So that’s it for 1-2. There are so many poor players at this level, if you learn and master these three skills, you’ll have an edge in nearly every 1-2 or 1-3 live game on the planet.
The formula is simple. First, you play a tight pre-flop game. You play fewer hands, and you consistently raise the hands you play. This strategy will immediately punish your opponents for playing too many hands, and it sets them up to make compounding post-flop errors that you can take maximum advantage of.
But strong pre-flop play alone doesn’t put money in your stack.
You need two critical post-flop skills to actually accumulate more chips on a regular basis. First, you need to fold to big bets. Your 1-2 and 1-3 opponents don’t make big bluffs often enough. If they aren’t bluffing enough, then you shouldn’t be trying to catch them bluffing because it’s not profitable.
Ever. Poker has a weird property that once an opponent strays a little bit from a perfect strategy, you should play the counter- strategy 100 percent of the time. The counter-strategy to someone who doesn’t bluff enough is to fold to their bets. You will fold
every time you have a hand that can’t beat the worst hand they would bet in that way. The only time you consider calling is if you can think of a few hands you still beat that they might bet hard.
That calling exception certainly comes up. But most of the calls I see at 1-2 involve hands that had no chance to win (unless the bettor was bluffing). You absolutely must learn to fold these hands without fail and without remorse.
The second ideal 1-2 post-flop skill is the ability to correctly assess the value of your strong hands. How much is your top pair actually worth? How do certain turn and river cards affect the value of your hand as the board runs out?
For starters, as we discussed, think in terms of streets of value. How many times can you bet the hand, and get worse hands to call? If you think in terms of board textures and streets of value, you can play most of your value hands in a reasonable way.
So how does this cluster of skills win you money over the long term?
Simple. You win money from opponents with your strong hands because you bet them for value in an intelligent, considered way. But your opponents don’t win nearly as much money from you when they make strong hands because you fold to their big bets. The fact that you play a tighter and stronger range of hands pre-flop intensifies this advantage by putting you in the position of having the stronger hand more often.
That’s it. That one edge is enough to win money consistently in most 1-2 and 1-3 games. To put it in the terms I used in the introduction, your opponents have three ways to dispose of bad hands—fold them, call with them, or bluff with them. These 1-2
skills will help you punish the players who try to call with the bad hands.
Yet keep in mind, these 1-2 skills alone will not be enough if you move up, since many of the players at 2-5 and 5-10 have also mastered these skills to one extent or another. Opponents at higher levels will try to get rid of bad hands more often by folding them or bluffing with them, and so far we haven’t covered how to catch your opponents doing these things. But these basic, essential 1-2 skills alone should get you off to a winning start if you stick to the smallest game in the room.
Here are a series of hand quizzes to help you practice these concepts and apply them in real situations. In each of these hands, you’re playing in a 1-2 game in a card room with $300 stacks.
You’re two off the button. Two players limp to you. You have
9♣8♣. What do you do?
Raise to about $10 or $12. Many typical 1-2 players would limp along with this hand. They want to see a cheap flop to see if their straight or flush draws materialize. If they don’t hit the flop hard, they plan to fold.
This strategy will not be profitable. Since most people are looking to hit flops well and make strong hands, if you also look
just to hit flops well and make strong hands, you will not have an edge.
Nine-eight suited is a particularly good bluffing hand. Even if you’re playing in a game where bluffing isn’t a central feature of your strategy, this hand is such a good bluffing hand that you should start out with a raise. Raising allows you to build a pot that you might be able to steal on a later street. It also protects you from forking your range into strong raising hands and weak limping hands. On later streets, if you flop a pair or one of the draws you’re looking for, you can play this hand like A-A, or like any other hand that would be threatening to your opponents. Since they often limp in with weak hands, there’s an excellent chance this strategy will put extra money in your stack.
A player limps. The next player raises to $10. A third player calls.
You’re in the small blind with K♣J♠. What do you do? ♠
Fold. Offsuit hands are not good in this game. Furthermore, you’re looking for situations where your opponents are likely playing too many hands because those are the times you can win their money. When someone has raised from early position, it’s a fairly good (but not foolproof) sign of strength. Also, you’re out of position and the raise size is “big.”
The raiser likely has hands on average at least as strong as yours. You’re out of position. The $1 you have in the small blind is barely worth mentioning compared to the $9 you’re required to call. Fold most of your offsuit hands in these situations.