A very simple TAG strategy plus a little bit of table selection and tilt control is easily enough to still get big results in today's games especially at the lowest stakes.
But most people defeat themselves mentally before they ever get a chance to see the success that is easily within their grasp. In this article I am going to list 15 mental tips for the micros that will get you thinking like the top winners do.
1. Embrace the Madness!
I used to tell people with a straight face that I have probably taken more bad beats than anyone in the history of poker. I don't think that this is true anymore. But the reason that I was able to make this outrageous claim was because at the time I had probably played more hands of poker at the lowest stakes than any one else in history.
You know, the stakes where you see some of the wackiest stuff on earth all the time.
- Chase that gutshot!
- Flush draw or straight draw? We be calling the whole way!
- Middle pair? Bottom Pair? You crazy!? I can't fold that!
However, at the same time, this is also the reason why the top winners at these stakes are able to sport such ludicrously high win rates. The math works the other way too. You see, most of the time when your opponents are chasing their ridiculous draws, they actually miss.
Our brains are hard-wired though to only focus on the few times that they hit. We conveniently forget about all of the times when our opponent ends up whiffing on whatever nonsense they were chasing and we end up winning the pot.
Yes, these kinds of players can be extremely frustrating to play against at times. But this is precisely why the micros are so profitable! You have to simply learn to embrace the madness.
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2. The Money Doesn't Really Matter
One of the great things about the micros is that if you have a bad day then you lose a few movie tickets or a nice dinner for two. At high stakes if you have a bad day then you could lose a luxury vacation, a car or even a house.
The money doesn't really matter to most people at the micros. Everybody hates to lose but is it really worth losing your mind over $20? How about $50?
You are going to have losing days in poker. It doesn't matter how good you are. The sooner that you start distancing yourself from viewing the chips as "money", the better off that you will be. And at the micros, this is extremely easy, because the amounts involved are often trivial.
But more importantly, and no matter what limit you are playing, you should learn to view the chips for what they really are, big blinds or simply capital in your business. They are just a convenient way of keeping score like points in a video game.
When you put them back into your bank account, then you can start thinking about them as actual money again.
3. Setbacks Will Happen
Everybody has to deal with downswings in poker. This is basically a period during which you are consistently not making good hands and you are getting coolered and taking bad beats much more often than normal.
There is no rhyme or reason behind when a downswing occurs. The same goes for their length and intensity.
Unfortunately there are many people out there who could have been great players but they faced a period of intense bad luck at the very beginning of their poker career and it was too much for them to handle. This is especially difficult because they had no experience in dealing with it.
On the flip side, how many times have we heard about the high stakes players of today who hit a huge heater to start their career? A huge HU session versus some particular fish. Or they got lucky and hit a big score in a tournament to jump start their bankroll.
Variance (both good and bad) happens to everybody and there is no telling when it will occur. There is a never a good time for a downswing and we will always feel like the heater is simply something that we are owed.
It is better to just stop thinking about it so much. The randomness of variance in poker is never something that will be in your control.
4. Don't Pay Attention to Your EV Adjusted Winnings
Poker tracking programs such as Pokertracker 4 and Hold'em Manager 2 include a little stat called "EV adjusted winnings". This is basically supposed to tell you what your results would be if you had "normal luck".
There are so many problems with this idea that I don't even know where to begin. However, I don't want to get off on a tangent here.
The bottom line (and why I suggest that you remove this stat completely) is that it will never do anything good for your mentality at the tables. In fact it will only ever produce negative thoughts.
The reason why is that if the EV results are higher than your actual results, then you will use this as proof that you are cursed, it must be rigged etc. If the EV results are lower than your actual results though, then you will feel like you are just getting lucky and reality will eventually come crashing down.
Do yourself a favor and don't pay any attention to this stat at all. The only thing that actually matters are your real results.
5. You Have to Build the Pot For Them
Most micro stakes players are passive. That is, they don't really like to make aggressive actions unless they have a really strong hand. They would rather just limp along or call unless they have the nuts.
This is not the key to winning poker. But it is the Friday night home game mentality that most of us grew up with. And it is also the style of play that we often see in Hollywood depictions of the game.
So this leads many players at the micros into thinking that they have to slow-play their big hands. After all, they don't want to "scare them off" by betting too much!
The reality though is that many micro stakes players love to call if they have anything remotely decent. This is why you are doing yourself a huge disservice by not betting your good hands. I basically wrote an entire book about this very topic.
The biggest mental hurdle here is once again short-sighted thinking. It is focusing too much attention on the times that they folded and conveniently forgetting about all of the times when they called.
The key to changing this mentality is understanding that most of the time when they fold it is because they simply had nothing. There is no amount of slow-playing in the world that you can do to make somebody call when they have 7 high, no draw.
Micro stakes players love to call a lot. But they are not going to call you with two napkins! They have to have something.
Most of the time in this game nobody really has anything good. So the next time you have aces, make a bet, they fold and you curse BlackRain79 for it please remember this:
You did the right thing. You didn't "scare them out". They just didn't have anything to pay you off with this time.
6. Just Play the Game
I learned how to win big at the micros largely by just playing the game. When I started playing online poker 10 years ago there were no websites like the one that you are reading right now, there were no modern books on the game, training video sites were not invented yet and forums were in their infancy.
So I basically just dove in and started playing millions and millions of hands. With a lot of self-study as well (poker session reviews and database reviews) I eventually learned from my mistakes and became a top winner.
Fast forward to today and I get emails from people telling me that they play NL2 and have been studying GTO poker math for a year. This is simply crazy.
Studying the game is not a bad thing, don't get me wrong. But as mentioned before, all you really need to beat the micros (especially the lower end) is a simple TAG strategy and the right mental approach.
You don't need to spend years studying complex poker math and high level game theory in order to beat NL2 or even NL25. You just need to log on to [poker site name here], find some fish and start playing the game.
7. There is No Such Thing as a Crying Call
One of the biggest breakthroughs that I ever had at the micros was when I learned where the fold button is.
So many people at these stakes will call down no matter what because "they have to". Because if he has it, "then it is just a cooler". No and no.
You don't have to do anything in poker and there is no such thing as a crying call, only a bad call.
If a passive opponent is getting aggressive especially on the later streets (turn and river), then it is very likely that they have exactly what they are representing. You can go ahead and call and keep getting shown the nuts.
Or, you can choose to change this way of thinking and make the "sick fold". The truth is that these folds will no longer seem sick to you once you get used to making them on a regular basis. And your win rate will love you for it.
8. AA and KK are Just One Pair
One of the most common reasons that micro stakes players cannot make the fold is because they get married to a big pair. When people complain about running bad one of the first things that they usually mention is how their aces got cracked [insert number of times in a row here].
A lot of people seem to think that just because they got dealt AA or KK that they have a license to print money. That is faulty thinking.
These two hands in particular are indeed the two best starting hands in the game. And yes they don't come around very often (about 220 to 1).
However, they are also just one pair. It is very important to remember this.
At the micros, where you are often dealing with large multi-way pots, your actual equity before seeing the flop could sometimes even be less than 50%.
|Equity with AA before the flop versus a couple random suited hands|
9. Nobody Gets Rich at the Micros
I have written a few articles before on this blog about how much money you can make at the micros (this one for instance). These have now actually become some of the most popular posts in the history of this website.
This just goes to show how many people suffer from results oriented thinking. This is exactly the sort of thing that I actually tried to warn against in both of those articles!
Nobody gets rich at the micros.
The micros are where you should be focused on getting a solid grasp of the fundamentals and starting to think about how to outplay a few of the better thinking regs. They are not a place to plan your future retirement. They are not really a place where you should even be thinking about making a living.
If your expenses are extremely low though and you live in a country with a low cost of living then many people have and will continue to "go pro" at these stakes. I did it so I would be a hypocrite to blame others for doing the same.
But this should not be your primary motivation. If your main reason for getting into poker is to make money then your time would likely be better spent elsewhere.
The money does not come fast or easy in this game. Play poker because you love it. Work hard, study hard, and then and only then, will the money start to come.
10. Embrace the Grind
As mentioned success in poker does not come fast. In today's games it often takes most people a couple of years to start making really decent money. This is if you want to use proper bankroll management and learn the game the right way.
You will have many unsuccessful attempts at moving up along the way which will force you to move back down and grind back what you lost as well. It's boring, it sucks and there is definitely no get rich quick scheme here.
The real key to success and moving up the limits is a consistent work ethic. Most people operate better with a set schedule in place. So you should have specific times each day when you sit down and play. If you want to take a day or two off a week then that is up to you.
However, if climbing up the ranks and making some real money in this game is something that is a priority for you then you should ideally make some time to play every single day.
11. Don't Listen to the Know-It-Alls
You will see them at the tables. Turn the chat off. You will see them on the forums. Limit your time on forums. These are the people who think they know everything there is to know about the game and if you don't play "the right way" according to them, then they will let you know about it.
Pay them no attention. You need to develop your own style of play at the tables within a TAG or a LAG framework.
There are many ways to skin a cat at the micros. There is no correct CBet% or 3Bet% for instance. You will see big winners with widely varying ranges on both of these stats at all levels of the micros.
Simply put, do what works for you at the tables and don't listen to anybody who has a problem with it. There have been countless cases of successful innovators in poker who the know-it-alls made fun of. Within a few years they were copying them.
Results are the only thing that matters.
12. Play the Cards, Not the Player
While timing tells and betting patterns do exist in online poker for the most part you should just focus on playing your own cards especially at the lowest stakes. Most of your opponents are not thinking on any kind of deeper level and many of the regs are playing on a lot of tables at once.
When they fight back they aren't picking on you out of the blue. And when you can't get them to fold it is usually because they have something decent. Don't resort to FPS (fancy play syndrome) and try to emulate your favorite TV poker hero.
Your 9th level thinking will not work against a nitty 12 tabling reg at NL5. Nor will it work against a recreational player who won't fold bottom pair to save his life. They will just call you down anyways and you will become even more tilted.
Keep things simple at these stakes. Save the fancy stuff for higher limits.
13. Learn to Quit
One of the best things that you can do immediately for your win rate at the micros is to learn to recognize the signs of tilt and quit right away.
You have to learn to remove your ego and accept when it is simply not your day. Many people bury themselves in this game by continuing to play and chase losses while playing their C, D or F game.
This is something that took me an incredibly long time to learn and it might for you as well if you are an extremely competitive person.
But you have to remember that the game will always be there tomorrow. Your goal should always be to make sure that you are on your A game as much of the time as possible when at the tables.
So this is why the reverse is also true. Learn how to extend your sessions when things are going well and you are on top of your game. Don't get into the "protect your winnings" mentality because that is just as much of an illusion.
Make playing your best at all times your goal and the results will follow.
14. Focus on Hands Played and Rakeback Goals
If you look back through the crazy history of this blog for many years all I posted was how many hands I played that day along with my goals for the month and rakeback.
I realized that I cannot control the crazy variance that comes with this game on a day to day, week to week or even month to month level.
This is why I choose instead to focus on numbers and data which I do have control over. If I want to play 100k hands in a month then I can calculate how many hands a day that I have to play in order to achieve that goal.
The same goes for rakeback which is basically money at the end of the day. If you want to achieve a rakeback goal then find out what it takes to get there and go make it happen.
Don't waste your time focusing on what you don't control, monetary goals. Sometimes you will be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes you will be disappointed. There is no point in stressing over it.
15. Have Fun
We all started playing poker for fun. Well, most of us anyways. It should always remain that way. The day that poker becomes an endless grind for you and there is no pleasure in it is the day that you should take a break and consider your future with the game.
The people who have the most success in poker are typically the ones who seem to always be at the tables. They are there because they love to play. And if you love something then you will be much more motivated to improve.
Always keep it lighthearted especially when fighting your way through the madness that is the micros. You will win some, you will lose some. Work hard on your game but always remember that it is just that, a game.
Follow your passion for it and the results and the money will follow.