It’s hard to miss the fact that the last two winners of the World Series of Poker were not poker playersprofessionals and the fact that Chris Moneymaker (2003) and Greg Raymer (2004) are online players. It’s no surprise that online poker is exploding. With so many new players out there giving online poker a punch it’s madness to eat for skilled players, or even players with a modest amount of skill. Most of these beginners start at the lowest limit tables until they either explode or improve their skills and make enough money to move to higher limit tables. Even if you’re a veteran of Friday night’s house dealer choice poker game, you’ll most likely have to change your playing style to win consistently online. But don’t be afraid,
So for all the new limit Texas Hold ‘Em players looking to increase their chances of winning at the lowest level of the low limit tables, or micro limit tables, I’ve put together some very basic tips that will help you to win consistently. This tip will work for most online tables with a limit of $0.50/$1.00 and lower. There are several online poker rooms with micro limits as low as $0.05 / $0.10, which is an excellent limit to hone your skills.
It’s important to realize that strategies vary for different limits, due to the amount of money involved and the general skills of the players at the table. Micro limit poker has some interesting dynamics and culture due to the fact that the amount wagered at all times is not a lot of money for most online players. It stands to reason that most players play at these low limits because they are either beginners trying to gain experience or they are in a limited bankroll. Many of the significant cultural differences between the micro-boundaries and the higher table limits can be broken down into these key observations. (Throughout this article I will be using common abbreviations to represent cards. AK means, of course, an ace and a king. T8 means ten and 8. QJ means queen of the jacks match, whereas QJo means the queen jack is matched. Kx means king and cards are not important to the hand. The common term used is connector, which means the cards are connected in ranks, such as 76 or T9.)
Usually 50% or more of the players at a table will pay to see the flop when the table is full. This is partly due to the very low limit that causes many players to always call the blind because it doesn’t cost too much; it’s low risk. Another reason is that these micro limit tables have more players with lower skill levels. Often call with bad scratch cards when they need to be folded.
Raising preflop does little to keep players away. Players who have not contributed to the pot can still call, although they may not. Players who have been summoned will usually not fold once they are raised. The single raise preflop doesn’t do much except to increase the pot size, which is great if you have a strong hand.
Very few players fold Axes (aces and low cards). Untrained players also like to hold hands where they have paint (face cards).
After the deal there are 20 hole cards (10 players x 2 cards). Probability says that there are about 1.5 of each card rank. There will be 1.5 Aces, 1.5 Kings, 1.5 Queens, etc.
An unskilled player will hold two matching cards in hopes of a flush, even something as bad as 72.
Unskilled players will call into the river with a weak partner no matter what.
Now that the observations are out of the way, I can proceed with the strategy of how to win playing at these micro limit tables.
The goal here is to go into the flop with a strong position or fold. Do you want to be a gambler or a poker player? There is a difference and playing nothing but strong hands preflop makes you a gambler. Unless you get a good deck of cards, you should fold preflop 60-70% of the time.
1. Fold all but strong hands preflop. The strong hands are pairs, AK, AQ, AJ, AT, Axs, KQ, plus a perfectly matched connector. The more players who see the flop, the lower your chances of winning. So if you are going to put money in the pot, put it in when you have a strong hand. The exception is when you can summon a large pot. For example, if you are in the small blind and everyone calls you there will be 19 small blinds in the pot (big blind and 8 big blind calls = 18 small blinds, plus your original small blind). That means you get a 19:1 chance of calling the bet with one additional small size bet. Whenever you can get a big chance like that preflop, you can play anything, if you want.
2. Don’t protect your blinds. If you’re in the small blind or the big blind and you don’t have a strong hand don’t call a raise. Too many players in the blinds will call for a raise because they’ve invested in the blinds. But since most players like to limp in (call the big blind) preflop, a raise is a good indication that the player is sitting on a strong hand, such as an AK or pocket pair.
3. If you have a very strong hand preflop, raise it. First of all, if you are really chasing a player or two with a raise then your chances of winning with a strong hand have increased. Second, strong hands have a good chance of winning the pot, so you want to get the pot as big as possible. Third, you show strength, which can help you catch up to players later on.
So now you have managed to hit the flop with a strong hand. Did failure help or hurt you? Arguably there isn’t much in between because with five or more players seeing the flop there’s bound to be someone who benefits from the flop, and if someone else benefits and you don’t, then the flop hurts you.
4. Know what hand drawing is. For example, a draw or straight draw means that you need one card to complete a flush or straight. Many unskilled players make the mistake that requiring two cards to complete your hand is a draw. This is called a runner-up draw, and is not a draw. If that’s all you get then you have to fold, otherwise you can usually call when you have a drawing card. For example, you have KQo and failure is JT5. You are sitting in an open straight draw where an A or 9 will give you a straight. You can bet or call with this hand, but be very careful about raising raises. The reason has to do with the odds of making your hand and the amount in the pot, which is called the pot odds. There are many good poker books that explain the details of pot odds, but as a quick example, in the case of your open straight draw there are 8 invisible cards (four aces and four nines) that will make your hand and there are 47 invisible cards total (52 minus 2 on your hand minus the flop). Your odds of getting a straight line are 8/47, or about 6 to 1 so you won’t get a straight line. So for you to call a bet or raise, the pot (which includes the bet in front of you) when you call must be at least 6 times the call amount. But it’s not easy, because you really have two chances of getting a straight, on the turn and on the river, so look forward to your odds increasing to 3 to 1 against. If you do not succeed in turn, then your odds jump back to about 6 to 1 against. (Pot odds are a very important part of winning poker, and I suggest that as you clear at the micro limit tables you read a good poker book in preparation for moving up to higher limits. At the end of this article I list some of the better ones. )
5. Know what a raise is. A raise check is when a player has a good hand, for example a set (three of a kind) after the flop and he checks in hopes that someone will bet so he can raise to get more money in the pot. Micro players limit play overplay raises. Most of the time a player checking for a raise in the micro limit has a good hand and they want to exploit it, but here is a tip for you that you should probably fold. You should check raises if appropriate, but mix up your play or you will be seen as predictable and will have a hard time moving the pot.
6. Know what slow play is. Slow play is when a player has a chance of winning but calls or checks the call, trying to keep as many players as possible, hoping they make what they believe to be a win. Time and again a player will slow down the game on the flop and turn around, but then spawn a trap on the river where many players won’t fold after coming this far. For example, you have AKo and the failure is QJT. You’ve made the best peanut-handled so far. You can slow down this game by checking or calling hoping the player stays logged in. If you raise then the better players will probably keep you straight and can fold. What you would expect is that one or two other players have paired up or maybe someone has a 9 for an open straight draw. If the table checks around the flop then consider betting on the turn, otherwise you can continue slow play on the turn and then on the river spawn a trap. Some players will think you made you turn over a river card and maybe they will think they beat you. On the other side of the coin, now that you know about slow play, try to identify if others are playing slow and avoid traps. Look for the scary board. If the board has three, and especially four, the pot connector will most likely be won consecutively. Three or four cards of the same suit may indicate a flush will win the bet. If the board has three, and especially four, the pot connector will most likely be won consecutively. Three or four cards of the same suit may indicate a flush will win the bet. If the board has three, and especially four, the pot connector will most likely be won consecutively. Three or four cards of the same suit may indicate a flush will win the bet. pot connectors are most likely to be won consecutively. Three or four cards of the same suit may indicate a flush will win the bet. pot connectors are most likely to be won consecutively. Three or four cards of the same suit may indicate a flush will win the bet.
7. Don’t fall in love with the little pocket pair. You will see pros on TV betting their small pairs as a strong hand. But, you have to remember that small pairs are really only strong in heads up (1 on 1) games, which is often the case when you observe high stakes games. A 22 vs AK is sometimes referred to as a coin toss, meaning that the odds are nearly equal to winning. But if you have 5 players who are going to see the flop then pocket 2s are not that strong as it is likely that any of the other 4 players will draw a pair on the flop, turn, or river. Feel free to call to see the flop, but if you don’t get a set, don’t be shy about folding. Lee Jones in his excellent book “Winning Low Limit Texas Hold Em” says that you have to find reasons to fold. I interpret this to mean, in this case,
8. Don’t assume it’s just because the table checks that no one has anything. Many players are embarrassed to bet when they have a middle pair. For example, a player has K7o and the flop is A74. He may be afraid to bet on his middle pair of sevens because he is afraid of someone hitting an ace. Usually this player will check/call through the river in the hope that his partner can survive. Also, some unskilled players are so afraid to say their hands that they will check when they pair on the flop or turn. For example, a player has AK and the flop is K75. He checks and calls, if necessary, because he is afraid that if he gets aggressive he will tell everyone he is paired with the king.
9. Be aggressive when you have a drawable hand. Continuing with the example above, suppose you have an AK with a K75 flop. The thing is, even though a pair of kings with aces kicks is a strong hand, if you let the other 4 or 5 players stand by checking there’s a good chance that you’ll be pulled back. What if one of the unskilled players is called preflop with Q2o, even though it’s a weak hand? Now, if everyone checks around after the flop, then Q2o with a K75 flop has absolutely nothing, but can see the turn because no one has bet. Now it’s Q’s turn and suddenly Q2o likes his hand. You still have the beat, now he’ll probably pay to see the river, especially since no one bets on the flop king. Now the river is 2 and your king pair is defeated by two pairs.
10. Find out clearly from the caller. Many times in these micro limit games you will see the table check past the early position players and some late position players to bet, then early position players call the bet; they check-call after failure. Then in turn one of the initial checkers bets. Why? After failing this player is checked then bets are called by the player in the next position. More often than not, players who bet on the previous round will bet on the next round. When the previous player bets after his turn when he checks after the flop usually says that he made his hand. Look at the blackboard. Many times this player has just made a straight or a flat. Players get excited and want to bet,
11. Don’t be afraid to put your hands down. So many unskilled players will play two pairs, trips, or even straights when they have to put it down. Suppose you have a straight but there are four clubs on the board and none in your hand. Is it possible for another player to have a flush? Is there someone at the table betting on the 4 clubs on the board? You may have to lay down straight when someone is betting like they are watering it. I know this is hard to do, especially if the nut is straight, but more often than not, a flush is made.
12. Bluffing rarely works within the micro limits. This is for several reasons. One, many players will play weak hands in hopes of getting the pot. Often times you will see a player calling all through the river and all they have is a low pair. It is very difficult to get these players to lay down their weak hands. Another reason is that there may be players who want to keep you honest. Maybe they had called all the way down the river on the draw, not making their draw, but decided that since they got this far, it was just one more bet to keep you honest. Cliff sparingly and do it right.
13. Don’t be the one to call just to keep other players honest. Many players realize that bluffing doesn’t work very often within the micro limits so it’s used sparingly. Yes, once in a while you will catch a player bluffing, but you will lose more than you win.
14. Know when to bluff. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. Suppose you have played a fast drawing hand to try to drive someone else away. You have AKo and you raised preflop correctly. The flop is 754. Most of the time players will remember your preflop raise and check around for you. You can check for free turn cards, letting all the preflop callers see their turn as well, or you can bet because you have two very strong overcards. You should bet on the flop because you tend to get a few players to fold before the turn. Now in turn you are still unpaired and everyone checks on you and now you have the same decision, check free river cards or bet to show strength. You have to bet in most cases. Let’s recap. You raise preflop and bet on the flop and turn. It’s a semi-bluff because you don’t have a hand except for aces high and if someone pairs then you’re dead, but you can still make your aces or kings on the river, which might end up being the winning hand. Repeated displays of your strength up to this point can throw someone else out or maybe one or two players follow you to the river. Now the river comes and you still haven’t paired your aces or kings. As a beginner, your instincts might be to check because you didn’t make a hand, but it would be a mistake if one of the other players was sitting on a low pair. Your only chance of winning is by bluffing the pot, and since you’ve shown strength along a weak pair, you may be in for a stronger hand and fold, giving you the pot. You will probably lose as many pots as you win when this happens, but if there are multiple callers along the way, the pots you win will usually outweigh your losses on the others. It’s worth it at this point to put in one more bet to try to steal the pot, because otherwise you might end up losing the pot for sure unless other players can’t beat the high ace. Also when you check on the river after showing strength it tells that you are playing a draw and not making your hand,
15. Observe other players. Pay attention to their playing style. Is there a call station? It was a player who would call almost every bet down the river hoping to catch something, anything. These guys can suck you in (beating your good hand by making their hand in the river) from time to time, but in the long run they will lose. You can take advantage of these players, but don’t let it tilt you when it upsets you, because it will. Are there loose aggressive players? This player will play anything aggressively. He will consistently improve, be given a chance, and will drag some big pots, but playing loose is not going to win in the long run. Are there any shy players? This is common at the micro limit as there are a lot of new players. This player will check the call with a good hand. You won’t believe your eyes when you see this guy dragging a small pot with a full house. Shy players are a problem in a way because it’s hard to read about them. On the other hand, by showing strength, many times you can make this player fold, even though you shouldn’t. Are there any tight players? This player will only play good hands preflop and will often fold post flop when the odds of making his hand are not supported by the size of the pot. This player can go showdown only 10% -15% of the time. These are the worst players for you because they are your best competition, the type of players you should have, at all levels of Limit Hold ‘Em. many times you can make this player fold, even though you shouldn’t. Are there any tight players? This player will only play good hands preflop and will often fold post flop when the odds of making his hand are not supported by the size of the pot. This player can go showdown only 10% -15% of the time. These are the worst players for you because they are your best competition, the type of player you should have, at all levels of Limit Hold ‘Em. many times you can make this player fold, even though you shouldn’t. Are there any tight players? This player will only play good hands preflop and will often fold post flop when the odds of making his hand are not supported by the size of the pot. This player can go showdown only 10% -15% of the time.
Your next step is to learn about pot odds and playing situations. I believe you can win at the micro limit tables with the tips I mention here but to go beyond the micro limit you will need additional skills, so if you want to play, pull up a seat at the micro limit tables and have some fun. In the meantime, pick up one of these books, which are great for learning Hold low Em.
“Winning Low Limit Hold ‘Em” oleh Lee Jones
“Hold ‘Em Excellence” oleh Lou Krieger
“The Complete Book of Hold ‘Em Poker” by Gary Carson