Small Ball Poker Strategy

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What is Small Ball Poker?

Small Ball Poker is a niche style of play mainly adopted by professionals in MTTs and tournaments.  Developed and coined by Daniel Negreanu, small-ball poker strategy involves managing the size of the pot (limiting it) by making smaller bets than you normally would.  

The main advantage is that it minimizes the risks of losing pots (because you are restricting the size) and it allows you to play looser with a wider range of starting hands (giving a greater chance of hitting a flop).  It also gives more opportunities to outplay and read opponents on various streets.

Usually when playing small ball poker you’ll check in at least one stage of the betting rounds in order to limit the pot’s size.  Importantly small ball poker strategy only works well against professionals – and that they know you are using it.  The rest of this article covers the basics of small ball poker strategy in various stages of the hand.

Small Ball Poker Strategy:

Pot Size & Preflop Betting

The most important part of small ball poker strategy is seeing the flop cheap.  This allows you to enter pots with a bigger starting hand range than regular mtt strategy.  Another important principle here is that the slightest increase in preflop bets will have a big impact on the overall size of the pot.  This is because bets on the turn and river are relative to the pot size – so a bigger pot preflop will lead to an exponentially greater pot by the river.

When raising preflop in small ball poker, you should raise about 2.5xBBs  – it is assumed this will have a similar effect as a regular 3 or 4xBB opening bet.

Table Position

Keeping a small pot gives you more opportunities to raise and collect information on your opponent’s hand.  This also makes position in small ball poker strategy more important than regular tournament play.  In small ball poker you’ll utilize your position more.  Being able to act early in pots is also essential to keeping the betting sizes and pots small.  For example if you raise a ¼ pot bet in early position rather than checking on the flop, and your opponent flat calls with a strong hand, you’ll  have prevented him from what would have been a standard raise of1/2 pot bet (thus reducing the size of the pot by ¼ already!).

While keeping small bet patterns is important, you also need to watch out for dangerous board textures and giving your opponent easy pot odds to call with a drawing hand.

Mix It Up

Changing your play and switching it up is important to get the most out of small ball poker.  If you’re only building small pots, by the time you hit a monster you’ll find it difficult squeezing its value – largely because any bigger action on your part will be suspicious.  Thus, adopting correct small ball strategy in tournaments means sacrificing your big hands by regulating the pot size even when you have a monster (checking on the turn for instance), and making loose play on occasions with mediocre hands.  Overall players will tell you the sacrifices made in small ball poker will be more than compensated by the benefits – so don’t feel too bad if you don’t squeeze enough out of your Aces or Kings first go.


To summarise, small poker is involves deliberately limiting the size of pots in order to give you more control and freedom in hands.  It also reduces risking as many chips as normal MTT strategy into pots, which enables you to see more flops with a greater hand range (with the end result of hitting more monsters).  Most importantly, small ball poker is a process where over a long period of time a more skilled opponent will come out on top.  It’s not a quick fire way to double up; it’s a conservative system to exploit your skill against weaker opponents.

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