t like to fold ever or who’s an action junky, you’ll have to make adjustments. But for this example, let’s assume, the cutoff is a normal $5/$5 player. With just $50 up for grabs, this is a perfect time to go after that small ‘nothing’ pot. Raise to $85, and put pressure on that weak one pair hand. You’ll get a lot of immediate folds as players won’t want to go to war with one pair when the pot is small.

But what if he calls? The pot is now $200. What’s the play on the turn?

You’ll want to use your live-reading skills, but generally, I’m raising with 6-4 suited on that flop fully prepared to double-barrel. Obviously, I’m hating life if a Ten or a Nine fall on the turn as that might give our villain two pair, but scared poker is losing poker. Sure enough, the turn is perfect for me – an Ace. The cutoff checks, I bet $125 and he folds.

A few things to note

• If another player who hadn’t previously put a chip in the pot now cold-calls your raise, alarm bells should go off. In all likelihood, that player has a strong hand – proceed with caution.

• Know your opponent and your image. If you know he ONLY has top pair weak kicker, but you also know he won’t fold to you, then don’t bluff.

• You might wonder what you’re repping when you raise. First off, you’re on the button. I believe you’ll have a fairly wide range, but in all sincerity, the vast majority of your competition isn’t going to be paying attention to what you’re repping. They are only going to be concerned with what they have.

• Pay attention to bet-sizing. In most cases, the larger the bet, the more likely your opponent has a strong hand.

• Be aware of who is betting and what position they are in. If the bet is from early position and it’s on the large side, don’t be surprised if your opponent has an overpair or a hand like A-K or K-Q.

• Bluff when it is very difficult for your opponent to play a large pot with their flop betting range. This is best on boards where their absolute hand strength will likely be weak by the time the river is dealt. For example, on a T-6-2 flop. If your opponent is betting this flop, and you think he’s likely on a Ten, how much heat will he really be able to take with a hand like T-9?

• Sometimes players think, I’m not going to bluff against multiple opponents. But, occasionally, that can actually be the best time to bluff. You can leverage the second player against the first player. In addition, your raise will be more credible because you’re doing it against more than one opponent.

Example #2

$5/$5 no-limit hold’em
The action is limped five ways. The pot is $25.

Flop: K-5-6♣

A player from early position leads out and another player in middle position just calls. You can effectively raise in this situation because the guy who led out on the flop is in a very tough spot. Not only is he facing your raise, but he still has to worry about the guy who called his original bet. You’ll get the original bettor to fold a lot of his weaker one pair hands.

Example #3

$5/$5 no-limit hold’em
Use bet-sizing tells to attack weakness and steal small pots.

There are three limpers and the button raises but in this situation if the button makes it $15 or $20, he almost never has a premium hand –  the sizing is too small. This is a great opportunity to pick up some dead money. Three-bet to $65 and watch the players fold like cheap suits. That’s $45 you’ve just picked up by simply being observant. This same theory will work on the flop or the turn and you’d be amazed at how reliable it is especially in those unraised pots.

Conclusion

When all is said and done, this isn’t a difficult concept to grasp. If players are being told not to go broke in an unraised pot, then it stands to reason they’ll be more likely to fold when facing heat. This presents a perfect situation for us to take advantage of. By zigging when your opponents are zagging, you should be able to pick up an extra pot an hour. That’ll add up really quickly.


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