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3 Small Stakes Hands Analyzed by High Stakes Veterans

If you’ve ever wanted to pick the brain of an experienced high stakes poker player, keep reading.

In a recently added learning module in the Upswing Poker Lab, Doug Polk and Ryan Fee analyzed cash game hand samples that were submitted by Lab members.

These hands have a micro-small stakes theme, with stakes ranging from $0.02/$0.05 to $0.25/$0.50.

Today, we are going to take a close look at one hand from each stake level. Let’s dive in.

Hand #1: Top Two on a Four-Straight Board

6-Handed. $0.02/$0.05 Online. Effective Stack $5.31.

Hero is dealt A K on the button
Hijack raises to $0.12, hero raises to $0.40, hijack calls.

Hero is in the big blind and looks down at one of the prettiest hands in poker: A K. He faces a 2.2x raise from the hijack and, once the action folds to him, he has a mandatory 3-bet for value.

Flop ($0.87): J♣ 3♠ Q
Hijack checks, hero bets $0.45, hijack calls.

Hero flops two overcards, a gutshot straight draw, and a backdoor flush draw, which is a mandatory c-bet. He also has strong card removal because, by holding an A and K, he blocks a lot of his opponent’s strongest one pair hands (AQ, KQ, AJ, KJ).

Hero bets about half pot, which is on the smaller side, but is still okay. On a board with so many potential draws, it would make sense to use a size of around 60-70% of the pot, but half pot is alright in some instances.

Turn ($1.77): A♣
Hijack checks, Hero checks.

Now that he’s turned top pair top kicker, Hero has the option to go for value against worse one pair hands or to check, turning his hand into a bluff-catcher. Both of these options are reasonable, and he opts for the latter.

River ($1.77): K
Hijack bets $1.33, hero calls

Despite giving him top two pair, this is a pretty unfortunate river for Hero as it puts four cards to a straight on the board, and the hijack bets about 75% of the pot. As the preflop 3-bettor, Hero don’t have many tens in his range that would have played the hand this way.

His opponent, on the other hand, has the nut advantage on this board as they will often have hands like QT and JT, so because of this they should use a more polarized sizing of an overbet to put maximum pressure on us. However, they go with a more typical size of about 66% pot and our hero calls, as he is simply too high in his range to fold, especially to a relatively small bet.

Hijack shows Q T and wins $4.43

Not the result we wanted, but a well played hand nonetheless.

Hand #2: Barreling Three Streets with a (Missed) Straight Draw

5-Handed. $0.10/$0.25 Online. Effective Stack $25.10.

Hero is dealt Q♣ 9♣ in the big blind
Small blind raises to $0.75, hero calls.

The small blind opens to 3x and Hero sees Q♣ 9♣ — a very playable hand, especially in position. Hero can choose to call and see a flop in position or 3-bet to try and take the pot down right away. Both options are solid, and our hero chooses to call.

Flop ($1.50): J T♠ 3♣
Small blind checks, hero bets $1.04, small blind calls.

Once his opponent checks to him, Hero has the perfect opportunity to semi-bluff. With an open-ended straight draw and a backdoor flush draw, he has eight outs to the nuts and the chance to pick up additional equity with a club on the turn. Having the Q and 9 are additionally helpful as they have solid removal vs. the small blind’s one pair hands.

Hero has plenty of value hands in his range that will want to bet, including JT, 33, J3s, T3s, and Jx, all of which work to balance his bluffs, like Q9s. Hero elects to bet $1.04, a solid size for this board texture, and the small blind calls.

Turn ($3.58): 5
Small blind checks, hero bets $2.50, small blind calls.

The turn changes nothing for hero’s hand, but it does put a potential backdoor flush draw on the board. However, he still has outs to the nuts and his opponent has checked again, so he is in another good spot to semi-bluff. Hero chooses another good size, $2.50 into $3.58, and the small blind makes another call.

River ($8.58): 7
Small blind checks, hero bets $5.98, small blind folds.

This is one of the most interesting river cards as the backdoor flush draw misses, but some of the potential straights get there. When his opponent checks for a third time, Hero has the perfect opportunity to overbet all-in. This is a bold play, but he has the perfect hand with which to do it.

Hero can have all 16 combinations of 98 in his range here — a hand with which he would go all-in, trying to extract max value. Q9, with its lack of showdown value and blocker to the nuts, is an ideal bluffing hand to balance those value bets. Hero decides to bet smaller, about 2/3 pot, and his opponent makes the fold.

Hero wins $8.58

Hand #3: Middle Pair, Mandatory Value Bet?

6-Handed. $0.25/$0.50 Online. Effective Stack $53.89.

Hero is dealt A♣ 6♣ in the cutoff
Hero raises to $1.50, small blind calls, big blind folds.

Hero looks down at A♣ 6♣ and decides to raise to 3x. This hand is clearly playable from the cutoff, but the raise size of $1.50 is a bit large for an online game. A size of $1.10-$1.25 would make more sense as it improves Hero’s pot odds and takes advantage of the population’s tendency to over-fold.

Flop ($3.50): 4 T♣ 6♠
Small blind checks, hero bets $1.10, small blind calls.

The flop gives Hero second pair and a backdoor flush draw. With this particular hand, both betting and checking are fine plays. Here’s the logic behind each:

  • Betting allows Hero to deny his opponent from realizing their equity with a missed hand that will fold (such as Q9s). He can also continue barreling on many turns, like when he picks up a backdoor flush draw or makes two pair/trips.
  • Checking gets Hero closer to showdown with a hand that has good showdown value, and he may get a chance to pick off his opponent’s bluffs on future streets.

Hero decides to bet about 33% pot, which is a great bet size for this hand on this flop.

Turn ($5.70): 9
Small blind checks, hero checks.

The turn doesn’t improve Hero’s hand, so this is a good time for him to check back. Not only is there not much value to gain by betting, but he also needs to protect his checking range going into the river.

If you always bet your mediocre and strong hands, checking back only when you have nothing, you give your opponents the opportunity to exploit you by frequently betting the river after you have checked back on the river.

River ($5.70): T
Small blind checks, hero checks.

Once the river pairs the board and his opponent checks, Hero has a mandatory value bet. With this runout, the small blind should feel comfortable betting every Tx and most 9x on the river, so after calling the flop and checking the river, he most likely has a 6, a 4, or overcards, all of which Hero beats.

It might seem thin to value bet third pair on this board, but poker is a game of small edges, so you need to capitalize when you have opportunities for thin value.

Small blind shows K♠ J♠
Hero shows A♣ 6♣ and wins $5.70

That’s it for today. For further reading, check out “8 Proven Strategies for Crushing Micro Stakes Games“.

If you want to upgrade your poker game with hand reviews, in-depth lessons, and preflop charts, be sure to get in the Lab.
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About the Author
Patrick Harvey

Patrick Harvey

Graduate student trying to make money in poker so that I don't end up having to drive Knish's truck.

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