Every micro stakes player should have one goal: make enough money to move up in stakes.
But while many players find it easy to beat micro stakes games, they also find it very hard to break out of them.
Why is that?
The answer lies in a key detail some players neglect: the poker room’s rake policy. This “small” detail has a humongous impact on everyone’s bottom line.
Most poker rooms nowadays are taking around 8-12 big blinds (bb) for every 100 hands that you play at micro stakes. This means that if you were beating your opponents for 15bb per 100 hands, you’d actually only win around 5bb per 100 hands.
That’s a huge chunk of your winnings — gone.
That’s the challenge of micro stakes games. You don’t just need to beat the other players, you need to beat the house as well.
(Rake is much less of a concern in mid and high stakes games as rake impacts decrease in bigger games. For example, the rake at 500NL Zoom on Stars is around 4bb per 100 hands while at 2000NL it’s about 1bb per 100 hands.)
In this article, I am going to share with you 5 tips that will help you conquer the rake and break out of the micro stake once and for all!
1. Don’t obsess over the theoretically correct strategy
Studying game theory optimal strategies is an important aspect of learning poker. Doing so will help you default to a fundamentally sound strategy, and you’ll also better understand what makes a “good” play different from a “bad” play.
But that’s just step one.
Getting a good sense of game theory optimal play will put you ahead of most of your competition, but exploiting your opponents is typically what will help you break out of the micro stakes.
After getting a good sense of game theory optimal play, you are ready to advance to step two: exploitative strategy development. Exploiting your opponents is what will create separation between you and the other players that are trying to move up.
You can improve your exploitative ability by constantly looking out for situations in which your opponents are playing in an exploitable manner.
More specifically, this means looking for spots where they might be not calling with enough of their range against a certain bet size, or calling with too many marginal hands in other cases, or c-betting too frequently.
If you want to learn some specific ways to exploit certain types of opponents, here’s some further reading for you:
- How to Destroy Your Opponent After Seeing One Showdown
- How to Exploit 3 Different Types of Poker Players
- 5 Strategic Mistakes Poker Players Make (And How to Exploit Them)
2. Constantly work on your mental game
A strong mental game can give you a huge edge over your opponents.
I cannot stress this enough.
Knowing your strategy is one thing, but you also have to be able to execute in real time without getting in your own way.
There are many different ways that your mental game can negatively impact your win-rate: fear of failure, tilt, self-sabotaging thinking patterns, and more. These problems are incredibly common, and the poker community as a whole does not pay enough attention to them.
Poker is a game of investments, with monetary risk associated with every decision. These types of games put enormous pressure on your mind state through natural fluctuations called variance.
No matter how well you invest — whether it be in poker or the stock market — there will be upswings and downswings. Without the proper mindset in place, these fluctuations will make you feel like an absolute god one day (after winning) and the worst player in history the very next day (after losing). Even worse, one could bounce between these mindstates multiple times in a single day!
Since poker is a chaotic game, you can start to build a rigid structure around it and also within it. Doing so will help balance out the volatile nature of the game and give you the mental stability needed to perform at a very high level.
The easiest action you can take is to create a pre-session routine. Make a list of things that could impact your mental game, and create your own list of specific ways to counteract these influences. Examples of this can include:
- Taking care of personal needs.
- Addressing potential distractions.
- Putting your phone on do not disturb.
- Telling your significant other / roommates / kids that you will be unavailable.
- Turning off distracting pages in your web browser.
- Review aspects of your game you are working on.
- Meditate or exercise.
For more on warming up in poker, read The 3-Step Poker Warm-Up Routine.
3. Study (and exploit) your opponents tendencies
(This tip involves the use of database software and goes hand in hand with tip #1.)
You are not playing against a computer that uses near-perfect strategies. You are playing against other humans that are subjected to their own tendencies, biases, and mental game issues.
Since you are competing against other human players, you should study their tendencies and learn to exploit them.
In most cases, you won’t have a large enough sample on individual opponents to be able to deviate from your core strategy. You would typically need at least 1000 hands on a player to start making deviations.
But even if you don’t have 1000 hands on any players, you can study the overall stats of your player pool. This will help you understand the general mistakes made by the players in your games so you can exploit them.
Remember, if you want to have a high enough win-rate to climb the stakes, you need to be comfortable making adjustments and exploiting your opponents’ mistakes.
For more on this topic, read How to Get Max Value from Database Software.
4. Tighten your preflop calling ranges
You have to play tighter preflop in micro stakes games, particularly when it comes to calling raises and re-raises. This is because the high rake decreases your pot odds.
In the hand below from one of Doug Polk’s Play & Explain videos in the Upswing Lab, he raises 8♦ 6♦ from UTG and makes a disciplined fold despite getting 2.35 to 1 odds on a call.
But is he really getting 2.35 to 1? No, because the site on which Doug is playing takes 5% from the pot (capped at $3) once the flop comes. The pot would be $3.35 if he were to call, meaning the site would take about $0.16.
So, Doug’s true odds to call are more like 2.2 to 1 (even lower if you consider the fact that more rake will be taken if the pot grows).
Making the call here could be fine in a game with lower rake, but that extra premium pushes it over the edge here.
Anytime you’re considering calling a raise, 3-bet, or 4-bet in a micro stakes game, remember to factor in rake and play a bit tighter.
5. Only play when there’s a bad player at the table
This is the best decision you can make if you really want to break out of the micro stakes…
You need to have a very big losing player at your table if you want to have a high enough win-rate after the rake.
Even if you’re better than all of the other regulars, you simply won’t be able to achieve huge win-rates unless you have a whale at every table that you play.
It is very easy to spot a whale…
We’re talking about players who try to see every other flop…
…or players who raise to weird sizes that just don’t make sense in any circumstances…
…or players who barely seem to understand the rules, let alone basic strategy.
If you don’t play with a whale, the rake impacts at micro stakes will cause you to suffer excruciating downswings much more often. That’s the difference that a very weak player’s presence can make.
Table select, table select, table select!
It’s one hell of a ride (literally) to get out of the micro stakes. But once you do it, you will hopefully never look back. It will take time and effort and really a lot of emotional hurdles, but it’s worth it. This is not a game for the faint of heart!
Want more micro stakes strategy? Read 8 Proven Strategies for Micro Stakes Games.
Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!
Note: Are you ready to improve your poker skills and increase your earnings? Access the strategies and preflop ranges of top poker pros when you join the Upswing Lab training course. Learn more now!