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 our Microstakes Poker Pre-Flop Guide, microstakes poker requires an 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.
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.
Sure sign of weak player: Donkey hat.
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 Do in Microstakes Poker
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 Do in Microstakes Poker
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!
Best Beginner Poker Site
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.
Look for telltale signs of weak players.
How to Recognize a Weak Microstakes 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's 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 position), 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.
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 Microstakes 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.
This group of hands are easy to play: Just give them up in case your continuation bet fails to win the pot.
A pair means different things to different players.
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 realize 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.Best Microstakes Poker
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 than 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.
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.
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.
Watch your draws closely.
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.
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 types of opponents you should try to get as much value as possible. These are definitely money-makers so you should treat them as such.
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 aggressively 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.
Take Initiative in Microstakes Poker
Now that we've discussed the different type of hands and whether these are big pot hands or small pot hands, we'll learn how to plan your hands in advance. Remember in the pre-flop guide when we emphasized having position and initiative to make your decisions easier on later streets?
When you’re in position you’ll have more control over the pot. When your opponent checks, for example, you have the option to check behind which closes the action on that street.
You'll also have the huge advantage of having information, as we already described. When you’re sitting out of position you have less control over the pot. Your opponent can always bet (if you check) or raise (if you bet).
The second thing we preached in our pre-flop guide is the importance of having initiative. Most of the time people will check to the player who has initiative when they are out of position - or they'll call instead of raise when they are in position.
This is especially useful with regards for planning your hands in advance, as we're about to discuss. It gives you the option to check behind in case you want to keep the pot under control or bet smaller with the knowledge your opponent won't raise often once you have initiative.
Plan Your Hand in Advance
If you’ve done everything we described so far in the pre-flop/post-flop guide then you understand both the type of opponent you’re against and if you want to play a big pot or a small/medium pot.
Now it’s time to take your hand planning to the next level. Doing so will help you make fewer mistakes and help you avoid tough decisions.
Think of Betting Lines That Accomplish Your Goals
If you already know you want to play a big pot, now you should think of betting lines that will accomplish this goal. Again, if you want a very detailed description of betting lines in different scenarios against different opponents, buy the ebook. Since our goal here isn't writing a complete book here are just some rough guidelines:
Betting Lines to Take In Position:
Big Hand IP:
When you have a big hand and want to play for stacks it’s obvious you want to bet/raise on every street.
Decent hand IP:
When you have a decent hand but you don't want to play for stacks/want to keep the pot under control, you already know that you want to check behind on one street to achieve this goal.
Think ahead to which street you can check behind. A common line is bet the flop, check behind on the turn.
Often the villain will call a river bet with this line since your check behind on the turn indicates a weakish hand.
Checking behind on the turn also might induce your opponent to bet on the river as a bluff with a hand he might not have called a bet on the river with.
Another option is to check the flop. Checking on the flop might result in your opponent calling with weaker hands on the turn and river since he might think you don't really have a strong hand.
Betting Lines to Take Out of Position:
Big Hand OOP:
When you have a big hand and you want to play for stacks you should think of a betting line which will accomplish this goal.
You might think of a check/raise to quickly build the pot. If you think your opponent won’t bet you might go for betting all streets yourself.
Decent Hand OOP:
When you have a decent hand but don't want to play for stacks/want to keep the pot under control, you need to think the situation through thoroughly.
You need to be aware that you are handicapped. Your opponent does have the option to raise and get you out of your comfort zone. Also, checking to control the pot can be seen as weakness.
If your opponent bets you need to consider if you want to go into check/call mode with the idea of facing future bets in case of an aggressive opponent.
Especially when you’re out of position (but also in position) you need to consider a few things when it comes to choosing betting lines -- mostly the playing style of your opponent and your bet sizing.
Consider your Opponent’s Playing Style
When considering the best betting line you have to consider the playing style of your opponent. This goes a bit further than our “weak player” or “decent player” distinctions.
A weak player, for example, might call three streets with weaker holdings but won’t bet himself with the same holding.
Instead of making only a distinction between a weak player and a decent player, you also need to make the distinction between a passive player or an aggressive player.
If your opponent's passive it's much easier to control pot size.
How to Beat Passive Microstakes Players
When you’re dealing with a passive player you can keep the pot under control much easier. You know that when you choose to check chances are high your opponent will also check behind unless he really has a good hand.
The same counts for when you’re in position. Chances are high your passive opponent won't bet himself but rather call your bets.
This makes it easier to plan the hand since you’re in control of the size of the pot.
As you can imagine the ideal scenario would be to play against weak passive players all the time since you can easily control the pot and get value with your good hands.
Unfortunately it won't always be that simple.
How to Beat Aggressive Microstakes Players
Aggressive opponents will take more initiative, which will put you in tougher situations.
When they smell weakness they will try to pick up the pot. When you’re in position and have initiative this often won't cause much trouble as you can choose to check behind for pot control.
It’s different when you're out of position.
When you check on a street for pot control this type of opponent will often put pressure on you by betting. And with a really aggressive opponent you already know he will bet as well on the next street(s).
In this case pot control often goes out of the window and you need to think with which kind of hands you want to proceed.
It's obvious though that planning a hand against these type of opponents, especially when sitting out of position, can be a tough job.
How to Size Your Bets in Microstakes Poker
When thinking of the best betting line it is also important to consider your bet sizing. A bet size from half-pot to full-pot size is considered normal but when do you bet pot size and when do you bet half or three-quarter-pot?
An example: You raise from UTG to 4BB and get a call from the big blind. Both of you started with a 100BB stack. Let's round it off to 8BB on the flop to make the example easier.
- If you bet one-half the pot (and get called) on every street the pot on the river will be 64BB. Both of you will have 68BB stacks left
- If you bet three-quarter-pot (and get called) on every street the pot on the river will be 124BB. Both of you will have 38BB stacks left
- If you bet full-pot (and get called) on every street the pot on the river will be 201BB. Both of you are all-in on the river
See the difference? It’s important to realize that bets on later streets will be bigger since the pot usually is bigger on later streets.
While ¾ pot size on the flop is only 6BB, on the river a ¾ pot size bet is already 37BB. As you can see the sizing of the bets will have a huge impact on how big the pot eventually will be.
If your goal is to play for stacks then it's obvious that firing three times ½ pot size bets won't do the job. On the other hand, when you don't want to blow up the pot, it might not be a smart plan to fire pot-size bets.
With regards to bet sizing there are different opinions. Some advocate that you should always use the same size, regardless of your hand. Another way is to bet bigger when the board is draw-y for protection and bet smaller in case of a dry board.
Reasoning behind this is that the other player can read you easily when you always bet bigger with a strong hand and smaller with a mediocre hand or garbage.
Although this reasoning is definitely true at higher limits the question remains if players at the microstakes pay attention to this. Pplayers we target (weak players) often won't pay attention to the size of your bets.
So at the microstakes the question is not how to balance your bet sizing (save that for higher stakes), but how much your opponent is willing to call. Heck, when you have a big hand and want to play a big pot and you know for sure that your opponent will call a double pot-size bet, why wouldn't you do so??
The microstakes aren't about balancing, as you already learned earlier. It’s about getting maximum value from the right opponents in the right situations and you can only get value in these situations when you value-bet big.
When to Make C-Bets in Microstakes Poker
Although we’ve already talked about later streets there is one subject worth discussing separately and that’s the flop continuation bet. Because of our pre-flop strategy most of the time we will have position and initiative, but this doesn't mean we’ll always hit the flop.
In fact more often we WON’T hit a good hand on the flop. The good news: Neither will your opponent! You’ve already learned that we should let go of hands like no-pair hands (garbage) or try to see a cheap showdown with weak made hands.
So logically you would give up these kinds of hands on the flop by check/folding. There is only one exception and that is when you were the pre-flop aggressor.
When we hit a hand with which we want to get value then we are in fact just value-betting and this subject is already discussed in planning the hand in front.
In this case when we talk about c-betting I only mean bluff c-betting, so a continuation bet with only one goal: Getting your opponent to fold his hand. Before we discuss when you should or shouldn't c-bet, let’s look at how much we need our opponent to fold with different bet sizes:
Think your c-bets through thoroughly.
- If you bet half-pot your C-bet is profitable if your opponent folds 33% of the time.
- If you bet 75% pot your C-bet is profitable if your opponent folds 43% of the time.
- If you bet full pot your C-bet is profitable if your opponent folds 50% of the time.
As you can see, even with a pot-size bet this bet will be profitable if your opponent folds half the time. Now the real question is: why would you bet pot size if a smaller bet size will do the job?
A common c-bet size is 66% pot, which has to work more then 39% to make it profitable. Now, if you think a 50% bet size will also do the job, then it’s no use to bet bigger.
Since this C-bet is only meant as a bluff you should choose the right situations for it to achieve a high success rate.
With regards to good situations to C-bet, but also situations that aren't ideal for a C-bet you can read the article “The C-Bet for Beginners”
Remember, if your C-bet gets called and your hand doesn’t improve on the turn then you should give up the hand. Don't fall into the trap of bluffing at the microstakes.
3 Essential Strategy Tips for Microstakes Poker
You've already learned that beating the microstakes is all about getting maximum value against the right opponents in the right situations. The flipside of that is also trying to limit your losses.
The good news is that limiting your losses is fairly simple when you leave your ego where it belongs: at the door. Follow the advice below and you won’t make the same mistakes a lot of other players make.
1. Be Very Wary When You Get Raised!
In general a raise at the microstakes means a lot of strength. Most players are passive, so when they suddenly wake up raising your bets, then most of the time will have a nut hand.
Be wary when you get raised.
This especially counts for raises on the turn and river. These are almost always with nut hands. Don't let your ego stand in your way and just fold!
A raise on the flop also generally means strength. Especially when out of position without a big hand you should just fold and wait for better spots.
Chances are high you will face more bets on later streets and you don't want to play for a big pot with TPTK or less. In position there is no harm in taking the safe route by folding.
2. Don't Bluff!
The average opponent in the microstakes will call far too often, which will not only cause a lot of variance but also a lot of frustration when opponents make calls “that they actually shouldn't make.”
Your goal is to get maximum value when you have a big hand - not bluff opponents who can't find the fold button.
The only exception can be a continuation bet but as we described you should pick the right situation and bet sizes for this.
3. Use Table Selection to Find Weak Players!
It's well known that the average player at the microstakes is better compared to a few years ago. Although this is certainly the case, you shouldn't think that the microstakes are suddenly filled with decent players, because this ain't the case.
The only difference is that in the past the whole table was full of fish whereas these days you will have on average 3-5 weak players on your table.
Weak players are still everywhere at the microstakes. It's up to you to find them.
It should be clear that this is still more then enough to achieve a nice win rate and to use the strategy we described.
To make it easier for yourself you can also use table selection. When you join tables with an average VPIP of 30% or higher, chances are high you’ll find enough juicy tables.
Almost every online poker site offers the option to select these tables or at least see the average VPIP numbers per table in the lobby.
Another way to put the odds in your favor is to use a list and write down the screen names of weak players you come across. Almost every online poker site offers the option to search for a player.
Weak players at the microstakes don't think to search for/use the “hide from search” function.
Beat Microstakes Poker with BlackRain79!
Our goal with the pre-flop and post-flop guides is to give you a better understanding of why and how microstakes differs from other limits and how you can adapt to this.
If you’re really committed to beating the microstakes you should buy the ebook from BlackRain79 in which he decribes in detail every play against different opponents in different situations you will encounter.
For a price of $19.95, it's really the biggest bargain in poker! Good luck at the tables!
Questions and/or hands for analysis are welcome in the comments below. Purchase BlackRain79's groundbreaking book Crushing the Microstakes right here.
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