9 Key Beginner Mistakes at Low Stakes (And How to Fix Them)
I have been playing, teaching, and writing about “micro” and low stakes online poker ($0.01/$0.02 to $0.25/$0.50) for a long time now. I have played millions of hands at these stakes and had huge success.
I don’t say this to brag. After all, nobody gets rich playing at these stakes. I say this because it gives me a unique perspective on why many people do not achieve the results that they hope for in these games.
In this article I am going to discuss nine common mistakes I see newer players making at the micros and low stakes and explain how to fix them.
1. Playing Too Many Hands
If you play too many trashy hands you will never win big in this game. You will simply lose to a better hand too often. And at these lowest stakes it is very difficult to bluff people off of their hands.
This is why I typically suggest you aim to play 20% of your hands at a six-handed table and 15% at a nine-handed one. If you are considerably above either of these numbers, then it would be a good idea to start folding a few of the crappier hands in your range preflop.
2. Playing Too Few Hands
The other extreme (which I actually see much more often these days) is people not playing enough hands. You see them everywhere at the lowest stakes. They are on a ton of different tables and they are literally waiting for the nuts on every single one of them.
The problem with this strategy is you end up having your blinds stolen all day and also getting pushed around by light three-bets. Then when you finally wake up with a big hand, people will be less likely to give you action.
If this is you, then you should consider adding some more speculative hands such as suited connectors, suited aces, and weaker Broadways to your range, especially when you are in position.
3. Slow Playing
Many beginners at the micros frequently choose to get tricky with their big hands by slow playing them. This is often because they have seen their heroes on TV doing this at a big money tournament final table against highly aggressive players.
The problem with this strategy is that micro stakes online cash games have absolutely nothing in common with big money live tournament final tables full of top pros. On the contrary, most of your opponents will be passive weak players who will happily call you down with poor hands, especially since the money is so insignificant to them.
You do not have to get tricky against these types of players. You simply have to build a pot when you make a hand by betting. In other words, the totally obvious or straightforward play is typically the best strategy.
4. Not Recognizing the Importance of Initiative
One of the biggest keys to your success at any stakes is simply being the one in control. The reason why is because when you have the initiative in the hand you give yourself more ways to win the pot.
When you are calling you have to rely on the strength of your hand in order to win. When you are betting or raising, though, you can win the pot by showing down the best hand or by forcing your opponent to fold.
This really is a huge key to success in this game. Good hands are hard to come by. When you win more of the battles in those smaller pots when nobody really has anything, you end up winning the war.
5. Not Recognizing the Importance of Position
It is important to understand the power of position in poker as well. Again, this is true not just at the micros, but at all stakes. You will make far more from the button and cutoff in particular than from any other position.
It therefore makes sense to abuse the heck out of these spots, especially in passive low stakes games where your opponents are unlikely to fight back unless they have a big hand.
This is why I suggest stealing the blinds with at least the top 30% of hands when it is folded to you in one of these seats. Furthermore, you also should be making some light three-bets in these positions from time to time in order to exploit your positional advantage even more.
6. Irrational Thinking
If you read the chat box at micro stakes poker tables, posts in online poker forum threads about these games, or YouTube comments about low stakes videos, you will see lunacy everywhere.
Many people think that if they play at higher stakes versus more highly skilled and “predictable” opponents that somehow they will start winning. You will also hear all sorts of “it’s rigged” and bad beat stories. And so on with countless other forms of silliness.
This game can do crazy things to people at times, even the top winners. However, it is important to keep your cool and focus on the long term mathematical nature of the game.
The irrational thinking is really just a part of tilt. This is the number one thing that holds newer players back. It is very important to recognize the signs of tilt and when you do just quit for the day.
There is nothing more disastrous for your bottom line at the tables than sitting around making terrible calls and overly aggressive plays because you are an emotional mess and have thrown all reason out the window.
It is a much better idea to hit that “X” on the poker client, step away from the computer, and go do something completely different for the rest of the day. You can come back with a clear head the next day ready to play your best again.
8. Poor Bankroll Management
It is very important that you have the proper bankroll for the stakes that you are playing, even at the micros. If you are not properly bankrolled then you will always just be one small downswing away from ruin.
I recently wrote an in-depth guide to bankroll management on my website. In it I recommend that newer players or those with a marginal win rate have at least 40 buy-ins for any limit that they are playing online. This means if you are playing NL2 then you should have $80, if you are playing NL5 then you should have $200, and so on.
By following these guidelines, you will ensure that you are always well bankrolled even when faced with the worst variance that this game can offer.
9. Focus on the Long Run
I have indirectly made this point several times in this article already — no matter the stakes, poker is not a get rich quick scheme. It is a long term game full of ups and downs and the biggest winners focus on monthly and yearly results, not daily or weekly.
There is absolutely nothing you can do to change this undeniable fact about the game. The sooner you learn to accept it, the easier that everything else becomes.
Nathan “BlackRain79” Williams is the author of the popular micro stakes strategy books, Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes. He also blogs regularly about all things related to the micros over at www.blackrain79.com.