Yes, you really can beat lower-limit no-fold ’em games!

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People read books. People read books on poker. People read books on poker and they study and study. People read books on poker and they study and study and then they sit down for their first cardroom experience. Then what?

I’ll tell you then what. Then they most likely have chosen to seat themselves in a $1-$2, $2-$4, or $3-$6 limit seven-card stud or hold ’em game and nothing seems the way it was promised. What good does it do to know about check-raising, about reraising aggressively to get extra value, or about tricking your foes?

What they don’t know might hurt them. Those foes don’t even know that they’re in danger of being check-raised or what it means when that happens. They don’t understand why a medium-strong hand is OK to play against a single raise, but often not OK to play against a reraise. And they aren’t likely to be tricked, because they don’t have a firm understanding about what a non-trick play should look like.

Take advantage

Instead of going into casino poker games unarmed, as was necessary years ago when no credible books laid out winning strategies for cardroom poker, lots of new players today do something very smart. They decide that they don’t want to waste a lot of money learning the game by trial and error. Why not take advantage of the already-paid-for, hard-learned lessons of others? Heck, if these experts are willing to make their experiences, their research, and their profit-making advice available for less than $50, well, why should novices risk thousands of dollars trying to figure it out themselves?

The big frustration. And that makes sense. You should take advantage of a head start, if it’s available. But with a few exceptions (such as Lee Jones’ recommended book Winning Low Limit Hold ’em), everything you’re likely to study before attacking your first game will be aimed at a different type of player than you’re going to encounter. These lower limits are likely to see the majority of hands decided by a showdown, many with three or more players participating to the final card. In low-limit hold ’em games, it’s not uncommon to see six and often more players pay to see the flop.

The common complaint is, "How can anyone beat these games?" What good is A-K in hold ’em or a buried pair of queens in seven-card stud if everyone stays around to make his hand. Getting drawn out on again and again is very bewildering to beginners, and very frustrating to experienced players.

Nothing seems to hold up. It’s hopeless. You start with aces in hold ’em. The flop is A-7-6. The turn is a five and the river is a nine. You feel queasy. You just know in your heart that somebody has an eight and will beat your three aces with a straight. You learn to expect it.

When serious-minded new players sit in what’s become known as a "no-fold ’em" low-limit game for the first time, much of what they’ve studied makes no sense. All of the sophisticated plays that they have mastered seem to have no impact on the outcome of the hand. They win only a small portion of the hands that they play, despite the fact that their choice of starting hands is superior to that of their opponents.

The formula

What’s worse, these are typically rake games, and $3 or so is taken from the winner of each pot. How can anyone hope to win under such conditions? But, you can beat these games. In response to a message on the Internet newsgroup rec.gambling.poker, I recommended the following:

The formula for winning at low-limit. I talked about this at my seminar yesterday, because it’s such an important question. These are some things that you should know about a rake game. For convenience, I’ll consider "rake" to mean that the house fee comes directly from the winner of the pot.

1. Except for image-enhancing reasons (which usually are not valid in smaller rake games), you should only play hands with enough of an edge to overcome the rake.

2. Only the very best starting hands have enough of an edge to overcome the rake.

3. The majority of hands that you could play profitably in a seat-rental game (including by-the-hand rental when the button pays the fee) are unprofitable in a rake game. You simply should not play them.

4. These so-called no-fold ’em games, in which many players "survive" to see the showdown, tempt you to loosen up your play somewhat. But that strategy backfires in a rake game.

5. If it were not for the rake, you should play much more liberally in very loose games. You’d just need to play, on average, less liberally than your opponents.

6. Tricky plays fail to maximize profit in these games. That’s because loose, weak opponents are not fully conscious of what’s normal and what’s tricky. In these cases, the most obvious best tactic is usually the most profitable.

7. You will get drawn out on. Since you normally will be entering the pot with the best hand, the proportion of hands that you will be drawn out on will be much greater than your opponents’. Don’t get frustrated about this. It’s where your profit comes from. Winning players are drawn out on much more often, among the hands they choose to play, than losing players.

8. It’s true that, in theory, great players can enter pots with hands that would be losing prospects for weak players. The great players can overcome this initial disadvantage by outplaying opponents on later betting rounds. But this strategy is almost never true in a rake game. Even great players can’t make up enough of the disadvantage to overcome the rake.

9. You will not find lower-limit rake games very useful in developing the majority of tactical and psychological tools that will help you beat larger, nonrake games. But the games can be good training in some respects, as long as you understand this.

10. There are very few consistent winners in these games, because most people who are capable of playing excellent poker find the profits to be better at the higher levels. And most not-quite-as-good players who could beat these lower-level rake games eventually "promote" themselves to a higher limit, where they flounder or lose.

11. The old too-simple adage "Tight is right" is actually quite powerful advice in loose lower-limit rake games.

Yes, you can beat most loose rake games, but in addition to basic skills, you need to have a whole lot of patience. I hope that you find this useful.

Straight Flushes,

Mike Caro


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Mike Caro

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mikecaro FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/caro.mike Known as the "Mad Genius of Poker," Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority of poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full biography at Poker1.com.

10 thoughts on “Yes, you really can beat lower-limit no-fold ’em games!”

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  1. 6/5/17

    This is all true except than in the area where I play the rake is $5 + optional toke in all games below 30-60 (which I don’t play. This is 1BB in the 3-6 and 1SB in the 6-12. The quality of players in the 15-30 is considerably better but game is spread only infrequently; the rake is still as above.

    I have seen many posts online to the effect that with this rake (which went in about a year ago) the 3-6 is unbeatable mathematically* and that the 6-12 is iffy.

    What do you think?

    *No proof given and none expected.

    1. Hi, Bob —

      I have Skype students beating the $1 small blind, $2 big blind hold ’em games at live casinos for significant amounts. The rake is (typically, but not always) $6, plus $1 for jackpot or high-hand competition. On top of that, you add $1 or $2 or occasionally more for meaningful pots won. Put it all together and they’re paying about $18 an hour in rakes, fees, and tips. Despite this NINE units (meaning the size of the big blind) disadvantage per hour, they’re still winning an average of $19 an hour.

      I, too, thought that rake would be too much to overcome, but apparently it isn’t if you play a very selective strategy and are disciplined enough to apply the other things that provide advantages. Among 100 typical weak to semi-serious players, though, I don’t think any of them win in the long run. A large portion of my students tend to spend a great deal of time at the smallest levels while learning and then move up. The combined sample I have from $1 and $2 games now is well over 1,000 hours and includes early adjustment periods during which most lose.

      So, yes, you probably can win at the smallest stakes, but the rake is proportionally much less of a burden as you play bigger (unless it’s a percentage of the pot that isn’t capped at the same amount). When I was active as a player, I almost never played in raked games, but faced seat rental (often called “time” or “collection”), instead.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  2. If you’re a skilled player who likes to get his edge from later betting rounds and you sit in a typical no foldem home game where everybody limps around regularly, would it be wiser to limp along or make a raise to generate some action? Not just with aces but lesser hands as well?

    I’m asking because open-limping and over-limping are frowned upon by so many in the community but you still want to see some flops; in these games where you would be remiss to open the betting, wouldn’t it be fine to limp in and see a flop? Sure you’re more likely to get coolered since everybody is sticking around, but that’s not something a raise would likely help anyway.

    Is my logic faulty here? This thing about never open-limping or over-limping is controversial but I’ve never heard your take on it.

    1. “Limping” can be a good tactic before the flop in very loose games. If you have a strong hand and most players have already acted (usually meaning that many are already in the pot), you should strongly consider raising. If many loose opponents are waiting to act after you, just calling is a good option. I choose it often. — Mike Caro

  3. In no fold’em hold’em games I find that Random Big cards (big cards with out the ace) are badly hurt. Flopping top pair is a bit hurt, there are so many hands in the showdown, you usually need better than a pair to win. Straights break about even. But the big winners are small pairs (you usually get the pot odds to try for trips) and ace high & king high flushes.

  4. Hello Mike, thanks for this advice. I mean … thanks for all that you do ! Right know I read your french translation of “The Complete Missing Arsenal” and I really want to send you my gratitude ! I read a lot of books and for me it’s the best for a global view of Hold’em in cash game. So again ! Thanks mad genius ;)

    So i’m french and the french players are sick in micro (not low). They bet the pot every hands and play very (very!) loose. But they also raise a lot and bet too much so it’s tuff to make the good decisions. In fact they often want to win the hand and also they play very tricky a lot. I try to play a solid poker against them but it’s not easy for this different reasons. I play a lot better against “smarter” players but in fact i’m not proud of my game in micro stakes. I don’t need to but i want to understand how i can maximise my play.

    When you have 1 or 2 very loose people on your shorthanded table it’s Ok (i should mean very OK !) even if they are too agro. But when you have all the table in the flop excepted 1 or 2 solid regular it’s very tuff because in a head’s up (i play tight not nit but tight) i’m more often with the best hand. But when you have a lot of people who follow a 3bet and even a 4bet pre flop my hand is a lot less powerfull. And they give me a lot of bad beat with some very weak hands. That’s poker …

    So i’m asking something should I conti bet only with at least top pair ? Because even in micro stakes the players are very loose agro (i guess they try to be Tom Dwan … ^^’)but they are not bad enough to not anderstand (or feeling) the nit style. But of course they can make mistake because like you love to say there are here to call ! ;) But they call much less often so i’m not sure that could be the right play (it’s why i ask !). Right know i conti bet not every time but often like 80% of my pre flop raise if there are not more of 3 players in the flop. But i think i’m wrong because they call me to often and give to much bad beat. Maybe i’m just in a bad run … but i don’t like to think with luck. So can you give me a short advice for my conti bet sir ?

    I’m looking for an another advice. In your book you told us to call more often a bet on the river of a maniac raiser with a marginal hand. But like i told you in this stakes they like to put a lot every bet (not just the river) they pot bet or just a little less. So of course i’m agry with you (how can i be not agree with a genius ! ^^) when you told us to call more often a “little” bet in front of this style of players in the river. But what should i do with big bets who don’t give me the good coast ? Should i think the same way and just think about the fact that because they bluff to much with some big bets in this situation I should call more often with a marginal hand ? Or should I fold because i don’t have the good coast ?

    I’m sorry for my bad english ! And if you take the time to read me i’m just very grateful ! It will be great for me to have an answer. I wish you a good day.

    Benoit.

  5. Very true in limit. Not as true in no limit. But in low limit jackpot tables, it’s very hard to just break even. That little extry .50c or $1.00 added rake will hurt. Last night I played 400 hands ( mult-tabled, 200 and 200) at $1.00/$2.00. I won 42 hands.( about par) I lost around 12 bucks for all 400 hands. If not for the extry 50c rake for the jackpot take out I would have won a little. I usually don’t play these tables until the jackpot gets high. It’s high now. Over $350,000.00, so I’ll take my little loses for a while hoping I’m on the table that hit’s.

    Playing tight as a gnats butt.
    Stan

  6. “9. You will not find lower-limit rake games very useful in developing the majority of tactical and psychological tools that will help you beat larger, nonrake games. But the games can be good training in some respects, as long as you understand this.”

    But they do have a million tells right out of your videos. So, we can practice seeing them!

    Lis<–practices Caro low limit LHE – winning so far

    1. Great point, Listening (Lis)! Tells are definitely in abundance at lower limits — and they tend to be more pronounced.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

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