Q: Scott, As a regular no-limit hold 'em cash-game player, I have a pretty good grounding in pot odds and make a lot of my plays based on this knowledge. Some of the friends I play with in home games, however, are less astute. When I figure them for a draw and make a bet that offers them incorrect pot odds, they often call where more experienced players would fold. How do I stop players like this from drawing out on me without putting my whole stack on the line and running the risk of them catching a monster? - Brett J.
A:Brett, It's important to feed on those mistakes when playing a no-limit cash game. If you lose, so be it. You can't start playing badly because you're afraid of having your opponents suck out.
In tournaments, protecting your hands and taking down pots as early as possible is vital to success. But that approach will most likely cut deeply into your cash-game profits. By keeping other players in the hand and manipulating the bets based on pot and stack sizes, you can effectively put your opponents in mistake mode.
You shouldn't be afraid of losing your stack. If that's the case, then you may need to play at lower limits. You may also want to evaluate the amount you buy into the game with. When choosing how much money to put on the table, you should consider the size of the blinds, the size of the other players' stacks, and your overall game plan for that specific table (since you know the players already). Based on those circumstances, ask yourself these types of questions:
How much money does the worst player in the game have? Is that player the dangerous, gambling type of bad, or the loose-passive type of bad? How much money do the strong players whom you like to avoid (if any) have? How "deep," in relation to the blinds, are the majority of the stacks on the table?
Reconcile all of this information with your financial motives. Let's say that your financial motives are to take the least volatile path at all times and book consistent winning percentages with low risk and low reward. The worst player in the game has $1,000, and he is the maniacal type, which equals volatility. That information alone is not enough to form a strategy for facing this player. You need to evaluate how "deep" he is.
Let's say the blinds are $2-$5, which gives that player 200 big blinds (a medium-size stack). Personally, I have to be assured that I'm not "gambling" with hands on which I'm willing to risk my entire stack. You cannot protect your hand enough, versus medium or short-stacked players, to get the type of low variance you seek. However, if the blinds are $1-$2, a $1,000 buy-in would equal 500 big blinds, which is a huge stack. In that case, it might be best to buy in for at least the same stack size as the bad player, or the maximum allowed for the table.
While you are experimenting to figure out what money strategy best fits your motives, err on the side of caution - buying in for too little. I know a few cash-game pros who always buy in for the minimum allowed and then add money as needed in response to the table dynamics.
(Scott Fischman is a professional player in both the live and online poker worlds. He has won two World Series of Poker bracelets and has accumulated nearly $3 million in career earnings. Send your poker questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @scottfischman88.)
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