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A Foolproof Strategy For Wild Games

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Yesterday I was in a crazy $2-$5 no-limit game. I could tell it was a crazy game even before I watched one hand. The maximum buy-in was $500, but at least $8,000 was on the table. Four players each had over $1,500. Either the game had been going with the same lineup for a very long time, or people were playing a lot of all-in pots, sloshing money around to one another (and rebuying over and over).

While not completely reliable, the amount of money on the table is a reasonable indicator of how aggressive the game is. If all the stacks are short and medium, expect a quiet, perhaps even weak-tight game. If everyone is deep, then you should probably expect fireworks. If one player is really deep, and everyone else has a normal-sized stack, there’s a good chance the deep player is loose and aggressive. It’s not always the case – he could be deep just because he got really lucky or because he’s been glued to the seat for 48 hours (look for 32 ounce coffee cups and bloodshot eyes) – but loose-aggressive players are the most likely ones to build deep stacks in a game with a maximum buy-in.

Back to my crazy $2-$5 game. Usually I would buy in for the maximum, $500, to give me the best chance to win a big pot. But yesterday I wanted to try out a strategy that I consider foolproof for beating crazy no-limit games. I bought in for $300 or 60 big blinds. Last issue I said that I often buy in for around that much to scope out a game. After all, I can buy more chips before any hand, but I can never take money off the table.

But this buy-in was a little different, because the foolproof strategy relies on a short buy-in to work. In a crazy game, many players will play very loosely preflop, even for a raise. After watching a few hands (and after losing my first buy-in right off the bat with pocket jacks against 6-5 on a 6-5-2 flop), I saw that the “standard” preflop raise at the table was to between $30 and $40, and typically between three and six people would call it. So a typical hand would see five or six players to the flop for around $150 – a crazy game indeed.

Naturally, if five or six players are seeing every flop, their standards are none too high. Many players were playing (for raises) any two suited, offsuit connectors, and hands like K-7 offsuit. Now if everyone at the table has $2,000 in front of them, and if everyone is playing loose like this, then the low standards don’t actually hurt anyone. To get an advantage in poker (or to get taken advantage of), someone needs to adjust their strategy to exploit the weaknesses. If no one is taking advantage of it, playing loose is harmless.

But the foolproof strategy is designed to take advantage of it. First, you don’t have $2,000 in front of you. You have only $300, making the $30 preflop bet a sizable 10 percent of your stack. And, by the elegant symmetry of the table stakes rule, it’s also 10 percent of all of your opponents’ stacks when they’re playing against you. (Remember, their extra money is irrelevant when they’re playing against you. It’s as if it weren’t even on the table.)

Playing K-7 offsuit for one percent of the stacks can work out fine. Playing it for 10 percent is a recipe for disaster. They simply can’t outflop or outplay you often enough to make up for building such a big pot with such a stinker of a hand.

So what’s the foolproof strategy? Buy in for 40 to 60 big blinds. Wait for strong starting hands: pocket pairs, big aces, and K-Q. In position you can add in some more hands. Ask yourself, “Is this hand better than what my opponents are probably playing? Or am I playing this to try to get lucky?” If you’re playing to get lucky, don’t play. For instance, if you see 8 :heart: 6 :heart: , throw it away. It can be a good hand when the stacks are deep and you have some control over your opponents, but it will only cost you money in a wild and woolly game.

So you’re waiting for good hands. If you have a medium or big pocket pair, or if you have two big cards, raise preflop. With small pocket pairs, or on the button with your somewhat weaker hands, you can just limp.

If the pot is raised and you hit the flop well, move all-in. For instance, say you raise to $35 preflop with K :diamond: Q :diamond: and five players call. The pot is $210 before the flop, and you have $265 remaining. The flop comes Q :heart: 9 :heart: 7 :spade: . If everyone checks to you, push all-in. Even if someone bets in front of you, push all-in. The pot is too large to consider folding a hand as strong as yours. Indeed, that’s what makes this strategy “foolproof.” Your goal is to get your money in early with good hands so there are no tough decisions. You aren’t relying on your hand-reading skills or your creativity to give you an advantage; you’re relying on raw math.

That’s the basic idea. Obviously, you won’t push with every hand on every flop. If you raise preflop with pocket jacks and the flop comes A-K-6, check and fold. If you have A-K and the flop comes J-9-7, check and fold. If you limped in preflop with pocket fives and the flop comes Q-T-3, check and fold. But if you connect solidly with the flop, the pot will be big enough and your stack will be small enough that you can just put your money in and be confident that, over time, your bets will earn you money.

You can mix it up a little bit. For instance, you can try limp-reraising if you get a strong hand in early position. Or you can try a squeeze bluff if a loose player raises and a few people call. For example, if someone raises to $40 and three people call, you can try moving all-in with J :club: 9 :club: . If no one calls, you win $160 for your $300 risk. And if you do get called, you’re getting 3-to-2 on your money, enough to compensate you even if you run into A-K.

The reason many people have trouble in wild games is they repeatedly leave themselves in a no-mans-land. They flop a decent hand, but then the big bets start pouring in, and they second-guess themselves. Buy buying in a little shorter, you can get your money in with confidence and with a mathematically guaranteed, foolproof advantage.

[This article appeared originally in the December 5, 2007 issue (Vol. 20, No. 24) of Card Player.]

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9 Responses to “A Foolproof Strategy For Wild Games”

@ Sat Dec 08, 2007 01:57:49 PM

Ed –

I think this is great advice, and I use it in a regular game I play in that is extremely loose and wild.

My question is what to do after you double or triple up? Now you’re sitting with a $1200-$1500 stack. Usually I play very tightly and look to play decisively on the flop (pump or dump) with most of my hands, but should I be loosening up a bit? I feel that a few of these players are better deep stack players than I am (although I feel I have an edge in certain areas), but that I am better than most of the other players at the table.

It’s true that I could just get up and walk away once I double or triple up. But sometimes I lose a buy in or two making it there and have just broken even. Also, I’d like to stick around to improve my deep stack play and am sure I can make money with the right strategy.

So what’s the best strategy once you’ve doubled/tripled through?

– HJ

@ Sat Dec 08, 2007 02:48:54 PM

Usually I play very tightly and look to play decisively on the flop (pump or dump) with most of my hands, but should I be loosening up a bit?

Your intuitive conclusion is correct, but you don’t want to loosen up too far. You still want to be playing hands that either have a decisive preflop advantage or can acquire a huge postflop advantage (see GSIHE; it’s all about the fundamentals).

Postflop NLHE play is a much more complex topic, obviously, but there are great resources including the books that Ed has co-authored to make you a much better postflop player. In the meantime, you needn’t give up too much edge in typical $1-2 game with deep stacked bad players.

Honestly, I sometimes get such a big stack in live $1-2 that I feel sightly less confident in my skills, but the game is still too good to leave. (I’m referring to a stack of $400 or more, 200+ BBL.) In that case, I rely a little more on set mining and some suited connectors in position, exercise pot control a lot more often, and I still don’t really try many deep bluffs. Against really good players I’d get slaughtered, but against the typical $1-2 crowd it lets me stay in the game with some edge and improve my postflop skills. For the game I’m playing, it may well be optimal, because the deep bluffs are still less likely to work than in tougher games.

Note that I’m not literally playing as “scared money.” I’m still not folding pocket kings preflop against normal opponents or stuff like that! To me scared money means being confident you have a solid edge but still avoiding a gamble because you emotionally can’t afford to lose. But I am conscious of playing more carefully as my stack grows, and that’s actually closer to optimal anyway in a deep stack game. (Short stack is carefree; you have no reason to control pot size if you’re all-in with a PSB on the flop with top pair, good kicker.)

Also, if you triple up to about 200 BBL, depending on the game you’ll have a lot of people covered. In Tunica they mostly play no-cap $1-2 or $1-3, but typical rebuys are still for $100-200. Therefore, if I build up to $500 I’m still playing a lot of $200 stacks. I don’t go against the other big stacks without a good reason, but that doesn’t mean that I fear them. (If a good stack is bluffing or raising wildly, I may take a stand with a good-but-not-great hand, or semibluff reraise preflop with the same.)

In summary, continuing to play in a soft game will help you improve your NLHE skills. Don’t play scared, but do play more intentionally, playing a few more hands with the intention of doubling through on the big stacks with a monster. And read everything about deep-stack NLHE that you can get your hands on!

@ Sun Dec 09, 2007 01:44:12 PM

Hi Ed and All,
I haven’t posted for awhile but I had some thoughts (for what they are worth). I was thinking about allot of the same problems HungryJoe had. One solution I found to the “should leave the table or stay after doubling up?” idea is that when i play online i simply DO leave the table. I scope out the 1/2 games and always buy in with 50 bucks (25BB). Once i double up i’m gone (depending on the game). I’ve always had SO SO SO MUCH trouble beating online games….and i still don’t think i trust them 100%…..but this seems to work better anyway. And if i decide to stay after doubling up I’M STILL only looking at a stack of 40-60 BB……..STILL a short stack! But if i leave i simply go to another table. AKQJT also had a good point…….you can STILL be playing a “short stack” method if you target the short stacks……..of course this is a little more trickier but it can be done. I actually remember i was playing live at borgata one time in 1/2 and i bought in for 100. I literally left with 700…… playing Ed’s short stack methodology the entire time. I had everyone covered but many people had less than 100 stacks……i got some good hands and stacked about five of them. I just don’t get involved in deep stack play with other deep stacks if i happen to build a deeper stack.

Its not all always that easy. I was playing in a live 2/5 game with a hundred dollar stack (very short) at taj one night. I built it up to 350, only to get stacked. But i was still playing a short stack and it was a real loose table so i was hanging around trying to double it up again.

So yea, its tougher to leave a live game after you double up, especially if its crowded in the casino and you would have to wait for another table……..not to mention some casino’s don’t let you go to another table (i think) with less money than what you left the first table at. But from my own examples above, it can pay off if your careful and at a good table or backfire…….it really just depends on the table itself. When online, i play short stacked at a few tables at a time and just wait for hands………when i double up i usually leave…….it works really well.

Its kinda funny how Eds short stack strategy from GSIHE and the SPR theory from PNLHE go hand-in-hand……well to me they are practically the same thing. All the short stack strategy is really doing is making a really low SPR ……..to make commitment decisions easier…….which is exactly what SPR is.

Anyway, I have a habit of being a better talker than listener…..not good.


[…] have been about the advantages that short stacks have over deep stacks in no-limit and about how to harness those advantages to beat wild games. I want to step back now and explore what I mean by the advantage a short stack […]


[…] issues ago, I gave you a foolproof strategy to beat wild no-limit games by buying in short. Since then, a number of readers have asked me the natural question, “So I use […]

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