Learning how to win at bar poker takes knowledge and practice. However, there is no book or even definitive guide out there that offers tips on pub poker strategy. Trust me, I looked. I guess since there is no money in it, people just aren’t willing to take the time to write about the subject. This is really a travesty since I have played in hundreds of these games and honestly find them to be the most fun form of poker.
Every night around the world, thousands of people descend on local taverns, pubs, and bars to do more than just eat or drink. They come to battle on the felt and try to beat their buddies in one of the world’s most popular past times.
Why Play Poker at Your Local Pub or Tavern?
Many “real money” players avoid these games because they see them as somehow inferior since there is no large prize pool to be won. What they are missing is that there is more to playing poker than just exchanging money back and forth. Sure, the game does revolve around the attempt to win chips and beat your opponents but there is so much more to it than that.
At the heart of poker is the comradery, excitement, and a shared enjoyment of a mysterious game that no one will ever completely figure out. While everyone plays poker for different reasons, the ultimate incentive is purely for fun. This is what pub poker players understand better than their real money counterparts. Isn’t the true measure of loving an activity whether you would do it for free?
With that being said, it is a lot more fun to win rather than the alternative. To that end, I am going to impart upon you all of the essential information you need to excel in tavern or pub poker games. This information has been gained through the experience of playing hundreds of these games, quietly maintaining a reasonably high level of success. I lost track of my wins long ago, but it is likely less than 100 but more than 75. Along with my perspective of having played millions of online real money hands, I offer insights gained from over 10 years of struggling to understand poker a bit better. I certainly don’t know it all but think I know enough to help just about anyone achieve better success at the tables.
About This Guide
This article will be divided into three parts.
- First, I will cover a few general tips for success.
- Then, we will cover the three key player types to target.
- Last, I will discuss how to attack each stage of a tournament with the ultimate goal of winning more often.
My objective for this guide is not to teach you how to play poker but rather how to adapt to the dynamic nature of pub poker tournaments. Keep in mind that this is not a beginner’s guide to poker. If you are a novice, I recommend my comprehensive poker tutorial to get you up to speed on the basics and jargon needed to become a winner. Also, this is not a “last longer” strategy. If you want to last longer, I recommend “Harrington on Hold’em, Volume 1.” It is also pretty good for beginners. I also wrote an article on the best books to fast track poker learning that you may want to check out.
General Tips for Bar Poker Success
1. Be Friendly
Many pub poker players are there for fun and will even play you softer if they like you. If you get a reputation of being a jerk, expect everyone to play their A game against you. The last thing you want to do is ruin the friendly loose-passive atmosphere that is prevalent in these games. My advice is to try to fly under the radar and maintain a cordial image with as many people as possible. Sure, people may notice that you are on nearly every final table, but if you are a nice guy/girl no one will hate you for it. Think of Daniel Negreanu’s demeanor.
2. Read Poker Tournament Formula
Okay, so I said there is no definitive guide to pub poker. There isn’t. Even so, Poker Tournament Formula was written for low buy-in poker tournaments, common in most casinos. While the book is not specifically written for free poker, it is tailored toward games with very fast structures. This is perfect for pub poker games that typically last just a couple of hours or so. I highly recommend reading it to help you get the right mindset for these fast events where you either prosper or perish.
3. Value Bet Thinner
Due to the general loose nature of these games, it’s typically optimal to loosen your requirements for value betting. Generally, if you have second pair or better it is a good idea to try to extract a bit extra, especially on the flop and turn. I continue to be amazed at the type of crap that will call flops and turns in pub poker games. Calls with complete airballs are more common than you would think in free games. Just follow the mantra, “when in doubt, fire a bet out” and you can’t go wrong.
4. Go After Small Pots
Even though bar poker games are full of really sticky players (calling stations), it’s still a really good idea to attack dry boards, especially when in position in limped pots. Even if you get called on the flop and/or turn, you generally have a really good bluffing opportunity on particular runouts, ie. overcards, potential draws completing. Just avoid running bluffs on Ace high boards, it is rare for anyone to lay down top pair in pub poker, and it is a common strategy for people to get involved before the flop with any Ace. My favorite hands to barrel off with include the part of my range that has potential to improve. Bottom pair, backdoor flush draws, gutshot straight draws, and overcards work really well.
5. Don’t Pay off Tight Players
If a tight player raises at any point during the hand and you don’t have at least two-pair or better, it’s best to just throw it away and move on to the next hand. Also, if you fire two barrels get called twice by a really nitty player, it’s almost never a good idea to follow through on the river, especially in multi-way pots. While that third barrel will work often in online games or real money live games, “tight” pub poker players are generally really stubborn with top pair or better. I mean they sit around and wait to play for dozens of hands, you can’t blame them for not wanting to see a showdown the few times they pick up something they see as top tier.
Trust me on this one, some of the more successful pub poker players are rocks. The reason is that they get paid off on the few hands that they play. I can’t blame them for employing this strategy, it’s certainly easier than the style that I advocate playing. The problem is you eventually do have to shift gears or you end up with a lot of bubbles or 8th/9th places.
6. Play the Rebuys
Some leagues allow you to bust out and get “shot rounds” to come back in. Take full advantage of this by playing (or overplaying) strong hands and draws to the max. Once you double up or the “rebuy” options runs out, slow down a bit. I have built up some giant stacks this way. I’m talking 50k chips when everyone else has 5k or so. If all else fails, you’ve got 10-30 big blinds to play with via the shot round to try and get back into it. Besides the obvious +EV nature of this “backup plan” style of play, it’s super fun and great practice for mixing it up.
7. Practice Pulling the Trigger
If you have aspirations to eventually play for real money, either live or online, this is the time to experiment. Pub poker games are your chance to play that style of poker you have always dreamed of playing but never had the guts to do so. If you don’t do it now, you surely won’t when you are eventually sitting in a WSOP event in a pressure situation. Build good aggressive habits while the price is nil or you will regret it later.
For example, if you think a three-barrel bluff is profitable in a particular spot, go for it. Even if you get called on the river and lose, at least you gain some valuable information and learn something in the process. My advice is to be that super aggressive S.O.B. that you have always wanted to for a set number of games, say 10 or 20. Forget about results and just go with your gut instinct on this matter. Once you do this for awhile and the wins start piling up, you will never go back to being the meek tight player ever again.
Profiling Pub Poker Opponents
You don’t have to get too crazy with this since you will find a huge variety of player types in bar games and it’s tough to pigeonhole people. Even so, if you can just adapt to the three most common general player types, you will go a long way toward achieving better success. They are loose-passives, overly tight players, and loose aggros.
How to Beat Loose Passives
Pub poker games are chock full of loose passive players who almost never raise and constantly limp marginal hands before the flop while taking sub-par hands deep into later streets. By far, these players are the biggest source of “profit” and where most of your late-game chip stack will typically come from.
How to Spot Loose Passive Players
If you see a player limp more than a few hands and then show up with really weak hands after showing almost no aggression, you are dealing with a loose-passive player. They come in varying extremes. Some play only half their hands, some seemingly play 100% of hands. The more they play, the better it is for us.
Adjusting to Loose Passives
These types of players tend to be really optimistic on the flop and turn. When one or more of them are involved in a pot, I take the direct approach and go for three streets of value. Heads up or even three-way, I will often take the same line with any hand that has any chance of improving. Even if I don’t get there, I will almost always follow through on the river as a bluff. Since their range is often really marginal, the river bet will work with a profitable frequency. Just make sure you don’t size the river bet too small or else you might get a crying call from 2nd pair.
Besides lots of value bets, the biggest key to beating these players is to bet-fold your medium strength hands, like top pair and overpairs. If you get raised and cannot beat AA, it’s almost always a mistake to continue without a large number of obvious outs. We call them loose-passive for a reason.
How to Beat Rocks
Rocks are really selective in the hands they play. They tend to play a very narrow range and take a straightforward approach both pre-flop and post-flop. You will seldom see this type of player bluff so if they bet or raise, it’s almost always for value.
How to Spot Rocks
This is probably the easiest player to pick out in the room. If you are 30 minutes into the game and suddenly are involved with a player you didn’t even realize was on the table, you are likely facing a rock. All kidding aside, these will often be the older players in the room who understand that waiting on good starting hands is generally going to have them going fairly deep in the tournament.
Many of these players may also have read Harrington On Hold’em and be using an “M” strategy. Once the average stack gets to about 10-15 big blinds, expect to see a ton of these players start busting out as they go into desperation mode and finally loosen up. Expect to hear a lot of complaining at this point when their big pair gets busted out as two or three players call the all-in and then check it down.
Adjusting to Rocks
I go out of my way to get involved pre-flop against really tight players. Since they play a narrow range, they are very easy to play against post-flop. Basically, just small ball them into oblivion. Either they win a tiny pot against you, or they get it in really bad versus your disguised two-pair or whatever.
How to Beat Loose Aggro Players
Note that I did not call these players “loose-aggressive” since that term implies that they are good players who constantly apply pressure in the correct spots and know when to slow down. What I am talking about is borderline maniac players who are constantly stabbing, raising, betting, with a variety of holdings just for the sake of aggression. Don’t get me wrong, these players can actually do quite well and often build giant chick stacks from time to time. They are also exceptionally frustrating to play against since they make it very difficult to realize equity and often put you in tough spots with your mid-strength hands.
How to Spot Loose Aggros
These players almost never limp in early position and instead will raise really often from all positions. You will see an occasional 3-bet from them and they will sometimes make big isolation raises in position behind single or multiple limpers. Expect the relentless aggression to continue after the flop in varying degrees from player to player. Many of these players will be in their 20’s or early 30’s and may wear earbuds or a baseball cap. In fact, Arnold Snyder talks about these guys in his book Poker Tournament Formula. While they are much fewer in number in bar poker games, they do still come around. Most of the time they are not as skilled as they like to think they are, although they do tend to make the most final tables of any other player type.
Adjusting to Loose Aggros
Generally, I take a counter-punching passive-aggressive style against these players. First off, don’t be afraid to see flops against them. I seldom 3-bet these guys as they make too many post-flop mistakes for me to waste a strong holding against them. After the flop, try to play two street poker. Check back flops if heads up and let them bluff turns and rivers. Call down with any piece of the board, do small raises with weak draws (overcards and better) and then follow through on the river no matter what. Play your strong hands exactly the same way for balance.
What If I Have No Reads?
If in doubt, it’s best to assume an opponent is loose-passive until given a reason otherwise. In my estimation, 50% of a pub poker field will fit that profile on any given day.
Overall, adjusting to opponents is the key to crushing any poker game, especially in free poker which has such a huge disparity of player types and personalities. Learn how to play on level four and it will become like taking candy from a baby. Expect people to start calling you the luckiest player around, since you always seem to be on the final table.
Playing The Various Tournament Stages
The main difference between cash games and tournaments is that the blinds go up at set intervals. This means that the average stack in the room gets progressively shorter and shorter as time goes on. Therefore, learning to play all different stack sizes is of utmost importance in mastering these events. On top of that, you also have to adjust how you play each stage of the tournament based on how fast the next blind level will come.
Slow events, those with blind levels over 30-40 minutes must be approached differently than fast events which have 10-20 minute blind levels. Since almost all pub poker events fall in the fast range, I will focus on “turbo” strategies for the purposes of this guide. Keep in mind that your mileage may vary based on your local games and you may want to tweak your frequencies accordingly. Even so, it’s always better to err on the side of playing too fast rather than too slow. There’s nothing sadder than impudently blinding out of a tournament.
The Early Stages
First off, you may need to forget everything you think you already know about the beginning stages of a tournament. You have probably heard those tired old phrases “tight is right” or “you can’t win a tournament early but you sure can lose it.” What a bunch of hogwash. Patience and playing overly tight is a terrible idea in any tournament, especially fast ones like pub poker events.
The most successful players out there do not just sit around and let the chips come to them. Instead, they play like the world is about to end and they are on a mission to build their stack. Even so, you also don’t want to frivolously get into huge pots with marginal hands. The key here is to pick your spots and splash around in a controlled manner.
In my opinion, the best way to play the early stages is to focus on exploiting your particular table and try to play as many pots as possible with the worst players while they are still around. No matter what the current table dynamic, you should be playing small ball and investing small portions of your stack to try to build it up. Play numerous small pots and use your superior post-flop ability to squeeze profit from the table. Here are a few keys to widening your involvement in a smart way and beating the early stages:
- Steal 100%
If it ever folds to you in the Cutoff, Button, or Small Blind, you should be open raising regardless of your cards. In fact, I often don’t even look at my cards in this spot until the flop comes down. Since you will have initiative and often position, this is an awesome (and cheap) way to build a stack in these events. Once the flop comes down, I like to c-bet a polarized range. In other words, I bet strong and weak hands and check my marginal made hands and draws. This way I realize equity and set up some interesting bluffing opportunities based on scare card runouts, etc.
- Raise “Weird” Hands in Early Position
Everyone expects you to have a strong range when you raise in early position, right? This is why it’s a good idea to pump it up with a wide variety of hands from the first few seats. I am talking about hands that have good flop potential but will be well disguised should they connect. Something like 53s, A2s, 74s are great hands to open raise. The beautiful thing is that you can play two ranges at once. You can represent high boards since you raised a “strong range” while playing the low boards with your hands that actually do connect down there.
- Forget the 3-Bet/4-Bet Game
It’s rare to see light 3-bettors in pub poker. Why? because there are typically multiple limpers and hardly any raises! You should also avoid doing any of that light 3-bet business, except in particular dynamics that are too rare to discuss here. Since people don’t fold to 3-bets in pub poker anyway, it’s much better to disguise even your strongest hands by playing more small to medium pots with them. I know, I know. This flies in the face of everything you were likely taught up until now. But trust me, against multiple ranges that QQ+ hand isn’t a favorite to win by showdown anyway. So why pump up the pot for someone else to win? You’ll have to just trust me on this one.
Early Stage Open Raise Sizing
When the blinds are low, it doesn’t really matter what you open raise. Half the table will typically see the flop anyway. Therefore, I like to invest near the minimum when raising before the flop. 2.5 times the big blind is a really good raise size, and it won’t get you as much flack from people complaining about you “bitch raising.” Yeah, people actually say that in the games I play, lol. The only time I vary in my 2.5x size is if there is a hugely bad player who is the sole limper in front of me. In this case, I often will make it something like 6-8 times the big blind to isolate him. This is a rare occurrence but I thought it was worth mentioning.
The Middle Stages
In my experience, the difference between the early stages and middle stages are like night and day in pub poker tournaments. The transition to the middle stages often occurs as the blinds go up to 200/400. This is when a lot of the super unskilled players have busted out and the overall playstyle of the remaining players shifts. Most everyone starts looking for a good place to double up and, as a result, tighten up.
Hopefully, you are one of the bigger stacks on the table at this point so that you can absorb losing one or two races. Because this is when it is time for you to ramp up the aggression and stop limping/calling and start stealing/restealing or shoving/reshoving wide. The goal is to have the most chips at your table by the time you get to the bubble. So if you don’t already have one of the biggest stacks in the room, you need to have a real sense of urgency right now. This stage goes really fast so the bubble is just a few minutes. There’s nothing worse than being a tiny stack on the bubble.
Definitely don’t shy away from a race at this stage but, at the same time, also continue to play a very stabby bet-folding style of poker. Go after dead money whenever you can and keep the pot relatively small while you probably don’t have the best of it. I have often built up massive stacks at this stage just by stealing and c-betting. To me, the perfect middle stage involves building up a big stack without having to be all-in once!
Middle Stage Open Raise Sizing
At 200/400, I usually open raise to 1000 and at 300/600, I open raise to 1500. This allows the big blind to still fold while keeping the pot small enough to make your c-bet sizings manageable. Bloating the pot with marginal hands is definitely a mistake at this stage. And once you hit 500/1000, it’s okay to switch to a min-raising strategy. A 2,000 open raise is a pretty sizable bet at any stage of the tournament as often this is the starting stack size. A ton of people will have around 8k-10k chips at this time and be conserving them for a double up. Steal steal steal, within reason.
Bar Poker Bubble Strategy
Since there is no “money” bubble in free tournaments, this only happens once per event when you are down to around 12 people. This is when the final bubble effectively begins. It really all depends on what the average stack is in the room as to when it actually starts. A good rule of thumb is that if more than 1 or 2 people at your table are in shove/fold mode, you are on the bubble. Almost all of the play now shifts to pre-flop and everyone is jockeying around for their final table position. If you are the biggest stack at the table, congratulations. It’s time to maintain that stack and get ready to dominate once it’s down to 9 people. If you are a small to mid-stack, you have some work to do.
Big Stack Bubble Strategy: >40 Big Blinds
If you have a big stack, you can actually slow down just a bit. A lot of players will make a huge mistake at this point and think they have to bust out all of the short stacks. The fact is, you already have a good enough stack to be a significant factor on the final table so this is the time you should be the most patient. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should be passing up +EV spots to pick up some chips. At the same time, you don’t really want to take a flip against a 30+ big blind player who has been playing tight all day.
I find that the best bubble strategy almost exactly mirrors your middle stage strategy. You want to continue with the initiative and look to pressure the small and medium stacks with a continued active stealing strategy. There’s nothing wrong with risking a good portion of your stack, as long as you are the one doing the raising/restealing.
Look to target the other players who seem to be playing a similar style as you. If you see someone stealing just about every time it folds to them and you have 15 or more big blinds than them, go ahead and overbet shove over their raise with a fairly wide range. Suited Ax hands and small pairs are great in this spot. You will have a reasonable amount of equity against their calling range if you happen to get looked up. If they have the same stack size as you or bigger, instead look to flat some of their steals and force them to play post-flop. Your cards don’t really matter too much to do this, as you are looking to outplay them post-flop with some well-timed floats or other shenanigans.
Your goal should be to take over the table and force everyone else to tighten up and only pick up strong hands. If you can do this, you are well on your way to winning. On the other hand, if you happen to have a really strong player on your table, it’s okay for you to try and avoid each other. There are a handful of guys that I play with in pub poker who basically stay out of my way and me out of theirs until the final table.
Mid Stack Bubble Strategy: 15-40 Big Blinds
There’s no avoiding anyone when you are sitting there with a mid-stack. The next blind level will land you squarely in shortstackdom and that is the last place you want to be going into the final table. Your goal as a mid stack should be to get above 40 or 50 big blinds as quickly as possible. Your level of aggression should be commensurate with the shortness of your stack. If you are at 20 big blinds, you are about to go out the door anyway, so it’s time to start fighting now while a double up still means something. If you are around 35 to 40 big blinds, you can just go for a few well-timed steals or resteals to bolster your stack.
The good news is that there should be 1-3 really short stacks on your table who will be in desperation mode.
Since their range will be wide for shoving all-in, you can also be super wide in how wide you call it off. You should not be laying down anything reasonable to a short stack at this stage. A range of any pair, any broadway, and any Ace should happily roll the dice against anyone with less than 10-15 big blinds. You need those chips now and it’s worth the gamble. Worse case scenario, you become short-stacked and still have a chance to get back into it. Besides, I’m going to give you a <15 big blind short stacking strategy to follow for free below, so there are no excuses.
Short Stack Bubble Strategy: <15 Big Blinds
It’s all-in or fold at this point. Don’t fool around and get cute by min-raising AA or something. The likelihood of getting called is so great in free poker, that you just want to go ahead and pile the chips in and hope someone has A5 or KJ they can call with. The only time I may vary this strategy is when there are one or more hyper-aggressive short or mid stacked players behind me. In that case, I will sometimes go for a limp with strong hands.
Here is an effective <15 big blind open shoving and restealing strategy. This is set up for 10 big blinds so, optimally, you want to tighten up a pip on the 15 bb side and loosen up on the 5bb side. You will also want to tighten up versus tight players and loosen up versus loose players. Use your best judgment, or just follow the charts exactly and you won’t be too far off.
Short Stack Open Shoving Strategy- Assumes a 6-handed or less table
Cutoff/Hijack/UTG: Any pair, A8o+ A2s+, KJo+, QJo, JTs
Small Blind/Button: Any pair, Any Ace, K9+, Q9+, J9+, T9, 98s, 87s, 76s
Short Stack 3-Bet Shoving Strategy- Assumes a 6-handed table
Versus the Hijack/UTG: 55+, AT+, KQ
Versus the Small Blind/Button/Cutoff: Any pair, A8o+ A2s+, KJo+ KTs+, QJo+ QTs+, JTs, T9s
Short Stack Call Shoves Strategy
All positions: 66+, AJ+, KQ
Bar Poker Final Table Strategy
On the final table, there is a major divergence between pub poker and online tournaments. Online, most people are multi-tabling and seldom have time to get bored, and, since the final table brings a pay jump they typically relax and loosen up once they get there. Live, this is not typically the case since people have spent 2+ hours 1 tabling to finally get to the final table. The last thing they want to happen is to bust out in the first few hands. Besides, they know they can probably just fold their way to 5th or 6th place.
Therefore, your strategy should be exactly the opposite of what everyone else is doing. While patience is the key in the first few final table hands online, in pub poker you want to come out swinging and start fighting for pots immediately. No matter what your stack size, you need to be going after the sizable blinds which are now a large portion of everyones’ stack. Your philosophy now, more than ever, should be to go big or go home. It’s much better to have a ton of 7th, 8th, or 9th places and a ton of 1st and 2nd places rather than nothing but dozens of 4th, 5th, and 6th place finishes. In fact, your final table finishes should be dispersed something like this over 100 appearances:
- 9th: 12
- 8th: 15
- 7th: 10
- 6th: 7
- 5th: 5
- 4th: 5
- 3rd: 8
- 2nd: 14
- 1st: 24
In reality, once the final table bubble starts in a tavern poker game, you should just keep playing the same way throughout the rest of the tournament. The pedal should be to the metal more often than not.
Heads up strategy
Great! Everything went well and you got lucky a couple of times on the way to the final two. Now it’s time to pick our opponent apart and dominate heads up.
As with every other stage of a tournament, targeted aggression is the key to success. How you play exactly will be dependant on your stack size along with the type of opponent you are facing.
By this point, both players will almost always be short stacked so most of the play should be occurring pre-flop. There is almost never any room for fancy post-flop maneuvering in pub poker, so it all comes down to who plays the most aggressive mathematically sound game and then gets luckiest in the all-ins. Basically, what you are trying to do is think about the long-term and increase your chances of coming out on top more often than your opponents. Short-term luck will rule the day in this individual heads up, but skill will decide who gets the most victories over the long term.
Besides telling you to play aggressively and fight for pots, there’s not much else I can help you with here except provide you sound strategy based on the effective stack size. Being good at heads up relies on sound math and good timing. The former I can help you with, the latter you will have to develop through experience. . If somehow you are deeper than that (a rare occurrence in pub poker), then just play normal poker. Going into the details of intricacies of heads-up play is beyond the scope of this article. Below is my recommend default ranges based on 25 big blinds or smaller effective stack.
15-25 Big Blinds Effective Stack Strategy
Raise: Any pair, Any Ace, X8+ (anything with a kicker 8 or higher)
Limp: Anything suited or connected, occasionally big hands against aggressive opponents
Call Shoves: Any pair, AT+, KQ
3-Bet Shove: Any pair, A8o+, A2s+, Any broadway
Call Raise: Any Ace, X7+
<15 Big Blinds Effective Stack Strategy
Open Shove: Any pair, A8o+, A2s+, Any broadway
Limp: Any Ace, X7+, occasional big hands for balance (the more aggressive, the higher frequency)
Call Shoves: Any pair, A8+, KJ+
3-Bet Shove: 3-Bet Shove: Any pair, Any Ace, X9+
Call Raise: None
Adjusting The Ranges
While my default ranges should serve anyone well in a vacuum, you should always be looking to adjust to your opponent’s tendencies. As with any other decision in poker, it’s easiest to adjust by using a three-prong system of ranges. What I mean by this is that you go into any situation with a “vacuum” range that you use without reads and then you adjust that range based on your opponent. In general, if your opponent is looser than average you tighten up. Conversely, if your opponent is tighter than average, you loosen up.
For example, let’s say you are heads-up and the effective stack is 12 big blinds. Your opponent open shoves and you look down at A5s. He has shoved 4 times in a row when on the button and you know him to have a reputation for being loose and aggressive. Therefore, even though A5s falls outside of your default range, you can loosen up a bit and make this call. Otherwise, you risk getting run over by him.
On the other hand, let’s say you were facing a really tight player who has been folding his button nearly every hand. You look down at KQs and he shoves all-in on you. This can actually be a fold sometimes since you are basically playing the big blind for free due to him frequently relinquishing his small blind to you. Therefore, you are under no pressure to make a call versus his shove except with a very strong range. In fact, there are players out there that I would only be calling 55+ and AJ+. Even then, I’d expect to be behind often. Always remember to play the player and master the correct frequencies versus particular ranges.
If you want to get better at these adjustments, I recommend that you learn to play short stack cash games. Even if you only learn to beat up to 5c/10c, you will still learn enough to be able to crush these spots in almost every pub poker tournament you ever play in. It just so happens that I specialize in cash games playing a 30-40 big blind stack, so feel free to browse my website to learn more. I also wrote a best-selling book on the subject.
Bonus Section: My Favorite Pub Poker “Moves”
I feel I would be remiss not to pass along a few other bits of information that come in handy when playing pub poker tournaments. Call them plays, moves, or whatever. Some of them are fun to do, some are just really useful at the right time. Here they are:
- The “Big Stack Bully” Raise
This one is one of my favorite moves to make near the bubble when there are still players limping into pots trying to see a cheap flop. If you see this happening and have one of the big stacks at the table, wait until you are in late position or the blinds and simply min-raise over their limps when it gets to you. It doesn’t matter what your cards are. Worst case scenario, you milk the mid and short stacks a bit and make them even that much more desperate. I know, mean as hell, but it’s a really awesome move if you are playing to win. Best case scenario, you create chaos that often leads to getting to the final table right now. Quite frequently, everyone will call and then 2 or more players will connect with the flop in some way. Bedlam ensues since the pot is so big, and boom.. final table time.
- 10%, 25%, Shove
If you flop a hand that you are committed to and want to get all-in by the river, this is a great rule of thumb to use to maximize value across the flop, turn, and river. Simply bet 10% of the effective stack on the flop, followed by 25% of the flop stack size on the turn, and then shove the river. You’ve found a nice balance between giving a good price to call and making them overcommit themselves at the same time.
- Free Card Raise
If you have an aggressive player on the table who has been betting into you or just being a downright bastard in pots you play, this is a great tool to cool their jets and allow you to realize some equity. All you do is wait until you are in position versus them and then raise their flop lead. If they call and you have a piece of the board, just check back the turn after they check and then play the river. If you have any piece of the board and they lead the river, just call. However, if you have air or a really strong hand and they lead, reraise them. No matter what happens, they will likely back off and find a softer target to pick on.
- River Check-Overbet Raise
If you find yourself in a multi-way pot and somehow get an unlikely nut hand on the river, you could just lead out and hope to get called. However, in these games, I find that people almost never bet and then fold to a re-raise. And, since there are multiple people involved, it’s highly likely that someone has a two-pair or better hand. So how do we maximize this spot? We check and then hope someone bets. When they do, we re-raise a massive amount. If someone bets 5 big blinds into a 10 big blind pot, raise to 50 big blinds. Or, raise enough to just leave your opponent 10 big blinds or so. He may be enticed to make the call since he will figure he still has enough chips to mount a comeback should he call and lose.
- Pre-Flop Limp Shove
If you are lucky enough to get on one of those tables that has lots of raises and then multiple callers, this is an excellent move to make when you have 40 big blinds or less.When you are in early position and pick up QQ+ or AK, just limp. If someone raises, just shove all-in when the action comes back to you. I have lost count of the times I’ve ended up in huge 3-way all-in pots in this spot. After all, it is free poker right? Worst case scenario, you have a well-disguised strong hand that dominates the ranges that are seeing the flop.
- 3rd & Go
This is a really good move that I use in cash games all the time and works well on your typical loose tavern poker table. If you are in the blinds and have a mid to short stack, say 30 big blinds or less, just raise 1/3 of your stack pre-flop and shove all-in on any flop. The range you want to use for this is any hand that flops really well (like any broadway). It doesn’t matter if there has been a limp or if someone has raised, it works either way. Sometimes everyone folds pre-flop, sometimes people call and fold the flop, sometimes you get owned and are knocked out. No matter what happens, it’s definitely a +EV move when used at the right time.
This guide has been an absolute joy for me to write. I truly love pub poker and think it represents all of the best aspects of the game in the purest sense. This is my gift to all of the people who grind the free poker scene night after night and play only for the love of the game. Good luck at the tables, and if you see me at your local game be sure to say hi.
Jim is the author of the best-selling book called Automatic Poker. He has been playing professionally for over 15 years and has helped countless people become winning poker players. Using a no-nonsense mathematical and logical approach to beating the games, Jim has helped demystify what it takes to win money in No-Limit Hold’em.
Thank you for the tips about playing aggressively and fighting for pots when playing poker. My brother loves playing poker, but has been bedridden as of late. I wonder if he could find an outlet where he can still play poker, maybe online.
Great write up! just what I was looking for. We have $10 – $30 buy in pub poker tournaments here in Australia, but the above really resonates. Will try a few things out at the next game, thank you!
Ahh wish I could visit and play in those games. I have family in the Sidney area, my dad was born there. Good luck and let me know how it goes!