How to Beat Microstakes Poker: Pre-Flop Strategy Pt. 2

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Combining the best general knowledge about microstakes poker strategy, in-depth concepts from Nathan "BlackRain79" Williams' groundbreaking book and an ongoing Q&A/hand analysis, this is the ideal tool to learn how to beat poker's lowest levels.

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.

In Part 1 of our Microstakes Pre-Flop guide we left off discussing some exceptions to raising in response to a raise before you.

Catch up with Part 1 here; on to the exceptions.

By Paul Verheij

When someone else raises first pre-flop you have three options: re-raise (3-bet), call or fold

You want to 3-bet or fold much more than you call, but there are situations where calling is the best option.

As BlackRain79 explains perfectly in his book, Crushing the Microstakes, three particular exceptions are important:

When you have a pocket pair and you want to set mine. Sets are a big moneymaker at the microstakes but 3-betting with small and mid pocket pairs is often not ideal, since we can't call a 4-bet and don't hit the flop often enough when we get a call.

When you have a hand good enough to call but will lose value in case of a 3-bet. Although you'll often 3-bet with hands such as A-K or J-J, there are situations where this isn't the optimal play.

Huge Field
Consider your opponents at all times.

Take for example a nit who opens from early position. His range is so strong that in case of a 3-bet he'll fold his hands we want to play against and he continues with hands we'll be the underdog against.

When you have a speculative hand and a fish has entered the pot. First of all, in this situation there is one "must" before you even consider calling: You must have position.

Playing against a fish can be very lucrative with hands such as suited connectors, suited aces and broadway hands, but you want to keep the pot small and play in position.

In almost every other situation we should always choose to 3-bet or fold. Before making that decision we should first consider a few things.

1. Position of the Raiser

The first thing to do is note the position of the original raiser.

This is important to make an estimation of the range of your opponent. In general a raise from early position means more strength compared to a raise from late position. Just look at our own play to understand this.

In general we should play tighter against an early position raiser compared to a late-position raiser.

2. What's the Raiser's Playing Style?

Besides position we can also look at the statistics from the original raiser -- or when you don't play with a HUD, the image of the raiser.

It's obvious we should give a tight player who raises from early position more credit for a strong range then a fish who plays almost every hand.

To profile your opponent you should try to answer these questions:


  • What is his likely open-raising range?
  • Does he often fold to a 3-bet?
  • What will be his 4-betting range?
  • Does he often fold to a continuation bet?
  • Is he aggressive post-flop?
Elisabeth Hille
Only 3-bet for value.

3. Will You Have Position Post-Flop?

As you've learned by now, playing in position offers multiple advantages like acting last in every betting round, being able to put pressure on your opponent  and extracting value, so it's important to know whether you'll be in position post-flop.

Considering the factors above you know can estimate the range of your opponent and your situation post-flop.

Only 3-Bet for Value!

This is a very critical and distinct point for microstakes poker that BlackRain also makes clear in his book.

There's no use 3-betting fancy hands as you'll only get yourself into unnessecary trouble spots.

Yes, at higher limits you should balance your ranges with 3-bets and 4-bets, but at the microstakes level this isn't the case. 

A 3-bet should almost always be for value. If it isn't then folding is almost always the best option.

Note: With regards to 3-betting for value you should use Pokerstove to get an idea of with which hands you can 3-bet for value against your opponent. Fill in his range in Pokerstove and look at the equity from your hand against the hand range of your opponent. Do this several times and you will have a better idea of your equity against different ranges.

An example is a raise from UTG from a nit. Use PokerStove and you will see that only AA and KK are actually worth a 3-bet. Look back to the exceptions for calling and then you will find out why 3-betting with a hand like AK isn't smart against this range. On the other hand AK would definitely be a value 3-bet against a loose player who raises from the button and the same counts when you have JJ in this situation.

In general you can always 3-bet for value with the top of your range, so hands like QQ+ and AK. 

Playability in Case of a 3-Bet

James Mackey
Be very picky about 3-betting light.

Besides your equity against the range of your opponent you should also look at the playability of your hand. Ideal would be of course sitting in position since you are in control.

Being out of position against an aggressive player who calls your 3-bet a lot and plays agressive post-flop, it might not be a smart plan to 3-bet with a hand like J-J when you wouldn't feel comfortable playing the hand post-flop.

Remember, pre-flop is the moment to lay a foundation for your post-flop game so try to always think ahead with regards to the playability of a hand in combination with position and the type of opponent.

If you think you will get into a trouble spot then it might be better to call instead so you keep the pot small. Sometimes it's even better to fold a hand if the other two options don't feel comfortable.

Do We 3-Bet Light At All?

Three-betting without a strong hand is called "light" 3-betting. At higher limits this should be in your arsenal but this is not the case at the microstakes.

Remember: If you only 3-bet for value at the microstakes level you will do fine.

There are situations where light 3-betting can be profitable, but there are some requirements:


  • You have to be in position
  • Your opponent should often fold to a 3-bet and often fold to a continuation bet

When you 3-bet light you mostly rely on fold equity, so to maximize your fold equity the situation needs to fit the above-mentioned requirements.

Don't get fancy in the microstakes when it comes to 3-betting light. Three-betting light can be a nice addition, as long as you pick the correct spots, so you can balance your 3-betting range a bit. 

Which Hands Can You 3-Bet Light With?

Besides the above requirements you can also 3-bet light with hands that won't get you into problems post-flop.

Assume you 3-bet light with a hand like A-4s and the flop comes A-7-T. You make a continuation bet and your opponent raises.

This is a tough spot for a lot of beginners since they have top pair in a relatively big pot. Although it is a clear fold, if you have trouble folding this hand you shouldn't be even playing this hand.

Chips 2
When you're in position you should raise 3x the original raise.

The same counts for easily dominated hands in 3-bet pots like K-J, A-T etc.

If these hands are hard for you to fold as well you'd be safer to 3-bet light with suited connectors (examples of suited connectors are 98s, 87s and 76s). With these type of hands you don't hit the flop often and it's way easier to fold in the face of aggression from your oppontents.

Another advantage is that when you do hit the flop you often win a big pot since your opponent will have trouble putting you on those kind of hands.

If you don't have trouble laying down your hand post-flop in case of agression you could 3-bet light with hands like high cards, suited aces and suited connectors.

Logically you can also count small to mid pocket pairs to this category but why this isn't the case you can read above in the exceptions to call a raise.

Raise Size in Case of a 3-Bet

In this case we first look if you have position or not.

When you're in position you should raise 3x the original raise and when you're sitting out of position you should raise 4x the original raise. 

When Your Opponent 3-Bets

If you open-raised and your opponent 3-bets the play is almost always very straight forward in the microstakes. In most cases a fold will be the best option.

First of all, you don't have initiative in case of a call so you are actually playing hit-or-fold in this case. Most of the time you won't hit a good flop, which will result in a fold on the flop.

Even if you do hit this doesn't mean you will get paid off. Your opponent won't automatically invest his whole stack.

Often he will fold to agression when he has nothing, so these moments don't make-up all the small losses of 10-12bb.

Often you'll also be playing out of position, which is really a handicap as you've learned. You're in fact playing clueless while your opponent has all the information.

Chips
Opportunities come along a lot at the microstakes so don't focus on small edges

Besides that, it's quite hard to get value when you hit the flop when you're out of position.

In case of hands like AA and KK it will be an easy 4-bet/all-in.

Hands with which you could call a 3-bet are player/situation dependent. It speaks for itself that you can call with more hands against a loose 3-bettor who also plays passively post-flop compared to a tight 3-bettor who plays agressively post-flop.

You should therefore consider position, the tendencies/stats of your opponent, but also the playability of a hand. You might be ahead of the range of your opponent but how much is that worth when you're out of position with a hand like 88 on a A-J-6 flop?

Also in this case it is important to think ahead and, in case of doubt, you can fold. Remember, opportunities come along a lot on the microstakes so why exploit small edges with the danger of getting into trouble spots?

Raise size in case of a 4-bet

When your opponent 3-bets and you want to 4-bet you should raise his original 3-bet 2.5x-3x. Aim for the higher if you suspect your opponent will give action.

When your opponent 4-bets

When your opponent 4-bets after your 3-bet then only play further (go all-in) with AA and KK. One exception might be going all-in with KK against a complete nit who will only 4-bet/all-in with AA.

You might think QQ is also a candidate against certain opponents but don't forget that you'll only have 53% equity against a loose 4-betting range like TT+,AQs+,AKo.

When this range is even tighter (often the case), your equity drops even further. Yes, there are situations where a call might be correct based on pot odds/equity. But it still isn't worth it at the microstakes where you can simply wait for bigger edges instead of taking the high-variance route.

Raise size 5-bet/all-in

When your opponent 4-bets you and you want to play the hand further, if you have AA and KK then you can just go all-in.

Conclusion:

jack salter 3
It might not be cool to play ABC poker, but it works.

Play at the microstakes level is totally different compared to higher stakes. And s should your strategy be.

It might not be cool to play ABC poker and leave a lot of +EV situations on the table but you're not playing to boost your ego. Your goal is to a achieve a high win rate, limit variance and climb the limits as fast as possible.

You need a strategy which achieves these goals.

In this article we've outlined a decent pre-flop strategy for the microstakes. Of course not every pot will be decided pre-flop, but with a decent pre-flop game you're at the same time laying a good foundation to have easier decisions on later streets.

The most important factors when considering pre-flop play are:


  • Position
  • Having initiative
  • Hand strength
  • Playability
  • Assesment of your opponents

By considering all these factors before you decide to play a hand and/or how to proceed, you will make far better decisions compared to most of your opponents at the microstakes.

And this is what poker is about: Having an edge on your opponents!

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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