Playing Hold'em Against Weak Players

Continued from: Tournament Play vs. Cash Game Play

Another time to deviate from normal Hold'em strategy comes up mostly in online play or at home poker games with weak players. If you look back to the first situational deviation I listed, you will see that I advocate tightening up your opening requirements when playing against a lot of calling stations (loose passive players that play too many hands and don't raise much).

Playing Weak Players

You should note that I'm referring to tightening up your opening hands specifically. That is not to say that you should call with fewer poker hands. In fact quite the opposite is typically true. Especially in middle-late to late position, you would be inclined to call with many more hands than normal. This is due to the large pot odds that are built by multiple players limping into a pot. While you would still not limp into a passive table with Q10s in first position (in case of a raise, and because you're out of betting position), you would normally want to call with such a mediocre hand if you were on the button and most of the players at the table had just called the big blind and there have been no raises.

This concept is very important, and is rarely discussed in poker literature because it is a situation that is only typical to small stakes. Many of the mediocre hands that you would usually not play become profitable if the pot odds are good enough.

Let's say you are the dealer, and six players limp in to you. You look down to see 8d9c. You will probably be inclined to call as long as the players in the blinds are not overly aggressive or short stacked (making them likely to raise you out of the pot.). Provided the small blind completes the big blind and the big blind checks, you will be getting 8 to 1 on your call. When you couple those enticing pot odds with your strong betting position, this becomes a fairly easy call. That is as long as you and the other players have enough money in front of you for you to make a large score if you do connect hard on the flop. As a rule of thumb, you should be willing to call no more than 5% of the money you could reasonably expect to win if you did hit your hand, when calling with suited connectors or small pairs. That means you can call off 5% of your own stack only if at least a couple players in the pot have you covered or near covered.

There is also an automatic advantage to playing pots with weak players. Would you rather try to win their money now, or try to take it after the stronger players have gotten their grubby paws on it? It may seem paradoxical that we should call more against calling stations when we know that being a calling station is not the correct way to play. We still have a few big advantages over them when playing this way. First, we're not going to pay them off when they make big hands. Second, we're going to milk our big hands for every cent. Third, and not at all least, we will not be nice enough to let them in cheap when we have big hands the way they're letting us in. When they have AK and just smooth call, they politely allow us a nice fair price to come after their pot with some suited connectors or other speculative hand. It would really only be fair if we didn't bet so much with our big hands so we could give them a fair chance to catch up when they're behind. But we're not here to make friends then, are we?

I just wanted to list a number of things you should be thinking about in the very "situational" game of poker. I could list every exception to every rule I know and would still not pass the "tip of the iceberg." What I hoped to relay is just the fact that poker is a game with too many variables to fit into a rigid list of rules and a good poker player must be able to adapt to different situations. Almost every question a person could ask an expert player will have an answer that starts with "it depends", but hopefully these examples have given you some different things to think about. The next step in our "crash course" is what I believe really separates the men from the boys. If we want to take our game to the next level we need to start "putting players on hands".

♣ Continued at: Putting a Player on a Hand in Poker

♣ Back to the index of Dead Money's guide to hold'em strategy.