PokerListings.com and Microstakes master Nathan “BlackRain79″ Williams have teamed up for the definitive series on beating microstakes poker.
Combining material 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 it in the comments on any article in the series or email webmaster (at) pokerlistings.com. Analysis and answers will appear every month.
Catch up with Parts 1 and 2 of our Pre-Flop Guide and Part 2 of the Post-Flop Guide here, here and here.
By Paul Verheij
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 Importance of Initiative
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.
Planning 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 BlackRain’s ebook.
Since our goal here isn’t writing a complete book here are just some rough guidelines:
Betting Lines 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Conclusions for Hand Planning
By planning a hand in advance and thinking of how big of a pot you want to play, the best betting lines, the type of your opponents and your bet sizes, you will definitely have an easier time post-flop.
There won’t be many surprises either since most of the situations you’ve already thought through.
You also will make fewer mistakes, since you will have a plan in advance and if the situation develops differently you won’t be alarmed and play a hand only to think afterwards “hey, I actually didn’t want to play a big pot with this hand.”
Again: the foundation for an easier post-flop game is a solid pre-flop game.
Although we’ve already talked about later streets there is one subject worth discuss ing 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:
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.
Three Essential Takeaways for the Microstakes
You already have 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.
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.
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.
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!
How to Beat Microstakes Poker: Pre-Flop Strategy Part 1 How to Beat Microstakes Poker: Pre-Flop Strategy Part 2 How to Beat Microstakes Poker: Post-Flop Strategy Part 1
Questions and/or hands for analysis are welcome in the comments below. Purchase BlackRain79’s groundbreaking book Crushing the Microstakes right here.