Without a doubt, your average table features a motley crew of fish waiting to give their money away.
With a little help from this article, you'll get your fair share of it.
The game is $1/$2 No-Limit Texas Hold'em, the Chevrolet Cavalier of poker. The minimum buy-in is $40 and the max $200.
$1/$2 is the smallest No-Limit game run in most casinos and for that reason the games are very, very soft.
Your Average Opponent
$1/$2 games are inhabited by everyone from 60-year-old nits, to first timers, to gamboolers who raise every hand, to young, sunglasses-wearing wannabe pros.
Some of these players are actually good, but most are not. They're first-level thinkers, thinking only of their two cards and nothing else.
They are going to be clueless to the fact that you've folded the last 30 hands and are now betting hard into them.
What they're going to be doing is thinking, "I has a pair of jacks; how much?" and then pushing the required chips into the pot.
These players are your targets, and the source of the bulk of your winnings.
Loose-passive players have two major weaknesses - they call too often before the flop and they take their hands too far after the flop.
You'll often hear new players lament about how it's impossible to beat fish because all they do is call.
This sort of thinking is so fundamentally wrong it's laughable.
Players who call too much are the ATMs of the poker world, readily dispensing money to whoever has the patience to wait for a good hand.
Your Ideal $1/$2 No-Limit Hold'em Strategy
You play tight, you make top pair or better and you bet! Not exactly groundbreaking stuff. Play ABC poker, make your good hands and bet them.
Loose-passive calling stations will do what they do best: call. So let them call, stop bluffing them, and value bet your good hands relentlessly.
When you play tight before the flop, you make your post-flop decisions easier. By playing solid hands before the flop you will make solid hands after the flop.
When you eliminate marginal hands from your repertoire you'll find yourself with fewer difficult decisions after the flop.
Your goal is to flop top pair with a good kicker or better. You have to avoid getting caught up in the table flow.
Just because half the table is limping in up front with K♥ 3♠ doesn't mean you have to.
Stick to playing tight and focus on playing hands that can flop big.
Playable Hands at $1/$2
Big Pocket Pairs (AA - TT)
These hands are already made for you. A single pair is often good enough to win at showdown, so when you start with one, you're ahead of the game.
Big pocket pairs are such big favorites that you should always raise them for value when nobody has raised in front of you. With aces, kings, queens and even jacks you should often even reraise.
The profit in these hands comes from when you flop an overpair to the board or a set. When you do, bet.
Your loose-passive opponents will be more than happy to call three streets with worse hands.
Good Top-Pair Hands (A-K - A-J, K-Q)
Top-pair hands are hands that make top pair and when they do so, do it with a good kicker.
In a game where most of your opponents are loose-passive, your kicker is going to make you a lot of money.
For example, if you have K♣ Q♣ and the board comes king-high, you can bet three streets for value against a loose-passive player.
He will be more than happy to call all the way down with K♦ 9♠ only to find his kicker is no good.
Good top-pair hands are good enough for a raise when the pot has not been raised before you.
Top-pair hands do better against one opponent than many, so keep that in mind when choosing your bet sizes.
These are hands that are rarely going to win at showdown unimproved, but when they hit they make big-pot hands.
A big-pot hand is a hand like a set, a full house, a straight or a flush. Holding these hands, no matter what the action, you're ready to put your stack on the line.
They are speculative hands because they have to hit before they'll be worth anything. They rely on the implied odds that you win your opponent's stack when you do hit.
Ideally you would like to see the flop as cheaply as possible with these hands. Speculative hands do best when played in position, so be wary about playing them from up front.
Pocket Pairs (99-22)
Pocket pairs make huge hands when they flop sets. Sets are often hidden, and you can easily stack someone who has top pair or an overpair.
For that reason it's OK to limp pocket pairs from any position.
When facing a raise, you have to think about your opponent. If he is a tight player and is unlikely to pay you off when you do hit, you're best off folding.
If, however, he is a loose player (or you're multiway with more than one loose player), you can call a reasonably sized raise to play for "set value."
The main thing about pocket pairs is that when you hit a set you should almost always be looking for the best way to get all your money into the pot.
Suited Connectors, Suited One-Gappers (Q-Js - 67s, K-Js - T-8s)
Suited connectors are great hands, played within reason. They do make both straights and flushes - both big-pot hands.
The problem is they don't do it nearly as often as you might think.
When you're in early position, you're best off folding low suited connectors.
If your table hasn't been seeing too many raises before the flop, you can limp the best suited connectors like J♥ T♥ or Q♠ J♠. All others should be folded.
Suited connectors are hands that play well in position. More often than not you're going to miss the flop or hit a weak one-pair hand.
Playing them from out of position, in contrast, is going to put you in too many marginal spots after the flop.
Suited connectors should rarely be played versus a raise unless you are on the button and it is a multiway pot, or the raise is very small.
Suited Aces (A-9s - A-2s)
Suited aces are decent speculative hands because they can flop the nut-flush draw and they do have some high-card strength with the ace.
Nut-flush draws obviously have value because you can stack smaller flushes.
The problem with flushes though is that they are right there in the open. Everyone is always aware when a flush draw comes in, and as such it is sometimes difficult to get paid.
Suited aces are good hands, but not good enough to limp in from any position. You should be more willing to limp the closer to the button you get.
Against a raise suited aces should seldom be played. You're not going to flop a flush nearly as often as you flop a pair of aces with a weak kicker.
A weak pair of aces can be a curse. You feel like you have top pair and should see a showdown, but by the time you get there you find yourself outkicked and half a stack short.
Weak Top Pair Hands (K-Jo, Q-To, etc.)
These are hands that you want to steer clear of for the most part. They are dominated hands and should be avoided at all costs unless you can get in cheap from late position.
From early position and/or against a raise they should not be played at all.
They don't make many straights or flushes, and when they hit a pair you're going to find yourself on the losing end of the kicker battle more often than not.
Everything else is trash and should not be played even if it is suited. Suited trash is still trash.
Players get themselves into trouble all the time playing weak suited trash because they think they're going to make a flush.
You don't make a flush with weak hands nearly as often as you may expect, and the rest of the time you're bleeding money. Stop playing them.
Position, Position and Position
The importance of position can't be overstated.
Many people think they understand the concept of playing in position, but they routinely call raises with marginal hands, only to play the rest of the hand out of position.
This is a leak that costs you money. When you're out of position you're playing a guessing game - you have to anticipate what your opponent may do.
They dictate the flow of the hand: if they don't want to put more money in, they don't; if they want to bet three streets, they do.
Which is why being in position is so important: it puts you firmly in the driver's seat. You get last say on everything.
If you want to see a free showdown you do; if you want to value-town someone, you do.
Your opponents will be guessing, just as you are when you're out of position.
As the better player, with the advantage of being in position, you'll ensure that they're guessing wrong more often than right.
Sit Back and Wait for the Dollars
That's really all there is to it. The most important skill you can have at $1/$2 is patience.
Sit back and wait for a good hand. You should be folding 80% of your hands.
Do not get involved just because you are bored. Start with solid holdings and make solid hands after the flop.
When you're card-dead, that doesn't mean you should be sitting around watching TV. Pay attention to the game and your opponents.
Profile them in your mind; identify who the weak players are and what their tendencies are.
If you know who the loose players are and who the tight players are, you'll be able to understand their bets and raises and what they mean.
Once you figure out your opponents' tendencies, the rest is just a waiting game. Make your big hand and value bet.
Exploit the calling stations and force them to put their money in with worse hands.
$1/$2: it's an easy game.
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