Have you ever noticed the difference between small ball and long ball poker players? Did you ever wonder how a player took a draw for their entire stack on the first hand of the poker tournament? If so, then you have witnessed a player that plays the long ball high risk style of poker. This is the kind of player that takes maximum risk at all times in hopes of building a monster chip stack early. A small ball player is the exact opposite and will meticulously win pot after pot while building their stack of chips one pot at a time until reaching the final table. Both styles of play are viable. It all comes down to what style works best for your poker game.
As I indicated earlier small ball is a style of play that encourages measured risk and slowly building your chip stack by out playing your opponents after the flop. Poker players like Dan Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth both love this style of play and it clearly has served them well. There really is no down side to playing small ball poker. Actually the more skilled poker players prefer small ball poker because it allows them to out play their opponents after the flop. Small ball allows you to make moves like check calling when your opponent is weak and then raising on the turn or river to take the pot away. Deep stacks poker tournaments tend to lend themselves to small ball poker tournaments. The fact of the matter is that the more starting chips you have in relation to the blinds the more you will need to be able to play in space and that means playing small ball poker. Typically slow structured poker tournaments lend themselves to this style of play. That means that the blinds are going to go up every 30 minutes at the very least and you will have plenty of chips to start relative to the blinds. These kinds of poker tournaments allow you to play many hands and generally the more skilled players will make their way to the final table.
Long ball poker is a high risk style of play that tends to lend itself to fast structured poker tournaments where the levels are less than 20 minutes and the chip stacks are less than 100x’s the big blind to start with. In order to compete successfully in any poker tournament you must accumulate chips. However, the structure will dictate how fast or slow you must play the tournament and accumulate chips. For some poker players these are ideal circumstances as they tend to be impatient and unable to balance between long and small ball poker. You simply cannot play one style of play all the time. One thing about long ball poker player that I have noticed is that they are extremely volatile. If they can get their hands on a lot of chips they can make things miserable for the entire table by raising and re-raising pots and putting a lot of pressure on people. Conversely they are easily trapped because they tend to over value hands like Ace King in spots that are easier to navigate with a flat call or re-raise to find out where they are at. They will also chase flush draws and outside straight draws for their entire stack if the situation warrants it and this can happen at any point in the poker tournament.
It really does not matter what style of play you choose. Anyone can be successful with any style of play in poker and poker strategy is not confined to one particular way of playing the game. Ultimately you have to find the style of play that fits your personality best and execute it with strong fundamentals and you will be well on your way to being a successful tournament poker player.
Curtis Mayfield III