Winning at Micro Stakes Poker

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Winning at Micro Stakes Poker

Post  Scat Damon on Fri Mar 02, 2012 11:27 am

I hear the voice at least once a week, if not more. A voice crying out in a poker forum: “Should I move up in stakes? I can’t figure out how to beat these micro-donks!” My reply is always, “If you can’t find a style to beat bad players, how are you going to beat better ones?” Truer words were never spoken, if I do say so myself.

Chris Ferguson and others have written about the betting theory behind A-B-C tournament poker, which is all you need to beat bad players in low buy-in tournaments. In general, you’re making a bet or raise for one of two reasons: either you want to induce a call from a worse hand, or a fold from a better one. Determining the right amount to bet is the end-all, be-all which separates a winning player from a losing one. And so, I present Herzog’s Two Laws of Micro MTTs, in the spirit of Sklansky’s Theorem of Poker (but hopefully better written):


Law #1: If I bet less than the most my opponent would have called when I want to be called, I’m losing money.

Law #2: If I bet more than the least my opponent would have folded to when I want a fold, I’m losing money.


The key to successful application of the Micro MTT Laws is getting a good read on your opponents. Most poker players spend too much time trying to get the wrong read – a prediction of their exact hole cards. In A-B-C tournament poker, you’re trying to make two determinations about your opponents. One, you want to determine if they bet or raise loose, so you can assign an accurate range. Trying to come up with the Hellmuthian “I thought you had jacks” is relatively worthless…but that’s a topic for another time.

The second read is whether your opponents call & fold loosely. Who will call you down with ace-high or bottom pair because they want to look like a hero? Who won’t defend their blinds, or will fold to a small re-raise if you caught them stealing with 10-8 off-suit? Modifying your bets against each of these playing styles will improve your bottom line.

Too many players are inflexible, rigid in every aspect of the game regardless of blind structure, buy-in level or table dynamics. They think, “I’m a small pot player” or “I’m going to re-steal a lot” or “I’m going to be the most aggressive player at the table”. Then when they don’t build up a big stack with their small pots, or nobody folds to their re-steals and aggression, the “look at these donkeys” posts come forth with hurricane-strength force. The strategies you leaned on now failed miserably in another, resulting in confusion and frustration. A typical lack-of-success story is one I’ve lived several times, and heard countless more.

Let’s say you have been profitable some regular middle-level tournaments: the $24+2s on MTT, the $20 180-mans on Stars, the nightly 50-50s, maybe even gone deep in a Sunday Major or two. You’ve gone on a bad downswing, or withdrew a bunch of money for one expense or another. Being a disciple of good bankroll management, you drop back down to play huge-field $3-10 MTTs and $4 180-man SNGs...only to immediately endure defeat after humiliating defeat, for a large variety of reasons both obvious (suckouts and bad beats) and somewhat obscure – until now.

The problem (now less obscure) is the small-pot style of play, effective in many tournaments, doesn’t work at micro-stakes. If your opponent would have paid off ¾-pot bets on the flop, turn and river with a losing kicker, you’re donating chips to him by only betting ½ the pot. If the nut job in the big blind will defend to a 4x raise when you have AA, you’re not successfully building a big enough pot if you min-raise all the time. Next hand, if the weak-tight guy on the nut job’s left will normally fold to a 2.5x raise, you’re losing more chips if you try to steal with a 4x raise, then fold to his re-raise.

I know this violates a common poker rule: “Always make consistent bets so your opponent can’t get a read on the strength of your hand.” You know what? Bad players at micro-stakes aren’t reading your soul. They aren’t concerned with what your hand might be, because they’re too busy with figuring out their own…and what’s on TV…and finding free porn on the Web…and chatting with their friend who just logged into AIM…and on and on….

In control theory, engineers talk about “tuning” a control loop; adjusting the feedback you get from the elements in a system to optimize the overall performance. By adjusting your betting patterns at the poker table, you can make a similar optimization to beat the games you know you should be beating. Feel free to experiment; if you don’t get the results you want with one change, and your poker loop goes “unstable”, try something else. The experiment only cost you a few bucks. Try something else. And have fun with fine tuning.

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Scat Damon
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Re: Winning at Micro Stakes Poker

Post  Trent on Tue Mar 06, 2012 8:13 pm

Except when you play on bovada, and there is no such thing as a small pot, then you try to keep it small, lol.

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Re: Winning at Micro Stakes Poker

Post  Scat Damon on Tue Mar 06, 2012 10:45 pm

lol yeah, kinda hard to play small pot poker when every time somebody sees any pocket pair preflop they assume it's the nuts and shove

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Re: Winning at Micro Stakes Poker

Post  Trent on Tue Mar 06, 2012 11:34 pm

Low pocket pairs of course. And ace rag hands too.

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