Micro Stakes poker, the lowest rung on the online poker ladder but also the most important one to conquer. This is where some of the best poker players started and it is an excellent place to start creating good habits that will carry over once you move on to higher stakes. Let’s take a look at how you can maximize your chance of success.
Start really small
Many are surprised by the quality of play in $25 and $50 games online. They shouldn’t be though, those players have spent a lot of time studying and improving their game. This is why it’s best to start small by playing poker online.
Now, it can be tough getting used to playing for small amounts of money when the entire pot size amounts to less than the cost of a cup of coffee. It can be difficult to focus on making the best play.
But learning to focus despite having minimum impact on your bankroll is one of the most valuable lessons you can learn as a poker player. The idea is that your decision-making process should be not be affected by how much money you’ll win or lose—i.e., to become less prone to make emotional decisions.
In contrast, immediately jumping into the $100 games leaves you open to many solid players—some of whom are full-time pros—who have vast amounts of playing experience reinforcing every decision that they make. And every one of those players are keen to pounce on less-experienced newcomers like you.
This advice applies even if you have the theoretical skills to win at higher stakes. The fact is there are many other things to consider when moving up, such as the speed of online poker, and trends that are unique to certain player pools and game types specifically.
The best way to acclimate yourself with these factors is to gain playing experience at lower stakes, and to move up gradually. And I do mean gradually. Remember that getting to the top in poker is a journey, not a sprint.
The overall advantage to starting small with online poker is that you get to move up the limits at a comfortable pace, and develop a foundational skill-set that will help you achieve greater success at higher limits.
Another advantage is that you’ll be able to gauge the state of your game. Start at the lowest stake, NL2, and play for a week or two. If you are absolutely crushing that game, then move up to the next limit, NL5, and so on. Eventually you’ll discover the limits of your game: strategies that no longer produce the desired results, leaks you probably didn’t know you had, etc.
Even our very own Team Hot started small. So, develop a world-class understanding of the fundamental principles of the game and your transition to mid, high and nosebleed stakes will be much smoother.
Find your foundation
The micros are the ideal stakes to build your foundational knowledge of the game. And what this really means at the micro stakes is mastering the art of tight and aggressive play, also known as ‘TAG’.
Here’s the thing about the lower limits: They are normally filled with beginner-level players who don’t have a solid understanding of the game, and don’t know why they make certain plays.
In fact, many of the players you will encounter at the micros make decisions based on their gut instinct, or a random “hunch,” rather than on mathematics or logic. This means that you are going to see some of the craziest plays on earth all the time, such as players cold-calling a 3-bet out of position with a small suited connector.
You would never expect someone to have a 4 in their hand in a 3-bet pot when the flop comes K44. But they can and sometimes will at the micros!
This is why it is important, when you are first starting out, to keep everything as simple as possible and to be very selective about what hands you play.
What does this actually mean in practice?
Well, if you are playing in a 6-max game, it would be advisable that you play no more than the top 20% of your hands unless you’re on the button or in the blinds.
Here is a visual idea of what the top 20% of hands might look like:
By keeping your standards high like this you will prevent yourself from getting into too many difficult marginal situations against unpredictable players.
Furthermore, it is important to play these hands aggressively. This means that you should be entering the pot with a raise, and sometimes re-raising with the top end of these ranges.
After the flop, you should be betting for value frequently, and making plenty of semi-bluffs if you catch any piece of the board.
Generally, by playing a solid TAG strategy you will give yourself the best chance of success at the lower limits while keeping yourself out of awkward and potentially tilting situations.
Keep it simple and profit more
One of the biggest mistakes players make in these games is over-thinking common situations. They even have a name for this: “fancy play syndrome” (FPS). And it means death for your win-rate at the micros.
You have to remember that most of your opponents at these stakes are relatively new to the game. Some of them are just recreational players–aka “fun players”–who have little rhyme or reason for the decisions they make.
If you try some advanced river check/raise bluff against one of these fun players because you saw a high stakes pro do it on TV, you are setting yourself up for disaster.
The problem is that most of the time, your high-level fancy play is going to go right over their heads, and they are just going to call you down with their middle or top pair, anyway.
You also need to remember that at micro stakes, you are playing for amounts of money that doesn’t really matter that much to most people. This is especially true at the $10 and below games.
It is really hard to raise somebody the price of a Big Mac and make them lay a decent hand down. It’s just not scary enough to them. They are going to get curious and look you up.
So, one of the best things you can do at the micros is just keep everything as stupidly and mind-numbingly simple as possible.
And yes, it can be boring when you haven’t made a hand in an hour and you just want to make something happen.
But save it for the higher limit games, especially where the money is actually meaningful to most people. The only way to crush the cheeseburger stakes is by keeping everything as simple as possible.
Fast-play most of your strong hands
The overwhelming majority of micro-stakes players are way too passive. This means you won’t win a big pot by trying to trap them—you have to build the pot yourself.
So, when you pick up your over pair, top pair, or any other strong hand, you need to keep betting at the pot until you have a clear reason to slow down.
The key thing to remember about the passive, recreational players is that they hate folding and love calling. In fact, one of the greatest thrills for recreational players is to catch you in a big bluff.
They are also highly superstitious players who hold a deep belief that everyone is always trying to bluff them.
So how do you profitably counter someone who thinks like this? Answer: You bet big, and frequently, with all of your good hands. And you lay off on the big bluffs in all but the best of spots.
Final Thoughts on the Micro Stakes Poker
Don’t be so serious. The last and most important way to start crushing the micros is to remember why you started playing poker in the first place: to have fun!
Many often tend to get way too serious at the poker tables especially when things aren’t going their way. It is important to remember that at the end of the day this is just a game. The whole point is to enjoy yourself.
Micro stakes games in particular are pure madness. As mentioned earlier, this is where you are going to find some of the craziest players on earth.
You are going to face a countless and never-ending amount of bad beats at these stakes. But these crazy players play so bad, this is also why your win-rates can be so insanely high at these stakes. In fact at the very lowest limits variance can almost be removed from the game.
One of the best things that you can do for your game is to learn to start simply laughing it off more often and quit obsessing over your day to day results. If you choose to get frustrated or angry over every ridiculous river card that they hit, then you are simply going to be miserable most of the time, and probably tilt and play bad too. This in turn will make you less likely to want to grind hard and improve your game, which are both absolutely crucial to your success.
The vast world of micro stakes poker tournament is where you are going to develop the fundamentals and work ethic necessary to take you to the very pinnacle of this game. And the bottom line is that if you consistently use a solid strategy against bad poker players, the chips are all coming your way in the end anyways.