I occasionally drop down to the lowest stakes in order to take the pressure off and just play some hands.
At 1/2, you can expect almost anything, except maybe a decent game of poker. But occasionally it can happen.
What I find more often is a game where limping is the rule. Reasonable open raises (up to 7-8bb) are always called, usually by 3-4 other players, and that’s at a 6-seat table, which makes raising opens with a tight range advisable, but forget about opening anything but pocket pairs 99+, and fold lower than that unless you find a set.
Even suited broadway cards are not good to open with, because you can expect a multi-way flop 100% of the time and c-bets are never effective at folding out draws. You have to learn how to play well multi way with opponents who often don’t know when to fold or how to bet according to the conventional strategies, and it can be difficult unless you are making hands pretty regularly.
Since preflop raising doesn’t help you to isolate, I end up in bloated four or five way flops with nothing, and if the board is the least bit wet there’s a good chance someone hits a draw hand. And even if no one is betting, you can bet that several will call most any size bet 80%of the time with any pair or any draw, and one of them will hit, making bluffing and continuation betting close to useless.
If you can’t beat them, join them. You too can see a cheap flop by limping and then assess and either dump or continue depending on what you get, and exploit your opponents tendency to over-call. And if you limp, usually the whole table will limp, like a gentleman’s agreement exists not to initiate hostilities until postflop. So you can limp any two cards and fold everything that misses, continue with strong draws and 2nd pair or better, generally assume that anything over a min bet means that they have a made hand, never a naked draw, and it’s pretty obvious when it’s correct to fold. Multi-way, you can always assume someone has at least a pair, and you’re never winning a hand with High Card Ace unless no one bets from flop to river. Call with less than top pair, bet on top pair, good kicker and better, and if you make two pair+, raise small and you’ll get 2-3 calls every time and be good most of the time. Over the long run you’ll win more than you lose.
Bluffs of any size never make any sense at 1/2, there’s always a player who won’t lay down, and even chases their draw to one pair. You can exploit this easily enough by simply hitting and betting. It’s not sophisticated, and as long as you bet on the reasonable side you can usually get three rivers of value out of top pair. Play draws passively, don’t try to build a pot, let the table do it for you, keep the pots reasonable, and check-raise when you fill. You can bet small with straights and better and get everyone to call, or if you go big usually there’s at least one player who will read large bets as bluffs and call you down. Mostly if your opponents are betting, they have something, but occasionally there will be a player who is just trying to buy every pot no matter what they have, which is great as long as you have a pair or better.
Occasionally you’ll find a low stakes table where the action is maniac, and these are easy exploit if you are getting cards at all. Just make a hand and assume your opponent is full of it, and you can call very thin and be good often enough that it’s worth it. You can induce this behavior at tables pretty easily by making a few big splashy hands and show garbage, and show you’re not afraid of losing your stack 4-5 times in a row. After that no one is going to give you any credit, and you can bomb the pot when you hit for real, and stack multiple opponents with sets and straights.
Once in a while there’ll be someone who is hitting every hand, filling draws like nobody’s business, and it looks like they’re bluffing every time, there’s no way they can have it that often, but they do. Just find another table when that happens. There’s never any sense in challenging these players, and even your best starting cards will be no match for their luck hitting strong draws every time. Even if you catch a straight they’ll make a flush or a full house.
You do get some strange calls sometimes. I opened AKs for 10 chips last night, and got 3-bet to 34 by what turned out to be J6o, and the player behind them called with 76o, another player decided to call, and that wasn’t really comfortable for me to just flat with AKs to see a 4-way flop, so I 4-bet to 170, hoping to get even just one to fold, and the 3-better goes all-in on J6o for about 200 chips, fine, 76o calls, and the player behind them was at least decent enough to fold. I scored top pair, KKings on the flop, and had one player committed to the showdown, and another player who would be all-in for a half-pot bet, so I have no fold equity, and I know it. But that’s good – I don’t want him to fold. I bet his exact stack and he called, having made 2nd pair with his 6. Fortunately the board runs out K, A, giving me KKKAA and two stacks for my nuts. After that, everyone left the table for some reason, except one guy, so I packed it up and left too.
At least it worked out for me that time.