Small Ball – A Deeper Analysis

by , May 5, 2009 | 7:16 am

Small ball and long ball poker fundamentally rely on the analysis and knowledge of different types of odds in poker. Long ball simply relies on the odds of the hands of poker.

If you need a brief introduction to exactly what the term ‘small ball’ refers to an introduction can be found here.

Long ball simply relies on the odds of the hands of poker. Long ball just requires you to understand that if you hold aces or kings then you will nearly always have a sizable edge over any hand at the table, and that if you hold any of the other very strong hands (ace jack+ and ten ten+) that you will most likely have at least a 50/50 chance against most hands. As a result you want to build big pots with these hands, and occasionally make a big bluff that trades on your very tight reputation. This is why long ball is by far the easiest style to play when you first begin – as it is not complicated, is pretty mathematically sound, and will yield good results in low buy in tournaments.

The problem with long ball is that it fails to take into account the other key odds principle in playing no limit poker – implied odds. The mathematics of specific hands is largely irrelevant when playing in very deep stacked events, as players can see flops so cheaply relative to their stacks that it gives players a chance to win a huge pot with a marginal hand (and thus cracking the long ball players long awaited aces or kings). As a result, in the higher stakes, deeper stacked events, small ball becomes a much more successful strategy in the right hands.

This is because small ball effectively relies on implied odds for it to work. A good small ball player is trying to get involved in lots of the small pots, hoping to either hit the nuts and win a big pot with the best possible hand (no risk here), or to pick up small pots when they flop marginal hands, either through small bets which win the pot uncontested, or in utilizing pot control techniques to get to showdown as cheaply as possible (relatively little risk here).

Small ball also relies on the basic fact that most flops miss most players in hold’em, and that constant small bets will pick up lots of the pots where all of the players miss. As a result, much higher levels of observation and skill are required to play small ball – you have to be able to spot as many of the situations where you can pick up a pot through stealing, as well as closely focusing on which players will give good implied odds for when you make big hands (other good players will hardly ever pay off small ball players when their big bets come out – simply because they know this type of player is basically never bluffing in such situations).

One of the other hard aspects of playing small ball is closely following how the tournament structure is set up and how quickly the stacks will become short relative to the blinds. Small ball as style breaks down quite quickly when stacks get short, as you can’t pick up lots of small pots when most players only move is all in or fold. Time and time again I see small ball players continue to make many small raises only to have other good players behind them constantly re-steal from them – if the wrong stack sizes are behind you the style you were using when you were sitting one hundred big blinds deep will severely back fire on you.

This point is yet another example of why small ball is a much tougher intellectual challenge to play than long ball. So many factors contribute to each choice you have to make when playing small ball that small mistakes can cost a huge amount. This is not always a bad thing though. I personally much prefer small ball as a style, simply because it gives you a lot to think about and helps to stave off the boredom that can accompany just waiting for big hands – even if at points I am leaking money away in some spots I shouldn’t.

Small ball is probably not the best style in low stakes, short stacked tournaments. Here you are much better off just using the basic and fundamental mathematical mistakes of your opponents to gift you the chips. However, as you start to move up the stakes to deeper stacked, tougher games, small ball becomes a much more profitable style to play, simply because it gives you a much greater chance of getting deep and having a shot at the big money places. Remember that two of the most successful tournament players in history – Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu both play this style, and although it may make them have to think much more deeply about each hand, it certainly pays off in much larger cash rewards in the long run.

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Small Ball Poker – Introduction
Long Ball Poker – Introduction

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