The term ‘poker Bible’ is bandied about frequently these days. While it is usually used in reference to Super System, written by Doyle Brunson and other distinguished poker players, one volume cannot properly cover all variation of poker, much as the Judeo-Christian Bible cannot cover every world religion. Small Stakes Hold ‘em: Winning Big With Expert Play by Ed Miller, David Sklansky, and Mason Malmuth serves as my holy text when it comes to poker. I play mostly 3-6 and 4-8 limit hold’em, games popular among casual and … well, let’s just say ‘less wealthy’ players. Though I cannot cite exact numerical proof, I am certain that this book has made me a winner at these levels.
What follows below is not a direct paraphrasing of Miller, Sklansky, and Malmuth’s work, nor do I attempt to imitate them – that would be plagiarism. Instead, I have listed several tips for use at these games, many of which were inspired by SSHE. If you are serious about playing low-level limit hold’em, I highly recommend that you follow the advice in this column and pick up a copy of the book for yourself.
Before the Flop
• If you aren’t sure whether to call or fold, you should fold. Mediocre hands will often lead to difficult and incorrect decisions after the flop.
• Raise your strong hands (high pairs, AK, suited AQ and KQ). You will see a lot of players who only raise pocket aces or who try to get cute with big hands before the flop. Do not follow their leads, even if they give you a hard time when you raise; you should be trying to win money, not make friends. Be respectful and you will be able to do both.
• Don’t be afraid of a capped flop with a moderately good hand, like a pair of jacks. The garbage that people will call four bets with will often surprise you.
After the Flop
• Making loose calls is fine at most tables. Even if you don’t technically have the odds to call, other players can make your hand profitable by staying in much longer than they should. It is worth it to play one small bet on the flop for the chance of winning several large ones later in the hand. Furthermore, people often neglect to bet the turn, allowing you to see two cards for one small bet.
• Raise strong hands mercilessly. Many players will incorrectly use the above philosophy, staying in with virtually no shot of winning. Make them pay to see your winners.
• Exploit overly aggressive players. Some players will bet and raise with just about any type of hand or possibly with nothing. Call them down with a strong hand and save your raise for the river; when you have nothing but suspect that they have the same, play back at them earlier in the hand.
On the River
• Watch out for two types of players – those who never bet the river and those who bet mediocre hands on the river. For the first group, make sure that you get in a bet when y our hand is strong because you don’t want to miss value. For the second group, try an occasional bluff raise and see what happens – they may be reluctant to call with middle pair.
• SSHE advises you to never fold for one bet on the river of a large pot. I will take this one step further: don’t fold a strong hand in a large pot unless you have greater than two opponents or if a strong player caps the betting. I learned this in one of my first ever sessions, when I folded an ace-high spade flush in a raised pot when the board was showing four to a straight flush. The original bettor had the 5 of spades while the raiser had the deuce; neither had a straight flush, or a hand worth betting, for that matter. Countless players only look at their own cards and do not take your possible hands into consideration. Let these players build your pots for you.
Well, there you have it! Not a compendium of poker advice by any means, but this should serve as a useful guide to get you started on your way to playing winning limit hold’em.