If you play live poker, you’ll notice that most winning players play similarly. They reside in a safe cocoon and avoid other regulars while feeding off the weak. Three-bet ranges are nearly always strong-side weighted towards QQ+/AK. These players execute a strategy that involves playing controlled, heads up pots, in position, against weaker opponents. One street of value with a medium-strength hand is enough, and two streets are a bonus. Therefore, pots only grow when the “Reg” has a huge hand, which is likely to be up against a strong but yet second best hand. Overall, they employ this strategy day in and day out; plucking away slowly and taking advantage of loose action. In other words, small ball poker.
A small ball player’s win rate comes from correctly taking advantage of their opponent’s common mistakes while simultaneously making fewer mistakes than his or her opponent — nit picking on where they could have saved a bet or where they could have correctly folded Queens preflop versus another small ball player’s Three-Bet.
To be frank, this strategy is slightly profitable. Also, if the games are shallow it is not only profitable but optimal. For the record, I dislike shallow games, and you should too. However, if you and the regulars are employing the same strategy, how are you supposed win? Let us ignore the weaker players because they will beat themselves.
Employing a strategy that takes advantage of small mistakes for marginal gain is what your opponents execute. I want to put forth a strategy that forces opponents into uncomfortable situations that they are not accustomed to, leading to big mistakes, and therefore gaining me a significantly larger edge.
At its essence long ball poker is big pot, maximum pressure poker. The focus shifts from showdown poker to avoiding showdown all together. Playing every hand as if it were a bluff simply because it is easier to shift from bluff to value versus value to bluff.
If you are not confused yet, you should be. However, I will try and give a hand example to better illustrate the concept.
Stakes 2-5 ($1,500 effective)
MP Raises to $25
MP1 Calls $25
BU Hero holds J♠ 9♠ and calls $25
* Three-betting here is fine but we’ll want to keep our three bets and calling frequencies balanced.
Flop ($82): J♦ 8♥ 6♠
MP Bets $55
Let us talk briefly about what the standard play is and where it goes awry. The standard play is to call and reevaluate on the Turn. This allows your opponent’s bluff range to remain intact. In other words, we are bluff-catching. Therefore, if our opponent places any subsequent pressure on the Turn we are likely to have to fold our top pair. This is the strategy your opponents employ. Bluff-Catching Strategy.
With Long Ball, we’ll want to play top pairs for value. As a result, we’ll raise the flop in this situation.
Flop ($82): J♦ 8♥ 6♠
MP Bets $55
Hero Raises to $175
It is now on our opponent to figure out what it is we are doing. If our opponent folds out here, that is fine. We shut out our opponent’s equity share of the pot, and we did not want to bluff catch on future streets with our hand.
If our opponent calls our raise, we have significantly narrowed down his range. Our opponent no longer has the same range he chose to continuation bet with. However, now our opponent is the one bluff-catching for two future streets, out of position, in an inflated pot.
The correct adjustment for our opponent would be to Bet/3-Bet/Fold hands such as QQ and shut out our equity share of the pot. However, your opponents do not do this at this stack depth and resort back to their bluff-catching strategy.
Now our job is to assess the range our opponent continued with and play accordingly. This means we will apply pressure on all cards that help our perceived range and give us range advantage, therefore, hurt our opponent’s range.
The majority of the time when he calls our raise on the flop, we can assume that he has KJ/AJ or overpairs to the board (QQ-AA). On a board of J 8 6r, any 5, 7, 9, 10, or J will improve our perceived range and hurt a large portion of their range. Therefore, we will apply pressure on these cards. Also, notice that since we have J♠ 9♠ we will pick up a backdoor flush draw some percentage of the time. However, we will only bet the spades that improve our perceived range. As a result, the 2♠ will not be a card we will bet on but rather check back and try to actualize our equity in the pot. For the record, I would be more inclined to bet the A♣ than the 2♠; even though the 2♠ increases our equity share since the A♣ places more pressure on our opponent’s range.
If our opponent calls our Turn bet on one of the cards that hurt their range, it will then become a “rinse and repeat” process. We further narrow down their range and continue to place pressure on cards that hurt their range on the River.
Notice that throughout this process we can also run into a big made hand ourselves. We can backdoor into flushes, straights, two pairs, etc. In situations where we make a big hand, our bet sizing will have to be such that it will allow us to actualize value from our opponent.
It goes without saying that employing this strategy will uncap our range. At first, your opponents will believe you have a “nuts or air” hand in certain situations and will therefore make mistakes against an uncapped range. However, as a result, with time they will begin to adjust by widening their bluff-catching range and fighting back with hands they previously would not have done so with. This is exactly our goal. We have now placed our opponent in an uncomfortable situation. Therefore, their mistake propensity has now increased. The game is wide open.
This article covers the beginning stages of Long Ball. However, it is important to note that the rabbit hole extends deeply. I will close out by saying that in Long Ball your focus is on maximizing value and not on losing the minimum. For years bets or raises were taught to be either classified as a bluff or for value; however, in actuality, not every bet or raise is black and white. However, in such a complex game like ours there is a lot more grey than people care to acknowledge.
Finally, and as a disclaimer, if you choose to go down this road get ready to embrace some variance since you will be in the trenches fighting more often.
Good Luck and hit it out the park!