Beating Microstakes Cash Games: How to Play Preflop

Published On: 5 October 2012 / Modified: 29 January 2019
Created By: Nathan "Blackrain79" Williams
Posted in: The Guest Blog
How to Play Online Poker

So last time I talked about how to properly set up your HUD and the importance of good table selection. And before that I discussed the overall mental approach necessary for success in poker.

In this third instalment of this series I want to finally get into the nuts and bolts of profitable play. That is, how you should play your cards. In my opinion a tight and aggressive (TAG) approach is the most effective strategy at the micros.

What is TAG Strategy?

Some people will advocate a loose and aggressive (LAG) approach but I think the chances that a beginner or even novice level poker player will be able to successfully pull it off are very low and so I advise against it.

The biggest reason is that a LAG approach will put you in many more marginal situations, which when running bad will make it rain twice as hard, and most newer players will not have sufficient tilt control to deal with this.

Nathan Williams 2
Nathan Williams has played millions of hands at the microstakes online.

So what is a TAG strategy? Well in a full ring NL cash game this would mean playing approximately the top 15% of all hands you’re dealt and raising pre-flop (3 times the big blind is usually fine) with about 12% (I will explain the gap in a moment).

 In a 6max cash game I would advocate something like a 21/18 strategy. If you don’t know what cards these would actually refer to a good free little program to use is called Pokerstove.

You can simply plug in the numbers and it will give you a decent idea of what this range will look like. If you play within these parameters you will be entering the pot with a pretty strong hand the majority of the time. This will help keep your decisions at the table a lot more simple.

The reason for the gap is that sometimes you will be calling a raise pre-flop or even occasionally limping behind a bunch of other limpers with a speculative hand. But these should be small exceptions to the rule.

You should be raising or re-raising pre-flop the vast majority of the time that you decide to enter the pot. While there are very few set-in-stone rules in poker here is one: If you are the first person to enter the pot you should never limp. You should raise 100% of the time.

Best Strategy at Microstakes Cash Games is TAG

Why do we want to do this many people will ask. Why not limp more and see a flop and get out cheaply if we have nothing? The reason that we don’t want to do this is that winning poker isn’t all about waiting for the nuts and hoping that somebody will pay you off.

Playing microstakes online is the perfect way to perfect your game before taking it live.

Most of the time in NL Hold’em nobody has anything very good. The person who has taken an aggressive stance is usually the one who takes down those pots. When you limp preflop you give yourself only one way to win the pot, make a hand. When you raise you give yourself two ways, make a hand or take it down with a continuation bet.

And you have the added bonus of taking down more money since you built a pot preflop. The numbers simply do not lie. Limping or calling is losing poker.

The other important point to note concerning pre-flop play is that position matters, a lot. You should be playing very few hands in the first few seats (early position) and playing a lot of hands around the button (late position). You should play a few more hands from the blinds than you do in early position but overall you should still keep it pretty tight.

Why? Well the reason is pretty simple once again. There is an old saying that “money flows towards the button” in poker. It couldn’t be more true.

Over enormous samples I have seen that my win-rate in late position is far greater than all other positions at the table. In fact you will straight up lose from the blinds due to being forced to put money in the pot with a random hand once every orbit. But you still need to try and defend them a little bit as I mentioned before. But the principle is simple. Play more hands where it is profitable. Play less where it is unprofitable.

So to sum up, the best strategy at microstakes cash games is TAG. You should only be playing fairly strong hands most of the time and being the pre-flop aggressor as often as possible. Also, you should be playing much more hands the closer you get to the button.

Next time I will talk about post-flop strategy.

Click through here to read more on Nathan "Blackrain79" Williams' blog, and to buy a copy of his book: Crushing the Microstakes.

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