The #1 Mistake in Small Stakes Cash Games: Fancy Play Syndrome

The #1 Mistake in Small Stakes Cash Games: Fancy Play Syndrome

If there is one mistake I see people making over and over again in low stakes cash games it is fancy play syndrome. They destroy their win rate by constantly trying to make sophisticated plays that fly way over the heads of their opponents.

Sometimes it is just sheer boredom or frustration that leads people to go for that river raise-bluff against the recreational player who will call with any pair. Whatever the cause may be, in this article I am going to discuss why fancy play syndrome is such a mistake in the lower-limit cash games and what you should be doing to achieve big success instead.

Fancy Play Syndrome Defined

First defined by poker author Mike Caro, fancy play syndrome refers to any action at the poker table which is based on a higher level of thinking than your opponent is capable of reaching.

The vast majority of your opponents in small and stakes games (and at the “micros” online) are only thinking at what is often called “Level 1.” This means that they are only concerned with the two cards in their own hand and how they relate to the board. Meanwhile regulars in these games will to varying degrees think at Level 2 and also take into account what two cards you have.

That said, there are very few opponents at these stakes who are thinking at Levels 3 and 4 where players are not just considering their own cards and their opponents’ cards, but also what hands they or their opponents are representing.

Why Fancy Play Syndrome in Small Stakes Cash Games is Bad

What this effectively means is that most of your opponents at these stakes are only concerned with their own hand or what they think you might have based on their rough understanding of the game. Very few will go deeper and really put the pieces together by asking themselves what range of hands you are representing given your preflop actions, the community cards, subsequent action in the hand, and so on.

The other main issue with players at these stakes is that even if they can internalize that you are repping huge strength with your fancy turn semi-bluff raise, if they have a piece they will call you down anyway. Players at these stakes absolutely hate to fold.

Confound Them With Your Simplicity

The real key to success at these stakes is achieved by confounding your opponents with your simplicity. You simply cannot expect to achieve big results at these stakes by making sophisticated plays against very basic level thinking opponents.

The way I have achieved the biggest success in these games is ironically by doing exactly the thing that they expect me to do again and again. If there is another hallmark of players at these stakes, it is the constant suspicion that you are trying to bluff them. This is exactly why they call down so much.

If such players are so prone to call you down, then why on earth would you try to run big bluffs against them? Instead I will value bet a huge range of made hands against them. It doesn’t have to be the nuts by any means. Middle pair, good kicker is a great hand against somebody who doesn’t have a fold button.

Small Bluffs in the Right Spots

Now I don’t want someone reading this to assume I am suggesting that you should never ever bluff your opponents at these stakes under any circumstnaces. Yes, you should — but only in the right spots.

You should make a continuation bet on the flop against players at these stakes most of the time. Why? Because most of them will still fold a reasonable amount of the time for you to show a profit.

You should also apply pressure on the turn on occasion, especially against regs you know like to call the flop but then tend to give up versus further aggression. The same thing applies on the river.

These types of “bluffs” are okay if done against the right opponents, for the right reasons, and in the right situations. You are not risking a lot and there is a reasonable expectation that you opponents will fold.

The stuff that will kill your win rate is triple-barrel bluffing bad players with air, making turn and river raises for no reason, four-betting preflop with junk because you are frustrated, and the like. This is the kind of stuff that will simply fly way over the head of your opponents. And making matters worse, when they call you down the whole way with their middle pair and scoop the pot, this will also put you on tilt as well.

Winning Poker at the Lower Limits is Boring

The real truth of the matter is that winning poker in small stakes cash games is boring and takes a lot of discipline. Rarely if ever in these games is the fancy or unorthodox play going to be the best choice.

Many get into poker by seeing pros on TV make fancy plays in high-pressure situations. But you have to realize this is not what winning poker is about at all in small stakes cash games, either live or online. Those plays that you saw on TV were often taken from highly-edited tournament final tables with large amounts of money on the line and made against world-class opponents.

Winning big at the lower limit cash games is all about dumbing it down and sticking to the basics. Your opponents have watched those same poker TV shows and therefore expect you to be pulling a fast one on them frequently when you put large amounts in the middle. You can take advantage of this by frequently showing them the winning hand instead.

Final Thoughts

The key to big time success at the lowest stakes — live or online — is actually very simple. Play a solid tight and aggressive game, make a few small bluffs here and there for the right reasons, and punish your opponents again and again with value bets.

Overthinking and fancy play syndrome is the number one technical mistake people make in these games. So many people always want to believe that there must be something more that they have to do to win. No, there isn’t. Your opponents are beginners. Your complicated efforts to outwit them will simply fly right over their heads.

I achieved some of the biggest results ever in these games online by simply doing the exact thing that they expect me to do over and over and over again. Let them overthink. Let them hero call you with bottom pair. Show them the best hand yet again.

Keep everything as simple as possible in small stakes cash games and watch the money roll in.

Nathan “BlackRain79” Williams is the author of the popular micro stakes strategy books, Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes. He also blogs regularly about all things related to the micros over at

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