After a lengthy internet search the following is said to be the greatest article yet written on how to win your Friday Texas Hold ’em poker match with the locals, or small online cash games.
“Fish” are inexperienced poker players (aka “donkeys”)
“Micros” or “micro limits” are low cash poker games
“NL” = ‘No Limit’
“TPTK” = ‘Top Pair, Top Kicker’
WHY WE WIN: THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH
First let’s explain exactly why beating the micro limits is so easy. I think knowing why what you’re doing works is extremely helpful when you’re learning. Poker is a game of skill, like chess or backgammon. The short term goal of poker is to win money, but the underlying goal of any game like poker or chess isn’t actually to ‘win’. The goal is to make fewer mistakes than your opponent. If you make fewer mistakes, you win by default. The only time this isn’t true is when some inherent luck is involved, as it is in poker. Bad play in poker can win, but only in the short term. The Fundamental Theorem of Poker as presented by David Sklansky is as follows:
“Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.”
Poker at heart is a game of making the correct decisions based on the current situation with all the (limited) knowledge you have. When you get into advanced poker (not the micros) your goals will shift to include deception and other moves that don’t help you win, but help you induce your opponents to make mistakes. Recognize this principle and the difference between winning and your opponents making mistakes. This principle is the reason that beating the micro limits is easy.
The players – herein referred to as fish – at the micro limits make mistakes almost every time they’re given the choice to do something. As long as you play solid fundamental poker, they hang themselves. There’s no need to be fancy whatsoever. All you do is keep making the right choices (like betting when you flop trips) based on the situation and they’ll continue to make the wrong choices (like call a 3/4 pot turn bet hoping for 4 outs). In fact the fish only have one advantage over you: they’re unpredictable. Most of their actions have no logic behind them and you will often be stupefied by what they do. You can’t outplay someone if they aren’t playing the same game you are. Thus the only option you have is to play solid fundamental poker and be patient. Eventually you win, and they lose.
FAT VALUE: THE HOLY GRAIL
There’s a lot of talk of value betting in poker. A value bet is simply defined as a bet that will be called by enough lesser hands that it is profitable. It may also be called by better hands, but as long as the lesser hands outweigh the better hands you are making a value bet.
Let’s say you have JJ and the flop comes AJ4 and you bet. You’re making a value bet. You’re likely to be called by Ax, AJ, A4, 44, as well as straight draws and flush draws. If someone is sitting on KQ, KT or QT they may or may not choose to peel a card, something like that of course depends on the player. However, at the micros against a fish you are definitely getting called by draws. Of course you’re also being called by AA, a hand which has you crushed, but it’s still a value bet.
Something such as the above example is what I like to call “fat value”. You have almost the nuts and are going to be called by a ton of hands you have obliterated. In a situation such as this at the micros you are going to be firing every single street and getting the most you can out of the hand. If a flush or straight card were to come and you face resistance you may have to proceed cautiously (depending on the opponent), but don’t freeze up if one does. If the turn is a blank, say 6, you’re going to be betting at least 50%-80% of the pot again. At this point you don’t need to bother with hand ranges or trying to figure out what they have. It’s irrelevant. They’ll call with such a wide range of hands it’s pointless to try and guess, you just keep on betting. This is fat value. This is what you harness in order to beat the micros. By finding fat value such as this you give your opponents a lot of room to make mistakes and they will make plenty of them.
Another good example of fat value is found with a hand like AA. If your fishy opponents hit any part of a low board you can generally bet all 3 streets and they’ll call with all their draws, all their single pairs and smaller overpairs, etc. Of course they’ll also call with all the hands that beat you like 2 pair or trips. If you have AA and the flop comes J63 and your opponent had 66 there isn’t much you can do. All the money was going into the pot anyways, and it isn’t bad play at the micros to go all in on a flop such as that with AA, in fact it’s standard and expected. Again the reason for this is that they’re going to be calling with almost anything. If you get beat by a flopped set, that’s poker. Remember, with both of the above hands your goal is to get as much money into the pot as fast as possible. This is fat value and this is where about 90% of your money will be made at the micro limits.
FANCY PLAY, THIN VALUE AND MARGINAL SITUATIONS: WHY YOU AREN’T DANIEL NEGREANU
A lot of players come into this game having watched it on TV and bluff far too much and try to make plays that just don’t work at the micros. You can’t use a scare card (third flush card hitting on the turn, for example) and bet it to represent it, because your opponent won’t have any idea what your bet means. If you’ve ever said to someone “How could you call that? You’re supposed to fold!” you know exactly what I’m talking about. The solution to this is simply not to do it. Ever. You have no reason to. The reason the professionals make plays is because they’re playing against other professionals and they need to be deceptive. You don’t need to do any of those things at the micro limits. Partially because fat value makes up for it, and partially because your opponents are close to lobotomized when it comes to poker so your fanciness will be lost on them. They’ll just call you down with 3rd pair on a 4 flush board because they “didn’t think” you had it.
- Don’t bluff.
- Don’t slow play.
- Don’t be tricky.
- Don’t be fancy.
Thin value is extremely important in high level poker. The professional and high stakes players are playing a different game than the micros. All of them are thinking players, and they can’t just bet, bet, shove when they have the nuts. In fact you can’t get away with any sort of exploitable play at the upper levels. At the higher levels players are trying to squeeze every last bit of value out of their hands because they have to in order to win. You can’t just get the nuts and bet because it simply won’t work. The reason high level players do things like float flops (call a continuation bet that they think is just a continuation bet with a plan to steal on the turn or river), slow play, and bluff is for deception. They’re all defensive maneuvers designed to keep their opponents from reading them. A high level player betting a flop could be air, a set, bottom pair, anything! They need to do things like this in order to profit from other quality players because any sort of readable play is going to be immediately exploited.
At the micros you don’t need to find thin value. Don’t even bother. In fact, you should go out of your way (if you aren’t beating the limit) to avoid thin value. You don’t need thin value to beat the micros. It helps increase your win rate, but first worry about getting down the fundamentals and harvesting that fat value.
Most of the time thin value goes hand in hand with marginal situations. A lot of thin value is found within marginal situations, and you should be openly avoiding them when you’re first starting. Again, the reason for this is that you don’t need the thin value. Another reason for this is that your post flop skills are going to need developing before you’re ready to go for thin value. Thin value requires decent post flop play, hand reading, and overall skill. Because fish are so unpredictable, most of the plays required to get thin value for your hands will not work. You’ll find a lot more thin value when you’re heads up with a regular than with a fish. That isn’t to be said that you can’t find thin value against fish because it’s definitely there, but there’s much more fat value with fish than thin, while the reverse is true of any decent player.
Marginal situations are one of the biggest downfalls for new players. Have AJ under the gun? Dump it. It’s easily dominated and will only get you in trouble. Thinking of calling that middle position raise from a fish and a call from the button when you have KJ in the blinds? Don’t. Fold it. Hands like QJ, KJ, KQ, KT, QT are known in the poker world as trouble hands. There is good reason for it. They all look nice, but are easily dominated and are not hands you want to be calling raises with. If it’s folded to you in late position with KQ, of course you’re going to raise it. That’s not a marginal situation. However calling raises and re-raises with these hands is not a good thing. Stick to your strong holdings and seek out the fat value.
Let’s say you raise in early position with TJ in the small blind and the flop comes J66 and you make a continuation bet and get raised, what do you do? Is the villain playing back at you? Is he a tight regular, or a juicy fish? Does he have a 6? Does he have a weak J, a strong J? None of this is important if you’re just trying to beat the limits. Just fold. Are you willing to go broke on top pair, bad kicker? Unless the villain is a total maniac (70/40), don’t worry about it. Don’t fight for thin value, just let it go and move on. Once you get some experience under your belt and are better at knowing your villains and how they’re likely to play you can start making considerations on flops like that. Until you’re beating the limit though, just let it go. If you noticed that you should never have raised pre flop in the first place with a hand like QJ from early position, give yourself a pat on the back.
I want to take a second to provide some examples as to why slow playing at the micros is not a good thing. Slow playing is never right at the micros. Never, ever, ever. Do not do it. Let’s go through two quick examples to show why it’s always the worst play.*Note: There is only one exception to this rule in the micros and that is if you flop a full house or quads. You can slow play those hands because there is no reasonable chance that your opponent will ever catch up, and because it’s hard for your opponent to catch a hand on the flop when you hold such a monster. In these situations you have the board crushed so you may need to check a street and hope they catch something (like a pair or draw). Example 1
Hero (SB): $51.15Pre Flop: ($0.35) Hero is SB with T T
4 folds, CO raises to $1, Hero calls $0.90Flop: ($2.25) 6 4 T (2 players)
You flopped top set! That’s great, but it can be hard to get paid off with that. You decide you’ll trick him and make an expert slow play, you’ll stack him for sure!
Hero checks, CO checks
Well he didn’t bet the flop, but it doesn’t matter. You’ll get him on the turn!
Turn: ($2.25) 5
The board is getting slightly scary, but no worries, you’ve got top set! You decide to put out a little bet hoping to keep him in the pot.
Hero bets $0.50, CO calls $0.50
Oh boy, you’ve got him now!
River: ($3.25) 7
You decide this is the last chance to get some value, so you bet a little bit hoping he calls.
Hero bets $1, CO raises to $4.50
What?! Well now what do you do? You have top set which is great, but there is 4 to a straight and 3 to a flush on the board. Does he have either? Is he using the river as a scare card? All he needs to beat you is two hearts, an 8 or a 3. Given the action he could easily have any of these cards. Your slow play has backfired and you let him get a free turn card and a very cheap river card. If he was drawing you let him play the hand perfectly by not betting anything, and you’ve now lost all of the value you had with your set.
“But when I bet flops like this, they always fold!”. You say that as if it’s a bad thing! If you flop a great hand like top set and bet out and your opponent folds, there likely wasn’t any money to be made anyways. If your opponent is sitting on 22 with the above example, he’s folding anyways and isn’t going to call any of your bets on later streets. A 2 could come on the turn, but that’s about a 4% chance, so don’t count on it. In this example you could have lead the pot for 3/4 on the flop and won a $2.25 pot instead of losing a $3.25 pot (assuming you fold) by letting your opponent easily draw out on you.
Hero (BB): $27.05
Pre Flop: ($0.35) Hero is BB with A A
4 folds, CO raises to $1, 1 fold, Hero calls $0.75
Action with aces! You like it. You’ll just call so you don’t scare him away.
Flop: ($2.10) A K 8 (2 players)
Top set on a board like that! “Hot damn!” you think to yourself. Your opponent could be sitting on AK, AQ, KQ, any number of hands. You decide to be crafty and check to let your opponent bet.
Hero checks, CO bets $1, Hero calls $1
Turn: ($4.10) T
He seems like he may have something worth playing, so you lead small on the turn to keep him leashed.
Hero bets $1.50, CO calls $1.50
River: ($7.10) 6
Hero bets $2.50, CO calls $2.50
Final Pot: $12.10
Hero shows A A
CO mucks 88
What!? He flopped a set too! What happened here? You slow played top set while your opponent was sitting on bottom set. This hand is a total disaster. Had you have been aggressive in the hand you could have stacked off on the flop or the turn very easily. In a hand like this he was more than likely getting all his chips in on the flop or turn had you been betting and raising. The river card killed the action and had him worried about a straight or a flush, so he only called. In this situation your slow play cost you an extreme amount, to the tune of about $19.00. That’s 76 big blinds. That is huge.
These examples are very black and white and basic, but these situations present themselves all the time at the tables. There are plenty of times I have tried to get fancy and let my opponent catch up a bit only to have them draw out on me or miss an opportunity to get their whole stack when they also flop a big hand. Avoid these situations. Bet your strong holdings and don’t slow play. At best slow playing will usually only get you one or two extra bets (read: thin value). At worst it can cost you your whole stack or cost you stacking someone else. The moral of these examples? Don’t do it.
STARTING HAND SELECTION: NITBOX 101
This is a very important subject, perhaps the most important subject for a beginner. When I was just starting this was the number one reason I was doing horribly. The first step to avoiding marginal situations is pre flop. You want to play solid holdings because you’re going to get consistent and solid value out of them. You don’t want to play speculative hands (suited connectors, one gappers) or trouble hands when you’re first starting because they require some decent post flop play to get value out of. If you’re always entering pots with solid hands like pocket pairs, AQ, AK, AJs, you’re playing solid values. You’re also going to make your entire post flop decision making much easier. Most of the time you’re in a pot you’re going to have a hand like AQ and you’re either going to hit the flop or you aren’t. Hands like this are very easy to play post flop, especially against fish. If you have AQ and the flop comes A37, you can usually expect to get a full 3 streets of value from a fish with any A. If you whiff the flop and he calls your continuation bet you are more or less done with the hand. You can try to check it down, although most micro players are as unable to find the check button as the fold button. This type of play is often known as ‘weak tight’, and it’s entirely correct. It isn’t a bad thing to be weak tight at the micros. In fact, it’s profitable. It isn’t the optimal style of play by any means, but your first goal here is to beat the limits and you don’t have to be anything other than weak tight to do so. This should be the platform from which you build your play style and your game. Start out weak tight, add in some double barrels, float some flops and steal them on the turn. Pretty soon you’ll be playing a solid TAG (Tight Aggressive) game. You slowly build on what you know as you learn. Weak tight is as good a place to start as any.
I don’t want to provide a solid starting hand chart because there is a lot of controversy over such a thing, but here are some very general guidelines for a brand new player. These ranges will keep you out of trouble and set you up for easy post flop play. This assumes you are the one opening the pot (everyone folded before you).
Raising first in:
UTG/UTG+1: AQs, AK, 77+
MP1: AJ+, 55+
MP2/3: AJ+, KQs, 22+
HJ/CO: AJ+, KQ, QJ, 22+
BTN: A8s+, KQ, KJ, QJ, 22+
[Ed. Note: These positions around the table are:
HJ – between middle and late position(mostly middle)
Again, this is extremely general and basic meant simply to give you an idea of what kind of range you should be aiming for when you’re just trying to beat the limit. You want to play very tight pre flop in order to keep post flop very simple for yourself. Bet your quality holdings and look for fat value. When you’re first learning, I do not recommend playing suited connectors. Your post flop play won’t be strong enough to utilize the hands and get the full value out of them. They are very powerful hands, but don’t worry about them at the micros. Some will note that the above list is very nitty, and that’s the point. I often open AJo from MP1, it’s actually pretty standard, but this is your starting point. Once you get comfortable you can open your ranges a bit. When it comes to playing from the blinds, you want to be very tight because you will be out of position for the hand and that sucks hard. You might not know why yet, but just believe me when I say it does.
Notice that I haven’t included the blinds in these examples. The reason for this is that you aren’t opening from the SB (Small Blind) very often and when you do you are going to open a range that includes more hands than the BTN (Button). I haven’t included a deep discussion about opening from the SB because that is more in depth than the purpose of this guide. It’s also stealing territory, a subject which you can find many stickies on that can give you much better information than I can. In intermediate play (NL25+) you will start stealing the blinds from the late positions. Until then however treat the SB as the worst seat, because it is. You should generally always play tight from the blinds because of this fact. If you fold AJo to a raiser and a caller from the SB at the micro limits, that’s perfectly fine.
Another thing to note is what to call a raise with pre flop. You want to call with hands that are better for what you’d open that position for. For example, you might open from MP1 with AJo, but you won’t call a raise from a player UTG with that hand, it’s too easily dominated by AK/AQ which are likely holdings for an UTG player. Even though this actually isn’t true for 90% of micro limit players, following these general guidelines will keep you out of marginal situations.
*Note: Because of the implied odds associated with pocket pairs, be more liberal with calling raises with your pocket pairs. In general a player with a full stack has raised before you, calling with a pocket pair might as well be mandatory. Again this information changes depending on the limit you’re playing, the villain, the positions, the stack sizes, etc. In general at 10NL and below you can safely call any standard raise with a pocket pair if the raiser or a caller has a full stack. If they are half stacked or less, I’d be less inclined to call due to the lack of implied odds if you do hit your set. Once you get to 25NL and above you should be adjusting your pocket pair call range to the given situation at the table.
VILLAINS: KNOW THEM, PLAY THEM
I want to quickly touch on the types of villains you’ll often encounter at the micro limits. Software like PokerTracker 3 or Hold ‘em Manager should be part of your arsenal right from the start. PT3 has a 60 day trial and HEM has a 15 day trial. By the time you use up both trials hopefully you will have made enough to choose one to purchase. In case you’re wondering, HEM is generally the most recommend around the forums and it’s the one I prefer. The stats used in this thread are found with these programs. Go here to learn about stats.
*Note: Zeth recently posted a great thread about types of fish you’re likely to encounter, you can read it here.
Multi-tabling nit (~3-10/2-8) – This type of player is very easy to run over. Be careful playing back at them though, because usually when they’re in a pot they have a very good hand. If one of these guys calls your pre flop raise, you bet the flop and he sticks around or raises then you’re probably beat even if you have TPTK. Most of the times they’ll show up with a set in these situations. Most of these players won’t be interested in you, they’re after the fish. However if they do start betting into you, be very careful.
Passive Fish (~30+/10) – This is what is commonly known as a calling station. They don’t like to raise (as evident by their low pre flop raise stat) and don’t like to bet. They’d rather just play nice friendly poker and call your bets. Do not bluff a calling station. They will call you down with any piece of the board. These are the best players to play with because it’s very easy to extract value from them.
Aggro Fish (~30+/30+) – These players are worse to play with than calling stations, but still very profitable. They’ll make a lot of donk bets, bet any untouched pot and are generally very loose and aggro. The way to counter these players is to get a premium hand (TPTK+) and let them bluff their money away. Unless they bet very small it’s usually best to just call, because most of the time they’ll try to keep pushing you off of your hand. Calling the flop and raising the turn is often a good play against these types of players (provided you have a hand), because a large part of the time they’ll convince themselves you’re stealing, and they certainly won’t stand for any of that.
Regular (~12-18/~10-16) – These are the dangerous players. These are pretty standard stats for someone from 2p2. They’re likely positionally aware and playing much like you are. If a regular is aware that you are a regular you can try making moves on them, but don’t do it often. Once you start building on your game these are the people you’ll want to test your moves on because they are (usually) thinking players. Keep in mind this only applies if they know you as a solid player. If you’re unknown to them or they think you’re a fish then they’ll play against you as such.
Short Stackers (20BB – 50BB stacks) – These come in many varieties, most of which you can learn about here. Most shorties are horrible. Because of this and the fact that their stack is small you’ll often find yourself flipping with them. If you’re playing 25NL and someone has a $7 stack and shoves over your pre flop raise and everyone else has folded, you can feel pretty comfortable getting it all in with a hand like TT. The reason for this is that most of the time they’ll be a coin flip at best. Shorties will frequently stack off pre flop with hands like KQ, AJ, 77 and even worse. It’s for this reason that you’ll generally stack off pretty lightly against them. Keep in mind this is all general information, if you find a shortie that is tight and he shoves pre flop, don’t go in there without a quality hand. Most shorties don’t fit that definition though.
Unknowns – If you don’t know a player and have no stats on them or reads on how they play, always give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s true there are tons of donks and fish at the micro limits, but there are even more regulars and nits. It is a mistake to treat all unknowns like fish simply due to the fact that the nits and regulars outnumber the fish at the micros. Once you have 50-100 hands on someone or see them do something you’ll have a better idea of how they play. If a total unknown raises your flop bet and you have air, fold. If a total unknown raises your flop bet and you have TPTK, call. If he bets the turn, it’s probably best to just fold until you have more information. Fighting unknowns is a marginal situation, stay away from it.
General tips for 25NL and below:
- If a passive opponent starts raising or betting strong, you should probably fold without a set or better.
- Don’t bluff any fish.
- Don’t play back at any fish.
- Always keep in mind who you are playing against.
- Fold more. A common mistake at the micros is to call too much, just fold. ‘Oh but that flop doesn’t his his range, blah blah blah’ – NO! Just fold.
- They aren’t playing back at you. If someone at the micros raises you, they usually have what they represent. If you think a fish is trying to steal from you and you don’t have anything to fight back with, just fold. Let him take the pot, you can stack him later. You will get bluffed at poker and people will steal pots from you, get used to it.
- Seriously, fold more.
BANKROLL: MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU THINK
Bankroll is an extremely important part of your poker career. If you’re taking it as a serious hobby you’ve likely deposited, possibly more than once, with a plan to keep the money separate from your other bills and expenses. This is imperative. You absolutely must be rolled for the limit you are playing. You may not agree or feel that it’s true or that it’s important, but believe me when I say that it is. It affects you psychologically whether you’re aware of it or not. When I was first starting out I only had $25 (after my nth redeposit) and was playing 5NL, so I was only rolled for 2.5 buy ins. That’s the worst thing you could ever do.
Let’s say your roll is $50 and you’re playing 5NL. You pick up KK and get it all in pre flop and your opponent shows AA, -$10. That’s 1/5th of your entire bankroll gone on a single hand. Was it your fault? Of course not, KK vs. AA is just poker, but you’re still out a significant amount of your roll. You can’t sit at a table with 1/5 of your entire roll. When I was first playing and had around $50 I would be extremely sad/upset/on tilt when I lost a buy in even if it wasn’t my fault, because it was a huge setback to my bankroll. I realized once I hit $200 or so that I didn’t feel that way anymore. If you lose a buy in it doesn’t even phase you if you’re bankroll has you covered. You can keep playing your game and continue on. If that same play takes 1/4 or 1/5 of your entire bankroll away… you can bet it’ll affect you. The most widely recommended bankroll for any limit is at least 20 buy ins. So in order to play 5NL or 10NL which both have a $10 maximum buy in, you’d want to have at least $200 in your bankroll. I’ve found these numbers to fit well for most players so I would recommend them to be used as a solid guideline for beginners.
TILT: DON’T BE LIKE PHIL
Tilt is often going to be your worst enemy. For most people it is going to take a long, long time before an idiot fish can hit a 2 outer on you for a full stack and you don’t want to punch a kitten. This is normal, and you should learn to recognize it and get it under control before it becomes an issue. If you’re playing and some fish sucks out on you and it pisses you off (which it will), just log off and take a short break. The tables and fish will still be there when you get back, and the worst thing you can ever do is go on tilt and play like an idiot trying to double back up. There’s no shame in taking a bad beat and taking a break immediately after. It is +EV for you to do so. If you aren’t playing your best (which you won’t be, trust me) then you shouldn’t be at the tables. Come back later when you’ve calmed down and play your solid game again.
For most people tilt can take a long time to keep under control, and some will never master it, but be keenly aware of how you are playing at all times. You’ll feel a great sense of satisfaction when the day comes where a fish stacks you and runner runners the nuts for a full buy in and you just smile and go ‘Huh, that’s interesting’ and continue playing. That’s the goal, so try to get there as early as you can in your poker career.
LEARNING AND IMPROVING: MAKIN’ CASH MANEYS
In order to learn and improve your game I suggest all of the following:
- Post hands you have questions about on the forums. 1 hand per thread, remember.
- Actively participate in discussion of hands if you have questions about what someone suggests.
- Try to be reading at least one book at all times (can’t hurt).
- Read all the stickies on the forums. Literally all of them. There is also a collection of stickies in the Micro Stakes NL subforum that has tons of good information in it and about 70 stickies that you can read. If you read 2-3 per day you’ll amass a large amount of knowledge in a short time. Re-read them a week later if you don’t feel like you full absorbed one of the topics.
- After every session review your biggest losing hands. Go through them with a friend or post them on the forums and ask about your play. Try to find out where you went wrong (if you did) and keep that in mind for future sessions. This is the best way to find big leaks because you will likely notice the same thing over and over throughout your reviews (stacked off with TPGK, etc).
*Note: Be careful where you apply what you read. If you’re reading Harrington on Cash, keep in mind that almost all of the advice is meant for playing against thinking players, not the micros. The same goes for anything you read on the forums. Always remember where the advice is applicable. There is a lot of stuff that is applicable to the micros, just be mindful of what is and what isn’t. Definitely read stuff that is not meant for your level because it will help you further understand the game, just don’t necessarily take it to the tables. Keep it in mind and be aware of it without acting on it (if the advice doesn’t apply to the micros).
Once you’re beating the limits you can start to look for thinner value. You can start playing your opponents more. Heads up on the flop against a multi-tabling regular who fires a standard continuation bet and the board doesn’t really match his likely holdings? Call and fire the turn or raise the flop, or even float the flop and check it down with your medium pocket pair. If a regular knows you’re also a regular it’s very reasonable to call his flop continuation bet with top pair good kicker and check the turn and river. If he was making a continuation bet with air there’s a large chance he’ll also be happy to just check it down. You can start representing scare cards against regulars, stealing the blinds against nits, and all that good stuff that poker is about. Of course you’ll want to learn about these things before you attempt them, but you’re beating the limits now so it’s time to expand your repertoire. Always remember that fish are still fish. Keep to your standard fundamental game plan against them. Fat value. There is thin value to be had with fish, but it’s very thin and high variance. As you improve you can start to seek it out, but don’t jump the gun on it. Beat the limit first, then crush it.
2NL & 5NL – One thing is very profitable at these limits that isn’t profitable anywhere else. Limping. Part of the reason is because you are deep stacked with 200BB’s. The other part of the reason is that people aren’t that aggressive pre flop and most of the time people won’t be raising over top of a few limpers. You can limp any pocket pair from almost any position and it will be a +EV play. Always raise your unopened strong holdings as normal, but be a bit more liberal with your limps. Speculative hands are great when you’re playing 200BB’s deep and your opponents aren’t aggressive. At this limit weak tight is super profitable and you can play like a nit and still get paid off by any fish with a pair.Your goal at this limit: Learn the basics of poker and build your bankroll.
Level of retardation: Lobotomized Helen Keller.10NL – At this level things heat up a bit. You only have 100BB’s and people are more aggressive so you can’t simply limp all the time. In fact once you get to 10NL you probably should never limp unless you’re limping behind a few limpers and are in late position (so there’s less chance of a big raise). You’ll also notice some more aggression post flop, but in general this plays much like 5NL except for the stack levels. Pocket pairs are less desirable to call raises with due to lack of implied odds, although it still is profitable a lot of the time.Your goal at this limit: Learn the fundamentals of fat value and build a bankroll.
Level of retardation: Lobotomized, angry Helen Keller with a spoon.25NL – This is the first level where you’ll start to have to make some major adjustments to your game. You should be playing very positionally aware, isolating fish and starting to do things like 2 barrel, float flops, steal liberally, and all of that. Of course you’re still only going to do this against the right opponents, fish are still fish so play them accordingly. You’ll face a decent amount of aggression at this level and it’s the first level that will let you stretch your wings a bit and play some real post flop poker.
Your goal at this limit: Expand your play into the intermediate category with suited connectors, positional play, isolation raises, and stealing.
Level of retardation: Sean Penn in ‘I Am Sam’
COMMON QUESTIONS AND FINAL WORDS OF ADVICE
Due to some recent posts on the forums I want to bring up a particular hand, AK. When I first started playing I thought stacking off with a full stack against anyone with AK was standard. Well, it isn’t. If you’re new to poker you probably love having AK and have a hard time folding it, even if you miss. What I want you to do is take how much you love AK and think it’s great and cut that in half. That is a more realistic interpretation as to the strength of this hand. Now when you are playing at a higher level AK is a balancer that you’ll often play like AA or KK, but these are the micros. If AK doesn’t hit the flop, it’s just Ace high. If a fish starts betting into you on the turn and you still only have Ace high, just fold it. It’s worthless. AK is standard to get in pre flop against a short stack, but not fully stacked (it can be, but that is very situation/villain dependant).
Be very careful pre flop against a nitty or regular player with AK. If they put in the first raise (or worse, the second) you’re in a bad spot. Your best bet is generally just to call and see the flop and take it from there. AK is a good hand, but most beginners overvalue it, keep it in mind at the tables that overvaluing AK is a losing proposition.
“I just valuetowned myself against a fish and I feel like an idiot. If we’re stacking off so lightly with top pair top kicker, aren’t we just playing as bad as them? This isn’t poker!”
I asked myself this question to. Luckily I found the answer shortly after. The reason we stack off lightly against fish is because their play is so bad, so abhorrent, so incoherent that you can hardly ever put them on an actual hand. You can’t guess their range most of the time because their range is so wide. If a fish wants to call a huge raise pre flop with Q4o, he’ll do it no matter how little sense it makes. Fish will stack off with tons of draws, middle pairs, bottom pairs, pretty much anything. The way they think and play is impossible to predict, but if they’re playing 50% of their hands, you’re 12% opening range has them crushed before the flop even comes.
Because their range is so wide, the only way you can play against them is to play against the majority of their range. Since the majority of their range is total garbage, you’ll find yourself stacking off with TPTK against them and feeling pretty satisfied about it. Sometimes you will come across the top of their range and you will get stacked. You can’t change this and you can’t help this. The only way you could ‘fix’ this is by playing against fish like you’d play against a good player, and that is definitely -EV. Thus we stack off against fish because the majority of the time if you have TPTK you will have them crushed. I’m going to include three examples to emphasize these points. These are all real hands from my own database.
Example 1: Giving a fish too much credit
In this hand the villain was a general unknown. I had no choice here but to treat him as a possibly competent player. He was representing a set or JJ+, so I had to fold. This particular player proceeded to play a 100% VPIP game for about 10 minutes before he started open shoving pre flop and busted out.
Hero (BTN): $25.00
Pre Flop: ($0.35) Hero is BTN with T T
UTG raises to $1, 3 folds, Hero calls $1, 2 folds
Flop: ($2.35) 7 3 9 (2 players)
UTG bets $1.75, Hero raises to $4.50, UTG calls $2.75
Turn: ($11.35) 7 (2 players)
UTG bets $10.30 all in, Hero folds
Final Pot: $11.35
UTG wins $10.80
Example 2: Valuetowning yourself
Against a fish this is the correct play. This is what happens when you hit the upper portion of their range. It sucks, but for every time this happens there will be 3 other times where you win. Against a competent player I would be checking the turn and possibly check/calling or small betting the river in order to keep the pot size down since I only have TP on a drawy board.
Hero (BB): $27.55
Pre Flop: ($0.35) Hero is BB with T A
UTG calls $0.25, 7 folds, Hero raises to $1.25, UTG calls $1
Flop: ($2.60) 3 T 9 (2 players)
Hero bets $1.50, UTG calls $1.50
Turn: ($5.60) 2 (2 players)
Hero bets $4.25, UTG calls $4.25
River: ($14.10) 2 (2 players)
Hero bets $8, UTG calls $7.90 all in
Final Pot: $29.90
UTG shows J J (two pair, Jacks and Deuces)
Hero shows T A (two pair, Tens and Deuces)
UTG wins $28.45
Example 3: Fish being fish
You’ll see this all the time. This is why you have to bet against their whole range. Why do they do this crap? Who knows.
Hero (MP1): $33.95
Pre Flop: ($0.35) Hero is MP1 with Q A
3 folds, Hero raises to $1, 3 folds, SB calls $0.90, 1 fold
Flop: ($2.25) 7 6 Q (2 players)
SB checks, Hero bets $1.25, SB calls $1.25
Turn: ($4.75) 6 (2 players)
SB checks, Hero bets $3, SB calls $3
River: ($10.75) 4 (2 players)
SB checks, Hero bets $6, SB calls $6
Final Pot: $22.75
SB mucks 7 4
Hero shows Q A (two pair, Queens and Sixes)
Hero wins $21.65
I hope this guide will help those players struggling to beat the micro limits. All of this advice is applicable up to 25NL, and some even at 50NL. Your first goal is to find that fat value and play your strong holdings strong. Once you’re posting a profit, start to work on improving your game and going for thinner and thinner value in the right situations. You need to put in a lot of hands and a lot of time in order to get to the point where you’re building a nice profit, but it’s very doable for anyone. Don’t fall back into your old routines. Don’t start playing KJs UTG because you’re bored. Don’t get fancy because you’re bored. Stick to what works. You’ll pick up only the blinds with AA plenty of times, don’t worry about it. Always raise it and sooner or later someone with JJ, QQ, or KK will fight back pre flop, or someone will flop TPTK and you’ll stack them. Just be patient and always play your solid game and you will post a profit. Stick to the game plan, find the spots where fat value is and stack those fish.
Cliff Notes (tl;dr)
- Find fat value against fish and bet strong.
- You win because others are worse than you.
- Don’t put yourself in marginal situations, avoid them.
- Play strong pre flop hand selection.
- Don’t slow play or get fancy.
- Always consider your opponent and the type of player they are.
- Treat unknowns like decent players until they prove otherwise.
- They really aren’t playing back at you.
- Fold more.
- Don’t draw unless you have implied odds.
*Final note: If you’re a 25NL regular or higher you probably won’t find much helpful information here. Feel free to read it, but this guide is specifically aimed at people having trouble and encapsulates everything I wish someone told me when I was struggling. Please keep this in mind
Hey kids! sircuddles here with some more advice. When you’re like me and write a big guide on what not to do at the micros, what’s the worst thing you can do? Not follow your own advice!
I’ll repeat it again kids, don’t slow play. This is one of the worst hands I’ve ever played. Just raise and take the blinds instead of losing your stack.
Hero (SB): $37.70
Pre Flop: ($0.35) Hero is SB with A A
UTG calls $0.25, 3 folds, Hero calls $0.15, BB checks
Flop: ($0.75) 6 A 5 (3 players)
Hero checks, BB checks, UTG bets $0.75, Hero calls $0.75, BB folds
Turn: ($2.25) 3 (2 players)
Hero checks, UTG bets $1, Hero raises to $3.25, UTG calls $2.25
River: ($8.75) 2 (2 players)
Hero bets $6.50, UTG raises to $13, Hero raises to $33.45 all in, UTG calls $8.15 all in
Final Pot: $51.05
Hero shows A A (three of a kind, Aces)
UTG shows A 4 (a straight, Deuce to Six)
UTG wins $48.55
Here are some typical responses from the forum members about this article:
This is a thank you post to Sircuddles. I read this post some time ago. It is, hands down, the best effin thing I have ever read on beating the micros. If you are having trouble at the micros, read it, read it again, read it again and implement it.
This guide is a GREAT place to start. Too many people (or not enough) try to play poker without building a solid foundation. There is nothing wrong (and a whole lot right) with playing a nitty style while you are learning. Basically, there are three areas of profit in poker. Card strength, skill, and position. If you don’t have skill, then using card strength to support you while you gain it is a good idea.
Great guide, was brilliant read, absolutely spot on advice for how to win at micros. Pretty much impossible to lose if you play like that imo. i turned my 15$ into about 300 (mainly SNGS admittedly), and then started watching high stakes poker and trying to play like Durrr and just spunked it away. Nice post sir, will recommend to any more friends i keep pestering to get into poker when they finally break.
Fat value baby!
After reading this, I stopped trying to bluff and get people to fold TP so much and my win rate has gone up a ton! I’ve actually started to win haha. Just want to say thank you for posting this. This is a basic foundation for the begining player. After learning this only then should a player expound on these principles. Thanks again!