Small Antes

Not playing loose enough in high-ante games is a much less common problem among poker players than playing too loose in low-ante and average-ante games. When players in a game cry out, "Here comes a live one," what they mean is, "Here comes a player who plays too many pots, who always wants to get into the action, who doesn't consider the odds before calling, who calls to the end with next to nothing when two aces are staring him in the face." Put more succinctly, what they mean is, "Here comes a sucker."

What happens when you play too loose for the ante? Well, even if you play very well from then on, you have the problem of playing a worse hand on average than your opponents who are playing correctly according to the ante. Consequently, you figure to lose to them as long as they play as well as you. Even if they don't play quite as well as you, you figure to lose to them because their starting requirements are higher than yours, and so the hands they play against you will, on average, be better than yours.

There used to be a no-limit hold 'em game with a very small ante in Las Vegas, and there were a couple of excellent players in the game. But they insisted on raising almost every pot before the flop, not to steal the small antes, but just to get more money in the pot since they felt they could outplay everybody else from that point on. However, when a mediocre player who simply played tight came into the game, they found they couldn't beat him. What was happening, of course, was that the hands they played were on average much worse than the mediocre player's, and even a world champion with a pair of kings is an underdog against a nobody with a pair of aces. No matter how great a player is, if he plays much too loose for the ante, he is giving away an edge to those players who play correctly for the ante.

With a small ante, you should play just the opposite of the way you would play with a large ante. You play fewer hands, you steal fewer antes, and you slowplay big hands to draw people in. Let the aggressive players control the game if they choose to. Let them steal the antes. Give them a false sense of security. Then, when you are in a pot against them, your hand will be so much stronger than theirs on average that you'll win any antes they might have stolen from you and much more.

As long as you play tight in a small-ante game most of the time, it will be possible for you too to steal antes occasionally. However, when you are called or reraised, especially by players you know to be tight, you must give up on your bluff immediately since you are up against too big a hand.

The general rule is that as the ante decreases, you must tighten up. But when you are at least as good as or better than your opponents in a game with a very low ante, you should not tighten up so much that you never seem to play a hand. As the ante gets to a very low level, there is a limit to how much you should tighten up, because you need to give yourself the chance to outplay weaker opponents in later rounds. As the best player in the game, you want to play as many hands as possible to allow yourself to use your full arsenal of weapons.

Some games have a small ante and also a small initial bet. In such cases you should play loose for the initial bet only, calling with a marginal hand but folding on the next round of betting if your hand has not improved. When you do develop a hand, your small investment will pay big dividends. There is a $3-$6 game in Nevada with a tiny dime ante. Tight players think they have a gold mine in this game, but against decent players they don't. The reason is that the first bet is only 50 cents. It's worth playing a marginal hand to see one card for half a dollar in the hope of making a hand that will win a big pot. While the immediate pot odds may not justify the call, the implied odds you're getting, which are explained in detail in Chapter Seven, do justify it. You can call that half-dollar 20 times without improving your hand, but if, when you make a hand, you get just one opponent to call you to the end, you stand to win more than twice what you had to pay for those 20 hands that did not improve. Remember, however, to resist any temptation you may have to continue calling when your hand has not improved on fourth street.

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