How to Beat Microstakes Poker: Post-Flop Strategy Pt. 1

Seven Card Stud

PokerListings.com and Microstakes master Nathan "BlackRain79" Williams have teamed up for the definitive series on beating microstakes poker.

Combining in-depth concepts from BlackRain's groundbreaking book, Crushing the Microstakes, and an ongoing Q&A/hand analysis this is the ideal tool to learn how to beat poker's lowest stake-levels.

If you've got a question or a hand for BlackRain to analyze, drop a note in the comments on any article in the series or email webmaster (at) pokerlistings.com. Analysis and answers will appear every month.

By Paul Verheij

As you've learned in the our Microstakes pre-flop guide, microstakes poker requires a more overall, ABC approach to the game.

This holds true for post-flop play as well.

As with the pre-flop guide we’ll start with our objectives for post-flop play and then look at how we can achieve those objectives.

A reminder:

At the microstakes level play is all about getting value with your good hands.

Donkey hat
Good news is there are a (still) a lot of weak players at the microstakes.

You have to be able to fold hands in situations where you can only win a small pot or, if things go wrong, lose a big pot.

Becoming a profitable microstakes player is NOT about exploiting every possible, small edge. Instead you have to focus on developing a solid, profitable game plan good enough to beat the microstakes ONLY.

What You Shouldn't Be Doing

The good news is that there are a lot of weak players at the microstakes.

If you just get value out of the most profitable situations (which occur frequently) you'll have a nice win rate, low variance and can climb up the limits (if you want to) faster.

Most microstakes players, however, actually do quite the opposite. Instead of zeroing on weak players and big-value opportunities they focus on small edges against other decent players.

They also try to make more advanced moves against weak players like semi-bluffs, pure bluffs or hero calls -- all moves which lead to higher variance, a lower win rate and frustration.

DON'T be one of the players who falls victim to this trap.

What You Should Be Doing

Instead of getting frustrated by applying advanced poker strategy that is not optimal against most opponents at the microstakes, choose another route:  

Focus on the situations where the real money is made!

BlackRain79 did a fantastic job explaining this in his ebook Crushing the Microstakes. If you’re serious about beating microstakes poker you MUST buy his ebook.

Huge cash-game pot
If you play a big pot, have a big hand.

To go along with it, below we’ll offer you some rough guidelines to start developing a decent post-flop strategy for the microstakes.

Big Pot, Big Hand; Small Pot, Small Hand

To get value out of weak players we need to know which hands we can achieve this with.

In a sentence: Play big pots with big hands and play small pots with small hands.

This is in line with our objective from the beginning of this article: get value with your good hands and fold hands in situations where you can only win a small pot or lose a big pot.

What are Big and Small Hands?

It sounds simple but the answer to the question “What are big and small hands” is “it depends.”

A hand like top pair, top kicker is a mediocre hand against a decent player. This player normally won't pay you off on three streets with a weaker hand.

You, however, can lose a big pot if you invest a lot with this hand against this type of opponent.

A fish WILL actually put his whole stack in with a hand like top pair, weak kicker - making your top pair, top kicker a "big" hand against this type of opponent.

So the first distinction we need to make before classifying a hand as a big or small is to know who we’re up against.

Player
Look for telltale signs of weak players.

Again, BlackRain79 did a perfect job in his ebook with regards to the types of opponents you'll face and how you should play against them.

Since we want to keep it little bit simpler here we'll just make a distinction between a weak player and a decent player.

How to Recognize a Weak Player

These kinds of opponents should be your target as this is where you can earn the most money.

Weak opponents will pay you off with weaker hands and, since value-betting is the key to beating the microstakes, you want to have opponents who are willing to pay you off with worse hands.

How can you recognise these type of players?

First of all it is important that you watch showdowns.

These will provide you the most -- and most accurate -- information. Revisiting hands you've played against your opponents will give a lot of information about them.

If you find a player who called on all three streets, for example, with just top pair or even less, chances are big this is a weak player who will pay you off regularly with weaker holdings.

When you watch showdowns you can also see what kind of hands your opponents play from which position. If you see he raises hands like A-7s or K-Jo from UTG (first postiion), you can estimate his range for future hands and know he doesn't have a tight UTG range like most decent players.

This player also likely isn't aware of his positional disadvantage.

Other information you should watch for:

-- How many hands someone is playing and if a player raises most of his hands or is more on the passive side and calls a lot. A player who plays a lot of hands but only raises a small part of them is often a weak player.

-- If you use a HUD (Heads-Up Display) you can also watch if there is a gap between VPIP and PFR. Weak players often have a huge gap between these two while decent players often have a small gap.

-- When using a HUD you should also watch how often a player fold to 3-bets, flop continuation bets etc. If a player doesn't fold often then he his very likely to call with weaker holdings.

David Baker
Watch the other players closely.

Your goal is to spot these kind of players so if you are new on a table make sure you watch your opponents closely so you can classify them as soon as possible.

How to Spot a Decent Player

All the other players who don't fall into the category of "weak player" we will classify as a "decent player."

This doesn't automatically mean you're actually dealing with a decent player (often you're not). But against this group you should be slightly more cautious when it comes to betting for value.

Against this group of players our goal is to play a decent strategy and only get involved in big pots when we have a really big hand.

If this isn't the case, we play more straightforward and therefore take a lower-variance route.

As said our focus is on the weak players but when playing a decent, straightforward strategy, chances are good you will also profit from the other players.

Classifying Big Hands and Small Hands

Now that we've made a distinction between types of opponent it's much easier to classify a hand as a big hand or small hand.

Below we'll describe different type of hands and what your goal should be with these kind of hands.

Remember: These are just rough guidelines as no situation is the same in poker. You should always analyse the board texture and if it hits the range of your opponent, your perceived range etc etc.

As for the advice below we assume straights or flushes aren't possible. Logically you should proceed with more caution if straights or flushes are possible.

Still these basic guidelines should help you to assess if you have a big hand or a small hand and how you want to proceed.

No-Pair Hands/Garbage

This group of hands are easy to play: Just give them up in case your continuation bet fails to win the pot.

Julian Powell and Leif Force Show Cards
A pair means different things to different players.

Pair Hands

With pairs we can make a distinction between top pair, middle pairs and below. Also the kicker can play an important role.

Weak pairs like middle pair and below you can easily give up with the exception of a possible continuation bet to win the pot. (More later on continuation bets).

When you flop top pair you still have a small hand. Against decent players, but also against weak players, you should proceed cautiously.

With top pair, top kicker we can make a distinction between opponents. Against a decent player you don't want to play a big pot with a hand like this, but against a weak player you should definitely value-bet more.

You should still realise that although a hand like TPTK goes up in value against a weak player, these kind of hands still aren't the big money makers.

Overpairs

An overpair looks nice at first sight but you should ask yourself if a decent player is willing to pay you off three streets with a hand less then your overpair.

If you think they won't (and a real decent player indeed often won't) then this means you don't want to play a really big pot against this type of opponent.

Against a weak player this actually can be a money-maker hand. Say you have pocket kings on a Q-8-5 flop and a weak player has a hand like A-Q then chances are big he will pay you off three streets with this hand.

Of course you need to evaluate your overpair. An overpair like 9-9 on a 8-5-2 board is of course different then the example we just looked at.

Two Pairs

Against decent players you should approach this hand the same as a overpair. You want value, but you don't want to blow up the pot.

Against a weak player this hand is a money-maker and you should value-bet as much as you can. This type of opponent will pay you off with a lot of weaker hands.

Trips (Three-of-a-kind with two cards coming from the board)

Although trips are a strong hand it is not as hidden a a set and therefore against a decent player you should be more cautious.

In this case your kicker plays an important role. You don't want to stack your opponent with T-9 on a 9-9-2 board just to see your opponent have a better kicker.

royal flush
Flushes and straights can be money-makers.

Just like with two pairs you want value but you don't want to blow up the pot unless you're convinced you have the best hand.

Against weak players you should worry less about your kicker since weak players will also pay you off with weaker hands like overpairs, smaller pairs etc.

Weak players don't like to be bluffed and often will think you are bluffing.

Sets (Three-of-a-kind with two cards from your hole cards)

With these hands you shouldn't make a distinction between your opponents, just value-bet the crap out of them.

Of course you should watch the board texture with regards to possible straights and/or flushes, but if there is no danger of these hands just try to get your chips in.

Straights

Against decent players this hand is a money-maker as long as you have the nut (highest possible) straight.

If you have the bottom end of a straight or there are four straight cards on the board you should be more careful since a decent player is not ging to pay you off with a weaker hand with an obvious straight on the board.

High-quality straights are still money-makers though and you should try to get as much value as possible with these.

Against weak players you should worry less about this since they will also pay you off with hands like two pairs etc. An exception is when a four-card straight is on the board and you have only the bottom end of the straight.

Flushes

Against decent players only nut flushes will be real money-makers. A non-nut flush is also good enough for value-betting, but be way more cautious with these hands, especially when there are four flush cards on the board.

Against weak players these hands are in general money-makers, since they often will think you're bluffing and will pay you off with weaker hands.

An exception is when there are four flush cards on the board and you don't have the nuts. In this case you should proceed more cautiously.

Monster Hands: Full House and Higher

Well, these hands speak for themselves. Against both type of opponents you should try to get as much value as possible.

These are definitely money-makers, so you should treat them as such.

Chips
Watch your draws closely.

Draws

This is a special category. Most of the time they are no-pair or weak-pair hands but they have the potential to become a big hand.

Against a decent player you can play draws a bit more agressively if you think you also have fold equity.

Against these type of opponents you can win the hand in two ways: Hit your draw or your opponent folds. Still, you should be aware of the strength of your draw as we mentioned with straights and flushes.

Against weak players you should be cautious with these hands when you have no pair beside the draw. Weak players have trouble finding the fold button so a semi-bluff is not as powerful.

Partly this move relies on fold equity, something you don't have against these opponents. Against weak opponents you should therefore play the hand more passively.

Call instead of raise when you have the rights odds to do so.

Now that we've disussed the different type of hands and whether these are big pot hands or small pot hands, in Part 2 we'll learn how to plan your hands in advance.


If you've got a question or a hand for BlackRain to analyze, drop a note in the comments on any of the articles in the series or email webmaster (at) pokerlistings.com. Analysis and answers will appear every month.

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