Friday, August 2, 2013

The State of Micro Stakes Online Poker

the state of micro stakes online poker
Online poker is continually evolving. And the micro stakes are no different. I get asked a lot these days about the state of the games and especially if my winrates in the past are even possible anymore. The answer is yes and no.

Blindly opening 24 random tables of NL2 and expecting to auto-pilot to a 30bb/100 winrate is not possible anymore. Likewise, you cannot mass table NL25 and expect to maintain 10bb/100 these days. You would need to be one of the absolute best players to even achieve half of these winrates in today's games with that amount of tables and no regard as to who was playing on them.

On the other side of the coin, these winrates are still possible in today's games if you are committed to cutting down on the amount of tables drastically so that you can make much higher quality opponent specific decisions. And also by vigorously table and seat selecting which I will get into more a bit later.

Of course achieving these winrates still requires an exceptional understanding of the game and excellent emotional control. I am talking about what is possible in this article because that is how the question is always phrased to me. People want to know what the absolute best players can achieve.


Online Poker in America


I would be remiss not mention a little bit about the state of the micros for American players before I continue. While site selection and thus table selection is quite a bit more restricted than for people from many other countries things are not all bad. I still continue to play on several sites from time to time that are open to Americans.

If the games were so bad at these sites then I wouldn't play on them (I am Canadian). I haven't found there to be much of a difference at all in skill level across the board at these sites when compared to the bigger online poker rooms. The only difference is that there are less tables to choose from.

Everybody hopes the situation will resolve itself sooner than later and US based players can once again play on any site that they choose to. But many options still remain.

I have found that PokerSites.com does an excellent job of critically assessing the various online poker rooms available for American players. They also have a ton of up to date information and reviews for rest of the world players as well.  


Reducing the Amount of Tables

Lowering the table count is really crucial in today's games. And this is something that will be different for everybody. 

Some people can competently play many more tables than others. But what is true for everyone is that the less tables you play the more time that you will have. The more time that you have, the more opportunity you have to make higher quality decisions. And especially decisions tailored specifically to the opponent that you are facing.

I 24 tabled the micros for years and basically just took standard lines against everyone. I would change things up a little bit between regs and fish. But generally speaking I was just auto-piloting with no regard to issues such as balancing my range versus thinking opponents, diving deeper into their HUD stats or taking account of any relevant history.

Once I started making training videos though where I wasn't allowed to play more than 4 tables at once I noticed a real difference. I started experimenting with 4-6 tables in my regular play as well and I noticed that my win rates were the same or even higher than before in today's supposedly ultra tough games. 


LAG Play Wrecks the Modern Micros 


By reducing the amount of tables I immediately started playing way more hands. My Pokertracker HUD stats reflected this as well.

My full ring game went from a 14/11/3 with a 4% 3bet to a 21/18/3 with a 6% 3bet. My 6max game went from a 20/17/3 with a 5% 3bet to a 30/27/3 with a 7% 3bet. I immediately started discovering so many more profitable spots to just take pots that the 24 tabling HUDbots didn't want to battle me for. 

I remember a player (I won't name him) that I started out playing with many, many years ago. We actually met on the play money tables! We both moved over to real money at around the same time, became good friends and talked about the game a fair bit.

While I was still working my way up through the micros I remember him absolutely destroying the small and midstakes games (NL100-NL600) at winrates that have probably never been equaled to this day.

He preferred 6max and played way more hands than anyone other reg, something like a 40/35/3. Nobody knew how to combat it. He simply ran the games over as the regs, who were incredibly passive at the time, would not fight back without the nuts.

This is the way that the micros play today. Especially NL2-NL10. Most regs are multi-tabling nits and will not put big money in the pot without the nuts. In game conditions like this you don't even need fish to maintain a high winrate.

Just keep abusing the regs way more than they are used to and they will either lay down to you (often the case) or go on tilt and hand a couple stacks to you. By playing far less tables I have been able to do just this in today's games especially at the lowest stakes. 

Look, put it this way. If you want to play like everybody else, then expect everybody else's results. Poker is all about adjustments and a table full of passive regs is by no means a bad table if you know how to exploit it properly. You need to open up your game in order to do that.

Micro stakes poker

Table Selection and Seat Selection


While playing against bad regs can be profitable there is no substitute for playing with really bad players. As I mentioned last time, whales, as they are often referred to, lose money at a far faster rate than anyone else. They are the main engine that drives the poker economy since if they lose money faster than anyone else it follows that they will need to deposit money more frequently than everyone else as well. 

Using the table VPIP averages that many sites display as a guide for table selection is not something that I do at all anymore. The micros have tightened up considerably in the last 3 or 4 years and especially at the lowest stakes there are an absurd amount of what I like to call "super nits." These are guys with a VPIP of like 8 at a full ring table and 12 or 13 at a 6max table. All they know how to do is play absurdly tight. 

What these guys do though, and nits in general, is bring down the table averages so much that you don't even realize that the 40% VPIP whale is sitting right there! So I much prefer to simply sit at tables with people who are unknowns to me and wait an orbit or two for the stats to come in.

If I see a whale (it only takes 10-20 hands to get a relatively reliable reading on someone's VPIP) then I tag them immediately and stay. If I see that it is all tight players, then I leave.


The Jesus Seat


The "Jesus Seat" is a term that popped up a few years ago especially among high stakes players to refer to the dream situation where you have the huge fish on your direct right. If you manage to find yourself in this situation, even by sheer luck, you should not leave that table until the fish does for any reason. 

What many people fail to understand with game selection or table selection is that finding the whale is only half the battle. Your EV (expected value) versus that player jumps considerably when he is on your right. You can get involved in so many more hands against him with the benefit of position and literally just isolate him every single time. You can get all those extra bets in on the end and not waste bets when he chooses to finally fight back.

When the fish has position on you you have to play way tighter, you will get floated way more, annoyed way more. The power of position is something that people still fail to fully realize even in today's games. Give one player direct position on another player of his exact same skill level and he will destroy him in the long term.

Just because the fish is much less skilled than you are doesn't change this basic law of poker. You are likely +EV versus him no matter what seat he is in. But your EV changes in a big way depending on your position vis a vis him at the table.


Start Your Own Tables


I know I have mentioned this many times in the past but it is worth talking about again. I start tables all the time now when I play especially at the beginning of a session when I have the most time. Almost all the good players that I know who crush the micros these days do the same thing.

The reason is very simple. Fish do not like to wait to play poker. They don't use waiting lists, regs do. They want to start splashing their chips around right now and so they choose tables that have lots of empty seats on them. This is one of the easiest ways to just make fish appear out of nowhere in today's games.

And don't worry about playing heads up for a bit. I think a lot of people are scared to start tables because they are ring players and don't want to play any heads up. I am a ring player too! I don't particularly think of myself as any good at heads up either. But the reality is that usually the table will fill up very fast.

And even if you do end up with a heads up match just play a couple hands and quit if you want to. In many cases it will just be a random reg who wants to play you for whatever reason and you can actually use this as an opportunity to work on your heads up game a bit (if you so choose). Remember most other regs are really bad at heads up also.


A Couple Final Thoughts


I hope this article gives you guys a little bit of insight into the approach that I take with micro stakes cash games today. People have been complaining about the games getting tougher for a long time now, at least 5 years.

Yet there are tons of people who still make a solid living or side income playing this game. So the bad players must be somewhere right? The games can't be that impossibly hard to beat can they?

Something that I didn't even really touch on in this article is simply picking the right poker site to play on. If you play on sites that have lots of fish on them, then the game becomes much easier.

But the bottom line is that it does take more effort overall to win at online poker in today's games. That is the plain truth.

And some of the insane winrates of days gone by are not possible anymore especially if you want to mass multi-table on tough sites. But rakeback programs have improved and there is still good money to be made in poker overall if you really want it. 

In order to win in today's games you need to be consistently updating your skills (studying on your own and using instructional materials such as books, training sites, coaching etc).

You also need to practice working on your emotional control by understanding and accepting that variance is a vital part of this game. 

And lastly, as discussed above, you need to be paying close attention to who your opponents are and where they are seated at the table.

Even if you bumhunt all day long you are still going to have to play some hands versus regs. You need to discover their weaknesses and exploit them to the max. Luckily at the micros most regs still have significant leaks these days so this isn't too difficult.

Make sure to pick up my free ebook which will teach you the strategy that I have used to crush the micro stakes for some of the highest winrates in online poker history.


Let me know what you think about the state of micro stakes poker in the comments below.

If you found this article helpful, please "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

blackrain79 - micro stakes strategy

21 comments:

  1. Hey! Thanks for this post!

    So your book is a bit "outdated" now or we should look at it for basic approach?

    And do we need to play more hands than that you described on page 66 ("Play What Hands Where") to maintain higher VPIP than usual?

    And what speculative hands do you suggest to 3bet more often? (aside from KJo, A4s, 67s)

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  2. Hi Medzhit,

    Well the book isn't even 2 years old yet so I hope it isn't too outdated yet! Some books like The Theory of Poker have been around for 30 years and are still regarded as essential.

    I think some of the specific stuff for exploiting really bad regs and fish such as over-raising pre and postflop is less effective in the online NL2 games now since the book has been read by so many people. But I think the core principles of the book still form the basis of how to crush loose/passive games for the highest winrate.

    The suggested starting hands on page 66 already amount to a nearly LAG game I believe so I would not change much in that regard. You can certainly add a few more hands to the light 3betting section though such as suited aces, small pairs, suited kings. Just anything halfway playable.

    CTM was written with complete beginners in mind so I purposely tried to keep things as simple as possible and keep ranges pretty tight so they don't get in too many difficult spots.

    I will be releasing another book at some point which begins where CTM left off and focuses on a bit higher games.

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  3. Thanks for your response!

    The bad thing that I see in my game is that by following your book (I don't mean that you're wrong or something. Quite the contrary - I'm wrong but I can't understand in what) I end up with stat like 10-6 VPIP-PFR.

    I fold trash hands but when I get mediocre hand like K8s, AJo, A8s, Q7o, J8o, T8o etc. I can face a raise and then I just fold.

    Maybe I need to 3bet or call these kind of hands more often? Express more agression?

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  4. Hi Medzhit,

    I don't know how you could be playing a 10/6 unless you are misinterpreting the chart on page 66. The range listed there should have you playing something like a 20/18 which is LAG for FR. Cut out the first three seats for 6max and it is still a LAG range for that game. That is why if I recall I suggest that beginners not follow it to a tee and fold some of the crappier hands on it.

    Regarding getting 3bet. This doesn't happen very often at NL2 or NL5. You can steal at will all day most of the time. This is why the suggested range is like 50% of hands. If you do happen to have one of the few aggro regs on your left just leave the table.

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  5. I just ran the numbers in Pokerstove from the hand chart on page 66 because I was curious. Here are what the VPIP %'s are by position according the hands suggested.

    utg 8.3

    utg+1 8.3

    mp1 8.9

    mp2 10.7

    hj 19.8

    co 42.7

    btn 57.5

    sb 18.6

    bb 18.6

    If you add all of these up you get 193.4. Divide by 9 for the 9 seats at a FR table and you get an average VPIP of 21.5.

    For 6max if you ignore the first 3 seats you get a total of 167.9. Divide by 6 for the 6 seats at a 6max table and you get an average VPIP of 28.

    So I would say that you are definitely misinterpreting the chart if you are averaging a 10% VPIP.

    I am not sure how to post an image in the comments so here is a link to a screenshot that I just made for the BTN range from page 66 in Pokerstove.

    Link to Screenshot

    Hope this helps!

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  6. Thanks for the answer!

    The problem that I see that I can have hold cards like T8o when I'm at button and some people before me decide to raise. Because of such hand I don't want to 3bet and don't want to call either (according to your book you don't like to call much). And then I simply fold, however I can usually play this hand in LP.

    Or do you suggest to be more agressive and 3bet such hands? Or call?

    I understand that this stat (10-6) happens because of my tight and bad play so that I decide to reduce the number of tables (as you advice in your article) and increase the quality of my game. I will see how that effect my stats - maybe I need more focus on my game.

    But the situation that I described remains. So that the question is: do I need to be more agressive with that type of hands (like T8o, J8o, AJo) or simply try to table select better and avoid regs?

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  7. Ya just keep on folding those hands if it is raised in front of you. I would definitely suggest opening up your game. At 10/6 you are leaving a ton of money on the table by folding too much. I have no problem playing a 20 VPIP in these games 4 tabling and I am folding those hands when it is raised in front of me almost always.

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  8. Will try, thank you for your advices! =)

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  9. No problem, all the best at the tables!

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  10. I play Turbo SnG's mainly (180 mans upto $15) and Turbo MTT's (mainly the Hot's upto $75) I have played cash back in 2009-10?(recreationally) I think it was....and I never studied cash games much so dont know anything really about how tough the games are....but I read this blog because its a great read plus all poker relates weather it be tournament poker or cash...you can take cash game players advice and tournament players advice and mix them up in the right way to exploit players! The games are tougher now in SnGs BUT there only tougher in a sense of most players knowing calling/ shoving ranges (which is basic SnG stratergy) Theres alot more poker in SnGs than Shoving/Calling like post flop play/hand reading ability/3betting/3bet jamming/knowing a reg is floating ect ect ect (its the same in cash but theres slightly different things you need to focus on?)....the games are tougher in all areas these days but I just want to add that you can still beat the games with an epic ROI or bb/100 for cash game players aslong as you keep studying the game!.....like I am staked by a company that has 10 coaches and they all have different views on hands that you can take advice on and implement it to your game making you an even more solid player than the previous generation!...you will see players in forums saying such a game is dead! LOL....no its not dead its just that you got left behind! gg :P

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  11. Also another thing I want to add is....I started learning soooo much from my recent coaches about poker that I couldnt keep up with the 20 tables I use to Auto Bot! I was auto folding post flop spots and not fighting for the pot ect ect and not thinking at all really about situations....I got weekly coaching and the coach was like "dude your on too many tables how can you miss such an easy shoving spot? this shove can cost you the win if you dont make it! cut down on tables untill you start hitting all basic shove spots"...To which I did, I started playing 8 tables from 20 tables I used to play....I started thinking more about situations and exploiting players more(even regs are easily exploitable these days because they play more tables than they can handle!) Now ive gradually worked back up to 20 tables playing the best poker ive been taught...but if im tired and start making silly mistakes 20 tabling ill drop tables by 5 tables and or quit playing! ...btw I aint no poker baller, Im in the process of learning and just started to win and will keep studying the game :) gl to you all and remember that reviewing your HHs is the way forward! :P

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  12. Hey SCOOOOP23,

    I agree with basically everything you said. The games are tougher these days but the people complaining are mostly 24 tabling nits. If you cut down on the tables and learn to play poker it is actually not hard to maintain a decent winrate. And like you mentioned, once it becomes second nature to you then you can up the tables again and get the rakeback rewards as well. All the best at the tables and thanks for reading, glad you enjoy the blog!

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  13. HEY NATHAN :-)

    first off i wanna thank u soo much for sharing ur knowledge with the world!! :-)
    of course u get paid for it,but still,1 hand helps the other i guess ;-)

    read 10 books so far - harrington series (want also 2 read his cash game books) every hand revealed /gus hansen ,super system 1+2 ,kill phil (which i never believed would work,but 2 my surprise it did),treat ur poker like a business (yep,i love dusty 2 ;-) ),the mental game of poker,and phil gordon's little green book...
    started also reading kill every1 and dont listen 2 phil hellmuth but didnt finish them,and now i m reading ur book...(can u please tell me some other books u find worth reading,actually all books u think r good?)
    just finished the part about preflop play,and i have 2 say that from all the other books i have read,urs is by the best!!!!

    started 1 week ago with 28 cents which i had left,some freerolls,then 10cents/360 and 25cents/90 SNGs,reached 35$,and in 2 days i made it 45 by playing nl2 using ur advice...

    the reason y i post here is coz i had some problems understanding ur starting hand chart,so i was searching the web for info and found this article where u also talk about it...

    for EP/MP i think i got it,but LP and blinds i got confused,so i will write how i understand it,and if u can,it would b nice if u can correct me or tell me if i m right..

    UTG1/2 22+,AQo+
    so all pairs,AQo/AKo/AQs/AKs ?

    MP1 22+,AJs+,KQs+
    all pairs,AJs/AQs/AKs/KQs/AQo/AKo ?

    MP2 22+.AJo+,KQo+
    same as MP1 and also AJo/KQo ?

    HJ 22+,ATo,KJo,QJo,A8s,78s(by the way,u r the only 1 i know who uses
    the small number 1st,usually its 87s :-) )
    here it starts getting confusing,coz its the 1st time u differentiate between suited and unsuited cards > ATo/A8s! obviously suited cards r worth more...
    so what does this mean for UTG1/2 AQo?is it as i understood it or should there b also a weaker but suited ace like AJs?
    and 78s,is this only for suited connectors 78s or also 78o + ?
    coz i understood it only as suited connectors but then i read that u play also 78o from BTN...

    and then u confused me totally when u wrote that u play Q6s from BTN but ur hand range description page 66 says Q7o from BTN!!! so if Q7o means Q7+ suited or unsuited than Q6s shouldnt b played..
    or is it 1 or 2 below the unsuited cards like ATo/A8s ,in this example Q7o/Q5s?
    and its not that im stupid!!!!lol!!!last time i checked i had an IQ of 166,so i guess this should b enough 2 understand a simple starting hand range-or maybe since my hair fell off my brain did 2 ??!! lol

    so for all the ranges like AQo+/AJo+/ATo+/KQo+/KJo+/K8o+/QJo+/Q9o+/Q7o+ ,does it mean that this values suited/unsuited + or do u mean also 1 or 2 'steps' down for suited cards? for example K8o means also K7s and K6s like in the case u mentioned of ATo/A8s in HJ?

    and all the 78s+/75s+/74s+/56s+/64s+ does this include also the same cards as offsuit,like 56o+ for 56s,or only suited,or 1 or 2 values up,for example 56s+/78o+ ?

    would b so nice if u could help me out here :-)











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  14. also...found the dragthebar.com site and saw some of ur video 2min previews and looking forward 2 become a member and watch all of them coz u have the knowledge + u r really a cool guy :-)
    and as i saw dusty has also videos there,perfect!! :-)

    oh,also,read the text above about how difficult the micros became (in the opinion of some people)..well...i dont know how it was 2004 or later coz i just started 2 take it seriously,but what i c every day is quite a bit different!!!
    i CANT BELIEVE how people play!!!whales or fish or regs (with 10 tbls open),i m shaking my head all the time,and the only problem i have is 2 stay calm with the many bad beats that happen all the time with bad players!!!(by the way,can u pls share how u deal with bad beats?i LOVED ur 'winning poker is most of the time a test in pain tolerance'!!!!!sooo true)
    like 3x 3betting with AK,he calls,Axx on flop,75% bet/call,x on turn 75% bet/call,6 on river,all in call with A6o!!!!!
    or regs calling a 5x JJ bet with 34s!!!!!,i hit trips on the flop plus 2 hearts,i bet big so he doesnt have the right pot odds 2 continue in case he has a flush draw,same on turn,he calls all the way through and a heart hits the river!!!or people reraise shoving my 7x with KTo!!!!
    its like u wrote in ur book,A CIRCUS!!!!!

    and as 2 table selection... i find always many tables with 30%+ VPIP,many times even 80%!!!
    so i cant really understand what people r complaining about,its like the AMAZON RAINFOREST JUNGLE at NL2 !!! lmao!!!!specially people from russia and brazil or china..myyyy oh myyyy...

    so if its like a jungle now,HOW WAS IT BACK IN 2004??!!!!!!LOL

    the only thing i c doesnt work so well r the 8x bets with AA/KK,or the 5x 3bets with AA/KK,they r almost always folding....what do u recommend,same tactics as in NL5? standard 4x EP/MP or 3x LP and 3x 3bet-2,5x 4bet or keep trying the big raises and reraises?

    i think the reason i still loose a lot on bad beats is coz i overvalue top pair or overpair,or draws,although i go with pot odds on the draws...
    but i didnt read yet ur postflop advice,i guess i will read that i bet 2 much with those hands,as i also played many more hands than u recommend,used more suited connectors also from early position,and many more hands u suggest for later positions..lost 15$ in 1 day playing my way,and then i tried urs and won 10$ or more in 2 days !!

    of course u might laugh about 10$ and 15$ profit and the 45$ i have now as a bankroll which i made in 1 week from 28cents,but hey,every1 had 2 start from the bottom,right? ;-)

    oh ,also.. usually people recommend playing suited connectors down to 54s but u say 64s,y is that?
    i used 2 play even 32s but then i read somewhere y its better 2 play only til 54s,coz u have 3 cards below 2 make ur straight,and it sounded logical 2 me,so i changed that...
    so y dont u play 54s but only 64s+

    i know...big message,many questions...
    if u have time and r willing 2 answer and help me out,it would b very nice :-)

    thx again for all ur help via ur book,and looking forward 2 buy ur new 1 when it comes out (when u think that will b?)

    PEACE....... :-)

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  15. Hi Dimi,

    Thanks for the kind words. Regarding the hand history chart in my book it looks like you got it right. When I say "78o" I mean 78o, 78s, 89o, 89s, 9To, 9Ts etc. Remember, don't take the chart too literally. It is just a suggestion. Yes, I steal a lot from the button and cutoff at these stakes, Q6s, raise it up! :)

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    Replies
    1. THX for ur reply! :-)

      ok,so that is clarified now,whenever its offsuit it means also same rank suited +

      but what is with the other way round?obviously there its a bit different,otherwise u wouldnt write AJs in MP1 and AJo in MP2....
      there its still pretty clear,i guess AJs+ is AQo+ plus AJs...

      ok,i just had a look at the hand chart u put online,this pic of poker stove with ur BTN range...
      as i studied it a bit i came 2 the conclusion that with suited+ it means for offsuit 1 rank higher,for example 56+ = 67o+ or 74s = 85o ,right?
      please correct me if i m wrong...

      and also,like u mentioned in ur answer above and in ur book,not 2 take it 2 literally,as in the example with the BTN Q6s raise,although chart says Q7s...
      whenever we feel 'danger' 2 tighten up a bit,and whenever we c 'green light' 2 open fire but without changing 2 much in 1 or the other direction,right?

      i actually do that with ur 3bet recommendations right now...
      although i like ur thought 2 3bet also with stuff like KJo suited aces,and i guess almost all broadways and suited no gappers,i m not doing it right now coz it backfired a few times,and 20 buy ins dont feel 2 good for me,i prefer dusty's 'conservative' 100 buy in strategy,so i tighten up at some spots like this 3bet range so i risk less til i get enough buy ins 2 feel more relaxed about it....

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    2. I am sorry but it is hard to follow your comment and where or what the questions is. Like I said when I say something like A8o+ I mean A8s as well and all aces both suited and unsuited above this.

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  16. I would love to play micro stakes poker but i cant find a site that will let me i live in the us (Alaska)
    is there any way i can play

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    1. Hey Corey go to www.pokerscout.com and you will see a listing of all online poker sites. The ones with the green check mark are USA friendly.

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