The common wisdom for small stakes cash games has always been to play a TAG (tight and aggressive) style of poker. Here it is in a nutshell:
You should focus on playing big pairs, good aces, and Broadways. You can throw in a bunch of speculative (but still decent) hands like small and middle pairs, suited connectors, and suited aces, especially when in position.
Furthermore, you should play your hands aggressively both before and after the flop. This means having the betting lead most of the time and frequently betting for value. The odd bluff versus a tight reg in the right spot can be thrown in from time to time as well.
This advice still works amazingly well in the typical loose, passive games that we generally think of these stakes to be. However, this is not always the case these days. Many games, both live and online, play amazingly tight for having such a small amount of money on the line.
It is not uncommon anymore to hop into a game even at the very lowest stakes and see only one bad or semi-bad player with the rest being all tight regulars. This doesn’t mean that they play well by any means. However, learning to stop playing really bad hands is the single biggest step that anyone can ever make towards getting better results in poker.
LAG Play is the Secret Weapon in These Games
Loose and aggressive (LAG) play is the answer in these game conditions. This means playing a few more “trashy” hands and putting the regulars in uncomfortable positions more often with more bluffs and thin value bets.
The biggest reason why this will work so well is because very few of your opponents at these stakes will have any clue how to counteract it. The biggest mistake that a lot of them make is playing too tight. They read in a book, on a poker forum, or somewhere else that playing good hands is the way to go. But they took this quite literally to mean “Only play the nuts.”
You still see these guys at the very lowest stakes online playing something like 8% of their hands in full ring or 14% in 6-max. I call them “Super Nits.”
Of course, you will see tons more of the typical nits at these stakes who play a few more hands than this such as 11% in full ring and 17% in 6-max. However, even these players are still leaving money on the table by folding too much preflop.
As Mike McDermott famously said in Rounders, “You can’t lose what you don’t put in the middle. But you can’t win much either.”
The other mistake that they make is playing too weak. For instance, they will often have a high fold to 3-bet %, a high fold to 4-bet %, a high fold to continuation-bet %, and a low WTSD (Went to Showdown) %. Basically, unless they have a really strong hand, they are likely to give up and “look for a better spot.”
You will see the players I am describing very frequently in today’s small stakes cash games both live and online. While they might have a few “moves” in their game, for the most part they are just sitting around waiting for the nuts and making a lot of folds in the meantime.
The Money That Nobody Wants
But anybody who has been around poker for a while knows that big hands are hard to come by. In fact, most of the time, neither you nor your opponent has much of anything. Sometimes one of you might have a pair or a draw but nothing that is worth going to war over, right?
This is where the elite players separate themselves from the rest. They do go to war more often in these spots. They are willing to fight more for this money that nobody seems to want.
- They will take that draw and raise with it when others might just call.
- They will fire another barrel with bottom pair or middle pair when other players might just check.
- They will make a few more bluffs when they think that their opponent is weak and isn’t likely to call.
And the great thing about playing a LAG game is that since you will be involved in more pots, you will have more opportunities to go after this dead money.
LAGs are Tilt Generating Machines
The other reason why LAG play is so effective in small stakes cash games is because it tilts people very easily. And most of the tight regulars in these games do not deal with tilt very well at all.
When you are involved in more pots, it means that you are going to “get lucky” more often. When the tight reg opens with his , I three-bet him with my and nail two pair or trips versus his top pair on the river, guess what is going to happen?
Yup, you can see the veins popping in his neck. I might even get a lecture about how bad I play!
Many tight small stakes regs will then go out of their way to get even with me after this. They will play less disciplined and more emotionally, which is almost always a good thing for my bottom line.
They will also probably take a note on me and label me as a “maniac” or something which may lead to some loose calls in the future at an inopportune time for them. If you are currently struggling to get action on your big hands, then this style of play is all but guaranteed to start changing that.
LAG play is the way to maximize your win rate in the tight small stakes cash games that you typically see online and live today. You are simply taking advantage of the over-adjustments a lot of the regs in these games have made (i.e., playing too tight and too weak).
However, it should be noted that changing your entire game overnight is never a good idea. If you currently are one of these tight players at the lower stakes, it is not a good idea to go out tomorrow and start adding all sorts of trashy hands to your range and bluffing up a storm.
You should instead look to make gradual changes over time. Try playing a few more hands from late position to start with. Try raising with your draws a little bit more postflop instead of just calling. And if you see that you are up against a weak reg, then try pulling the trigger on a big bluff from time to time.
LAG play is something that you need to get comfortable with over time. You also need to adjust mentally to the fact that you will get less respect and more loose calls.
At the end of the day, there is absolutely nothing wrong with playing a TAG style. However, a LAG approach has become a little bit more optimal for maximizing your profits in many small stakes games today.
Nathan “BlackRain79” Williams is the author of the popular micro stakes strategy books, Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes. He also blogs regularly about all things related to the micros over at www.blackrain79.com.