Combining the best general knowledge about microstakes poker strategy, 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 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.
By Paul Verheij
Beating poker’s micro-stakes starts with rock-solid strategy before the flop. Playing the right hands before the flop will result in much easier decisions on later streets.
In this two-part article we’ll show you how to build that solid foundation.
Leave Your Ego and Fancy Plays at the Door
Before we start with the pre-flop guidelines it’s important to consider exactly what our objectives are and how we can achieve them.
Key to success is max value from big hands.
The micro-stakes are all about getting value with your good hands and folding hands in situations where you can only win a small pot or, if things go wrong, lose a big pot.
This sounds simple. And the good news is that it actually is when you follow a few guidelines and leave your ego and fancy plays where they belong: at the door.
The micro-stakes aren't limits where you want to outplay your opponents. They aren't about finding every +EV situation. They’re actually quite the opposite.
Your goal isn't to outplay your opponent but get maximum value from the right opponents. And instead of seeking every +EV situation you only choose the situations that offer the most value.
Take Initiative, Have Position
The good news is that the micro-stakes do offer the luxury of a lot of bad players and therefore a lot of profitable situations.
Why try to exploit small edges (which lead to high variance) when you can wait for very profitable situations that come around often, lead to a high-win rate and lower variance?
To do this our pre-flop foundation starts with:
- Taking the initiative
- Being in position
Before we start with hand-selection guidelines let's first discuss what your main objectives should be.
Betting gives you two ways to win.
Poker isn't all about having the best hand at showdown. In reality the player with the best hand doesn’t always win the money.
More often than not both players won't hit a good hand and in those cases you should ask yourself who would probably win the pot.
That player? The one who bets. Often the other player, who also don't have a good hand, will fold in the face of aggression.
This is why taking initiative – meaning you are the one betting/raising instead of calling (passive) – is essential.
By betting pre-flop you show strength and in the case another playing calls there’s a greater chance you can win the pot on a later street by betting again.
The biggest advantage of having initiative is that you can win a pot in two ways:
• By having the best hand at showdown
• By making your opponent fold.
Getting your opponent to fold is easier said then done. When your opponent does have a reasonable hand he probably won't fold and this is especially true at the micro-stakes.
How do you know if your opponent has a reasonable hand? Well, you’ll never know for sure but, as with a lot of things in poker, you want the odds in your favor.
Let's take a simple example in which your opponent has to act first. In situation 1, he bets. In situation 2, he checks. In which case does he probably have a reasonable hand?
In situation 1, and this especially counts for the micro-stakes, betting often means strength. And in situation 2, checking means weak.
Players thinking this through already recognize the other important factor: Your opponent should be the one acting first.
Play in Position
The biggest advantage from “having position” is that you’re the one with the most information before having to act.
Play at the micro-stakes level is often very straightforward so it often is what it seems. Checking does mean weak and betting means strong.
Exceptions are the rule, of course, but exceptions are not where the money comes from.
The Power of Initiative and Position
As said, the player with the best hand doesn’t always win money. In poker it’s your goal to merely the odds in your favor.
By taking initiative and having position you give yourself the maximum chance to win the pot by not only relying on your hand strength but also giving yourself an option to win the pot if you don't hit a good hand.
Not hitting a hand is very common for both you and your opponent(s), so by only following these two guidelines you set yourself up to win a lot of “dead money.”
Besides the dead money you’ll also make your post-flop game much easier -- and post-flop is where the real money (big pots) are won or lost.
Starting Hand Selection
Now that you know the most important factors to micro-stakes success it’s time to outline some rough guidelines for pre-flop hand selection.
Much of the material below is found in more detail in BlackRain79’s e-book Crushing the Microstakes (buy it here.). Specifically the hand-range charts below are taken from the book, but most of the pre-flop information is generally accepted micro-stakes strategy.
Some simple points to remember:
1. Raise to gain initiative
Always raise when you enter the pot first. When you’re not the first player to enter the pot, re-raise (3-bet) most of the time when you decide to play a hand.
2. Try to play hands in position post-flop
Hand strength is important.
Always know how close you are to the dealer button (the best position in poker). How close you are to the button will likely determine whether you’ll have position post-flop.
3. Hand strength is important
When you don't have position, or at least chances are good you won't have position (such as in early and middle position) you’ll need to rely more on straight-up hand strength.
4. Chances someone else has a big hand
We know we can win the pot more easily when in position but we also need to consider the odds someone else has a big hand.
When there aren't many players sitting behind you the chance one of those players has a good hand is quite small compared to when you’re in early position. In early position the chance is much bigger that someone else behind you has a big hand.
5. Balance your range
Another factor, although less important at the micro-stakes, is balancing your range.
Assuming you only play hands like AA and KK, even less competent players will notice you only play these hands and will fold or play their hands knowing exactly what you have.
That's why we play a range of hands -- hands that are good enough to play but that leave our opponents guessing about which exact hand we have.
Play Tight, Loosen Up Closer to the Button
Early and Middle Position
It should be clear that you don't play many hands from early and middle position. There are still lots of players to act after you so chances someone else has a big hand are strong
How you play changes as your position does.
You also probably won't have position post-flop. You’ll mostly rely on hand strength so you’ll only play the top of our range in these positions.
Hijack (Two seats before the button)
Although the Hijack is also middle position it’s a bit “in between.” Only the cut-off (one before the button, the button and the blinds are still to play so chances there’s a big hand out there are not that big.
After the flop only the cut-off and button would have position on you if they play the hand,
That doesn't mean we can play weak hands, but considerably more hands compared to early position and MP1 and MP2.
Cut-Off and Button
The cut-off and button positions are the real money makers in poker -- especially the button.
Chances are low someone else after you will wake up with a big hand and with the button you’ll always have position after the flop.
Does this mean you can play every hand from this position? No, but still roughly three times as many hands compared to early position.
There is a small difference between the hand ranges you should from the cut-off and the button.
Sitting in cut-off there’s still a chance the button will also enter the pot which means you won’t have position throughout the hand.
Hand Selection Chart
Now that you know the rough guidelines for hand selection with regards to your position, it’s time to determine exactly what hands you should play from each position.
For this section we’ll draw entirely from Crushing the Microstakes as it explains it perfectly.
It’s also important to realize that these are just guidelines. You don't have to play all of these hands if you don’t feel comfortable.
Also remember: Money you haven't lost is also money you've won...
First in (if no one has entered the pot before you)
Early position (UTG/UTG+1 and UTG +2):
• 22+ (22 and higher pairs, in this case: 22,33,44,55,66,77,88,99,TT,JJ,QQ,KK and AA)
• AQs+ (AQ suited and higher, in this case AK suited)
• AQo+ (AQ unsuited and higher, in this case AK unsuited)
MP1 & MP2:
• AJs+, KQs
• AJo+, KQo
• A8s+, KJs+, QJs, 78s+
• ATo+, KJo+, QJo+
• A2s+, K8s+, Q9s+, J8s+, 56s+, 57s+
• A2o+, K8o+, Q9o+, J8o+
• A2s+, K2s+, Q7s+, J8s+, 56s+, 57s+, 47s+
• A2o+, K2o+, Q7o+, J8o+, T8o+
• A9s+, KJs+, QJs, 78s
• A9o+, KJo+, QJo
• A9s+, KJs+, QJs, 78s
• A9o+, KJo+, Qjo
Raise-Size First In:
A standard raise size from most positions is 4x the big blind. Only when in late position (CO and BTN) should you raise 3x the big blind.
Play when there are limpers
The same ranges count for when there are limpers (callers) in front of you. When there are limpers in front of you this doesn't mean you should limp behind. It’s still better to raise to take the initiative.
The only adjustment you should make is to not play the bottom (lowest part) of your range. Reason for this is the chances are high the limper(s) will still call your pre-flop raise.
Raise size when there are limpers:
Stick to standard raise sizes more often than not.
When there are limpers and you’re in position you should raise 4x the big blind plus 1 big blind per limper.
When there are limpers and you’re out of position you should raise 4x the big blind plus 1 big blind per limper, but also add another big blind since you have the disadvantage of playing out of position.
When someone else raises first
In this case you have three options: re-raise (3-bet), call or fold.
Before we discuss the different options, remember the importance of having initiative. You want to 3-bet or fold much more than you call since calling is a passive play that gives the advantage back to your opponents.
There are, however, situations where calling is the best option.
In Part 2 of our Microstakes Pre-Flop Strategy Guide we’ll look at those exceptions along with an in-depth look at when, how and how much to 3-bet.
Questions and/or hands for analysis are welcome in the comments below. Purchase BlackRain79's groundbreaking book Crushing the Microstakes right here.