Having the right HUD (heads up display) setup and exercising good table selection are two of the most fundamental keys to success in online poker regardless of the stakes.
Beginning with HUD setup, the Coke and Pepsi of the online poker world are Hold’em Manager and Pokertracker. Both companies have recently released new versions and you can’t go wrong with either.
Trial versions are available for both and even if you’re just getting started at the lowest stakes I recommend becoming familiar with using a HUD.
The main utility of these programs is to read the raw hand histories that you receive from the poker site when you play a hand and configure the data about your own play and that of others into useful information on every variety of statistics imaginable.
You can then get this information to show up on the table itself and have it update in real time as you play more hands and gain more information. Being able to quickly discern what kind of player you are up against immediately will be vitally important to making good decisions at the table.
Less is More with Microstakes HUDs
I personally recommend a minimalist approach to HUD setup. The most important stats by far in my opinion are VPIP (voluntarily put in pot), PFR (preflop raise) and AF (aggression factor).
These stats, especially the first two, tell you what type of player you are playing against over a sample as small as just 10 hands.
If somebody has a VPIP of 90% (they are playing 90% of their hands) in an orbit or two you can be highly confident that this is a bad player. On the flip side, if their VPIP is only 10% you can be pretty confident that this is a tight regular.
PFR also aids in telling you how aggressive a player is. If the 90% VPIP player has a PFR of 10% for instance you can quickly discern that this is a passive fish. If their PFR is 80% then this player is a maniac fish.
A good rule to remember is that preflop aggression usually translates to postflop aggression and the reverse is also true. Preflop passiveness usually indicates postflop passiveness.
But the player’s AF will also help you determine this. Be careful to have quite a bit bigger sample with this stat than with VPIP and PFR but in general 3 or less is a fairly passive player and 4 or more is aggressive.
Beyond these three key stats you should also make sure that you include a number of other stats such as your opponent’s fold to cbet, fold to turn cbet, their cbet and turn cbet, their 3bet, fold to 3bet and steal percentage.
As I said, I don’t recommend cluttering up your screen with every single stat possible. These 10 or so should provide all the information that you need in 99% of your poker decisions. If you need to access something else, just make use of the full popup.
Table Selection Critical in Microstakes Poker
Probably the most overlooked key to success in online poker is good table selection.
In an era where fish are now the exception to the rule rather than the norm, sitting yourself at the right table (with them playing on it and much preferably having them on your right) is of vital importance.
You can of course rely on your HUD to supply you with this information. But using the note system, which nearly all poker sites provide, will also go a long way.
I prefer to colour code the fish in particular the second I notice them. I don’t really even concern myself with tagging the regulars much anymore. The utility of tagging the bad players is that the colour or tag will usually show up in the poker site’s lobby as well.
So if you have the weak player already tagged you can easily notice which table he is seated at in the lobby.
Your Profit Comes from Bad Players
It is very important to realize just how much of your profit will come from bad players especially at the micros. One of the easiest ways to notice this is to go through your HEM or PT database and look at the big hands that you have recently won. Almost invariably you will find that most of them involved bad players.
While learning how to exploit and win from the regulars is not a bad thing (and will be much more important at higher limits) I recommend that newer players really focus almost entirely on the fish at the lowest limits.
If you table select well you should almost never find yourself playing at a table which doesn’t have at least one bad player on it. There just isn’t any need as these player types are found a lot more easily at these limits.
Next time I will begin to talk about some of the fundamental approaches to solid strategic play at poker's microstakes.