For the most part, very low limit, spread limit games like $1-5 involve similar strategy to the slightly higher fixed limit games like $3/6, $4/8, $5/10 and $6/12. Generally speaking you are going to play a tight, trapping game where you take advantage of the bad loose play of your opponents by being very patient, very tight, and not very tricky. (I’ve written a book about that strategy — to be published in the Spring — and address it occasionally in articles on this site).
There are some significant differences which need to be made when playing Spread Limit to adjust to some differences in playing conditions.
In spread limit, for the most part, the initial bring-in bet is not raised. Players just call the $1.00. In many games it’s treated almost like just another ante. Serious play doesn’t really begin until Fourth Street. Players are very timid, call a lot, and are reluctant to raise.
However, once they are in a hand, and have called a bet or a raise, they often stay in until the River. This makes the pots very large by the end of the hand and, subsequently, gives poker players very high implied odds. That is to say that the return on their investment on Third Street is much, much greater than it would be in a typical fixed limit game which is usually raised on Third Street and is frequently heads up. So you can loosen up somewhat from the rigorous starting standards I normally recommend.
For example, in a typical $5/10 fixed limit game you would rarely call the $2.00 forced bet if you held a 7-8-10 unsuited in early position. But in $1-5 Spread limit, if the game is as I’ve described them with little raising on Third Street and a high percentage of the players seeing you on the River if you eventually catch your hand, you can call that bet. In fact you SHOULD call that initial $1.00 bring-in if all your cards are live. Similarly, you can call with any live pair regardless of the kicker, with low three flushes and even with two high cards like an Ace or a King.
BUT, BUT, BUT you must be prepared to throw these Togel hands away if they don’t improve on Fourth Street. If the pair doesn’t become Trips you throw it away. You’re not going to play a low two pair for a full bet. (Obviously you can see Fifth Street if no one bets or if they bet less than the maximum). But two pair doesn’t play well against many flush and straight draws so toss it for a bet. Similarly, if you’re playing a gapped straight, toss it for a bet. If you’re in a very loose, passive game you can even call with your three flush, even if you don’t catch the fourth suited card on Fourth Street, but only if your suit are extremely live.
If you two high cards don’t catch a pair you fold for a bet, unless they were two-suited and you catch a third to the suit. Then see above. And remember, you’re going to throw that away if you don’t catch a fourth suited card on Fifth Street or if you see many of your suit falling on other hands.
Your strategy changes if you have a powerhouse on Third Street as well. In conventional fixed limit games you raise on Third Street with all Premium Pairs. Not so in Spread Limit. In Spread Limit, with the very strong Premium Pairs like Aces and Kings, you want to raise sufficiently to drive out all your opponents but one. So maybe you raise $3 or $2. What you want is one person calling you incorrectly — not everyone. If you’ve learned that you’ll get 1 caller for a $5 raise, then continue to raise $5.00. But in many of these games a bet that large will scare EVERYONE out. They will all fold correctly. You don’t want that with your Aces or Kings.
Generally, don’t do this with anything less than Kings. And don’t do this if there have been a few callers before your raise. Generally, if two or three people have already called the bring-in, they’ll call your raise. And if they don’t — if they all fold — that’s not the worst thing in the world either. You win their bring-in and you don’t run the risk of a gaggle of players drawing to their straights and flushes against your Aces or Kings.
In some situations, unlike in fixed limit, it isn’t wrong to just call with your Premium Pair. Here’s why. Much of the time you’ll be folding this hand on Fourth Street when it doesn’t improve and when there are many opponents. So you’ll be saving money by not making an unhelpful and unnecessary raise.
A pair of Jacks, for example, especially without an Ace or King kicker is a dog if there are three or more players chasing Straights and Flushes. So you don’t want to lead with it in a way that gets a bunch of callers. If your raise on Third Street didn’t have the intended affect of significantly limiting the field, don’t stubbornly push this hand on Fourth Street. Instead, you need to think about either thinning the field on Fourth Street or getting out if there is any action. Be less inclined to be as aggressive as you would be in a typical fixed limit game on Fourth Street with the lower tier of Premium Pairs: 10s, Jacks and Queens for example.
When this is the case, when players are less aggressive, looser, and more passive, it often pays for you to be similarly so. It seems contradictory, but your response to the bad play of your opponents may be to become more like them in certain ways.
Quick story. I remember when I first started to play spread limit at Foxwoods Casino. I had just read some poker books and thought that I understood the game.
I remembered that I was suppose to play Premium Pairs aggressively. So I was dealt a split pair of Jacks and raised. I got four callers including a King. I didn’t improve on Fourth Street. So when the King checked I bet. I got four callers. I did the same on Fifth Street, Sixth Street and on the River. On the River I had Jacks Up. I finished fourth out of five players.
A better strategy would have been for me to slow down on Fourth, check after the King, and possibly fold if someone else bet on Fifth Street and I still had my Jacks. If I saw someone who had what looked like a four flush or a four straight I should have folded to a bet. Stubbornly playing aggressively in the face of many drawing hands was a mistake.
In a Spread limit game, you can play somewhat more loosely and passively on Third Street, and you must be careful not to overvalue lower Premium Pairs on later streets.