Micro Stakes Cash Games (No-Limit Hold’em)

When you decide to play for real money it’s advisable to start out in the micro stakes cash games. In no-limit/pot-limit hold’em, micro stakes are generally considered to be stakes of $0.01/$0.02 to $0.05/$0.10. This means you’re only sitting down at the table with anywhere from $1 to $10. Some people would also include $25NL ($0.10/$0.25 blinds) as micro stakes, while others would consider it as ‘low stakes’. It’s not really important how we label the games, but just remember – there’s no shame in starting out in the micro or low limit stakes. Here’s why…

Online Poker Ring Games are Tougher to Beat than Live Games

It’s generally accepted that online cash games are much tougher to beat than there live equivalents. In a casino you’ll usually find no-limit hold’em cash games starting with $1/$2 blinds ($200NL). It might surprise you to know that the standard of play at a $200NL live game is probably the equivalent of $10NL online. Of course this will vary depending upon where you play live, but there’s no shame in playing micro stakes when you play poker online. The skill level at low and medium stakes online is usually very high, and you shouldn’t jump straight into them without learning how to beat the micro stakes first.

2NL & 5NL$2NL & $5NL Cash Games

The $0.01/$0.02 no-limit tables ($2NL) generally have a minimum buy-in of $1.00, and tend to be similar to the play money tables, where most people don’t take the games seriously. For most people it’s hard to get excited about winning a few cents. This is also true in the $5NL, but to a lesser extent. Your aim at these levels should be to learn the basics of cash game poker. You’ll find lots of really terrible players in these micro-limit games, with lots of wild and crazy play. The optimum strategy is to play a tight game – the tighter the better. Most players will spend a lot of time chasing every kind of draw in existence. Stick to playing ABC poker and you should find these games easy to beat.

10NL$10NL Cash Games

When you move up the $10NL games you’ll find people begin to take the games a little more seriously. The standard of play is higher, and while there are regulars who know what they’re doing – there are still plenty of terrible players, who will provide the bulk of your profits. At this level you’ll find players are more aggressive post flop, and you should pay more attention to position. You’ll need to step up the aggression – but the real keys to success are betting for value, and targeting the fish. By playing a solid game you should start building your poker bankroll and learning the fundamentals of value betting.

25NL$25NL Cash Games

At this level things get tougher, as you’d expect. There are more solid regulars who will make more advanced plays (such as floating flops) and the level of aggression is considerably higher. Don’t worry, there’s still enough fish to go around – but you’ll have to ensure that you’re winning at $10NL before you consider moving up to $25NL. The weaknesses in your game will be exploited by the better players if you’re not careful. Understanding the importance of position and isolating the fish will serve you well. Your post flop skills will be far more important at $25NL too.

Micro Stakes Strategy Tips

If you have problems with folding and chasing bad draws yourself, then you will just blend in with the majority and be a net loser. Here are some general strategy tips for being a winner at micro stakes cash games:

  • Value bet religiously. Size your bets appropriately, for maximum value.
  • Target the weak players – they are where your profits will come from.
  • Assume your opponents are decent players, until proven otherwise.
  • Make sure you’re playing on a good table – or find a new one.
  • Avoid marginal situations and making ‘hero calls’.
  • Be very selective in your starting hand selection.
  • Always pay attention to the value of position.
  • Don’t be afraid to fold. It’s usually correct.
  • Avoid calling too much. Folding is usually better.
  • Players won’t play back at you with nothing.
  • Don’t try and bluff any fish. They’ll call.
  • Pay attention to pot odds and avoid chasing.
  • Only use implied odds if you believe you’ll get paid.
  • Avoid slow playing strong hands and fancy play syndrome.
  • Don’t go on tilt! If you find yourself tilting, get up and leave.

Take the Micro Stakes Games Seriously

You might think that you’re above playing at these stakes. If you find yourself thinking that it is only 10 cents, then you are going to be a loser. It is important to forget about the money and think about winning. Keep track of your wins and losses, just as you would if you were playing for thousands of dollars. If you are taking poker seriously, then you are going to have some sort of goal to move up to higher stakes. It isn’t tough to beat micro stakes if you play with discipline.

Forget Results, Make Decisions

One of the best things you can do is to avoid worrying about the results, and instead concentrate on making the correct decisions. You will have cash game sessions where you make good decisions but lose money, simply because of bad luck. There will also be times where you make poor decisions, but get lucky with your results. Be happier when you make good decisions and avoid being results orientated. One way to do this is to use the auto top-up feature (i.e. your chip stack reloads automatically any time it falls below the maximum buy-in) and pay no attention to your profits/losses until the end of each session. This will also have the added bonus of helping you avoid the effects of tilt.

Knowing When to Move Up

There are many factors that will determine whether you’re ready to move up in limits. The first thing you need to do is learn the basics of online poker cash games. Do this at the limits you’re comfortable with, and work on building a bankroll. Many poker players make the mistake of having a nice run of luck and moving up too quickly. They then lose their bankroll because their run was just variance at work. You need to gain experience at each level before you even consider moving up. Assess your win rate over a period of at least 10,000 hands – which might sound a lot, but it won’t take you long. If you’re a winner after 10,000 hands, and you have the required bankroll (see online poker cash game basics) then consider moving up. Until then, work on your improving poker skills.

The Cost of Doing Business – Beating the Rake

There is a cost involved in playing poker – it’s called the rake. This is the ’service charge’ that online poker rooms take from each pot in cash games (and the fee for tournaments). If you want to be a profitable poker player, then you not only have to beat your opponents – you also need to beat the rake. You should be aware that micro stakes cash games are generally raked at a higher percentage per pot than higher limit games. Over time this can add up to a considerable amount of money. The good news is you can get a percentage of the rake returned to you, at some online poker rooms. See our online poker rakeback page for more details – and make sure you’re getting rakeback if it’s available at your chosen poker room. It will make a big difference to your bottom line!

In the next part of this online poker guide, we’ll discuss the differences between short handed cash games and full ring games – two very different cash game formats!