How Different Limits Affect Your Play

All About Poker

For the first time since Black Friday, I once again played poker online. I deposited $200 on Americas Cardroom, one of the few U.S.-facing online cardrooms, and started playing in their Omaha games. With such a small bankroll online (I wouldn't suggest putting or keeping much more than that online right now, or if you're going to put more than that online, be sure that it is money you really don't mind losing) I am obviously playing much lower stakes than what I play live.

In talking about the play online, my wife asked me the very salient question, "Do you play differently because the limits are so low?"

Like most questions I get about poker, a simple yes or no would not suffice. The answer I gave to her instead was, "Yes, but not because the limits are lower, but because of how the lower limits affect the other players."

Poker Math

No matter what level poker is played at, the math doesn't change. That's why it's much better to think of your stack in terms of big blinds, not dollar amounts. That's what's important. When calculating pot odds, the bet you are facing is one unit. How many of those units can you win if you call? Whether it's ten cents or ten grand, the pot odds remain the same. That being said, there is a huge difference between the two bets in the psychology of poker.

Poker Psychology

Poker is never just about math. If it was, it would be far less interesting.

The act of reading other players is one of the great fascinations in the game and what separates it from the vast majority of other games where perfect strategy has nothing to do with psychology.

When considering what an opponent's bet might mean or what you think their reaction to a check, bet, or raise is going to be, the stakes are very important.

The real world value of the money, the general skill level of players at this level, and possibility of bankroll replenishment all play a part in your strategy.

At the lower stakes:

Players are generally less skilled.

Not that there aren't good players playing low stakes or donkeys playing high stakes, but most of the low stakes players have a limited understanding of the game. When facing an opponent you don't know you can assume they aren't very good and play accordingly. And always remember, less skilled players are actually harder to bluff or to use any kind of fancy play against than thinking players. ABC poker is your friend against these types of players.

Players are much more likely to call.

Low stakes player don't play poker to fold a lot.What fun is that? They enjoy gambling too much and the punishment for losing isn't that expensive. Bluff less in low stakes games because when facing a bet most of your opponents will be looking at the real world value of the bet and not what it represents in terms of pot odds.

At the higher stakes:

Players are generally more skilled.

There's a learning curve at the higher stakes, and the punishment for not getting better is too expensive for most players to keep playing.

It's not that the players are better, it's just that the bad ones don't stick around as long as they do at the lower stakes.

Players can be manipulated more easily.

It's difficult to manipulate players who don't pay attention to you. At the higher stakes, players have learned to watch their opponents and try to interpret what their bets mean. When folks are thinking, you can often make them think what you want them to.

So do I change my style of play when the stakes are so low?

Definitely. But only because my opponents play so differently depending on the stakes involved.