Arts & Entertainment

Daniel Negreanu on Poker: Starting Hands in Small Ball Poker – Part II

Premium hands are simply few and far between when large pots are at stake. Tournaments are won by aggressively going after smaller pots with a range of starting hands. The trick is learning how to do that without becoming reckless.

In small ball poker, you’ll need to widen your starting hand requirements beyond pocket pairs and A-K. Here’s how to do it.

This may surprise you: In deep-stack tournaments, ace and paint hands like A-J, A-10, K-Q, K-J, K-10, Q-J, Q-10 and J-10 are significantly stronger when they are suited. So much so, in fact, that it often makes the difference between calling and folding these hands.

K-10 offsuit, for example, is a hand that ends up making top-pair hands rather than hands like straights and flushes. That result doesn’t mesh with the small ball poker approach. One pair hands, you see, rarely win big pots. But when you play them incorrectly, they’ll often cost you big ones.

One hand in particular, K-J, is known as the rookie hand. It looks tempting but it’s nothing but trouble. This hand has mowed down more hometown heroes than any other. You’ve been warned!

With any ace and paint hand, however, it’s more than okay to throw in a raise if you’re the first player to enter the pot. Proceed with caution; your goal is to win a small pot. Be prepared to fold if someone raises ahead of you – unless you are suited.

The extra outs that suited cards give you allows you to win pots either by making a flush, giving you the chance to semi-bluff, or even flopping a flush draw and catching a pair at the river to win.

Now, ace-rag suited hands, like A-3, A-4, A-5, A-6 and A-7, only have value in their flush potential and if they make two pair. Flopping a pair of aces is a good thing, too, but don’t commit yourself to a big pot with top-pair and a lousy kicker.

Go ahead and attack the blinds with an ace-rag suited hand if you are the first to enter the pot. However, if you get any resistance, calling a reraise with a hand like Ah-6h is suicide.

Watch me play and you’ll see me play suited connectors, like 5c-6c and even 4d-7d. These hands are ideal for the small ball approach.

Remember, the goal of small ball is to make straights and flushes against top-pair hands. Suited connectors deliver this potential, plus the opportunity to make two pair and trips.

The key to the success of small ball poker, and in particular, suited connectors, is that your opponents won’t be able to put you on a hand. Think of it in terms of fishing. You’re putting a little worm at the end of a pole and looking for a big fish to bite.

The other benefit to playing these types of hands is that they are generally very easy to get away from. You might decide to take one more stab at the pot if you don’t hit the flop, but if you still don’t get lucky, well, suited connectors just aren’t worth much more.

Finally, trash hands, like Q-3, J-2 or 9-4, should only be played in a few very specific situations, for example, when you’re trying to steal a pot with a pre-flop reraise. When attempting this play, however, you must have the discipline to take your one shot before the flop and play with caution thereafter.

Only look to play small pots with trash hands and lose the minimum if you are beat.

Visit for more information about Daniel Negreanu’s newest book, Power Hold’em Strategy, from Cardoza Publishing.

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