Playing Micro-Limits Online Poker – Part I

By Gerald Hanks | September 29, 2009

With poker players around the world experiencing shrinking bankrolls, rising travel costs and lower attendance figures at major tournaments, many players are passing on live games and tourneys to ply their trade online. Some of them have gone the route of many young online pros and will play multiple tables at lower limits. As was discussed in an earlier piece, multi-tabling enables the player to see more hands in a shorter time. For players with a strong foundation in basic no limit hold’em strategy, seeing more hands can be a tremendous advantage.

Just as players need to adjust their styles and strategies when they step up their game to the next level, they will also have to make some changes if they play micro-limit (25c/50c and under) games. In Part I of this analysis of micro-limit online poker, you will learn about many of the tendencies of these ‘penny-ante’ players that you will not see from those at higher stakes. In Part II, you will see how you can adjust your game and take advantage of their bad habits.

Ignorance and Apathy

Some players at the micro-limits are dedicated students of the game; they want to work hard, improve their skills and grow their bankrolls. Most, however, are truly awful. They raise, call raises and go all-in with hands that make more experienced players type in their chat window, “WTF?” They make the kind of plays that would give Phil Hellmuth a stroke, an aneurysm, and a heart attack, all at the same time.

Three main factors contribute to making these players so horrendous:

  1. They don’t know what they’re doing. They’ve never picked up a book, watched a video, or even, as unimaginable as it may seem, read one of the fine strategy pieces on this site!
  2. They don’t know how bad they are. They see poker as a game of winning and losing money rather than one of playing the odds and making intelligent decisions.
  3. They don’t care to learn. For the true poker player, the game is one of strategy, tactics and aggression. For them, it’s a way to kill time until their favorite TV show comes on – and you can be sure it’s not a poker show.

Cents, Not Bets

In higher stakes games, the idea of ‘scared money’ often prevents players from calling best when they have favorable odds; at micro-limits, that idea gets turned upside-down. Another bad habit that micro-limit players have is that they think of each bet strictly by its dollar (or, often, less) value rather than in terms of big bets (in limit hold’em) or pot odds (in pot-limit or no-limit hold’em). In their minds, a player who bets fifty cents into a pot of seventy-five cents is not betting two-thirds of the pot and giving them 2.5 to 1 pot odds; the opponent is just betting ‘only’ fifty cents. Their decision to call isn’t based on their odds of hitting their hand vs. the pot odds. In most instances, it’s based on the idea of, “Why not? It’s only another fifty cents.”

Dogs Chasing Cars

As a result of best being so cheap at micro-limits, players will call down bets and chase draws, even if they are not getting favorable odds to make those calls. They will also often chase draws that will not result in the best hand when they do fill up. In many instances, they will chase inside straights and backdoor flushes all the way to the river. When they do hit a hand, they gain even more incentive to chase and think of their plays as smart rather than lucky.

(Bad) Beat Your Brains In

With so many players chasing longshot draws and unwilling to let go of hands without applying a crowbar to their fingers, bad beats will occur much more frequently. As always, the key is to get your money in good at the time. If you’re playing for the long haul and not like so many players wasting time while updating your FaceTwitBookEr, you’ll win a lot more than you lose by playing a solid game.

Ace, Ace Baby!

Even the most woeful player recognizes the value of an ace in their starting hand. Many of them, though, almost completely disregard their kicker. If the ace is suited, nothing short of nuclear Armageddon will get that player to fold preflop, regardless of the kicker’s value. If an ace hits the flop and the player bets, you may want to consider mucking your high pocket pairs. You’ll be much better off saving those chips to bust him later.

Bluffs (Mostly) Don’t Work

Most poker experts agree that the key to a quality bluff is that it forces the opponent into a difficult decision. At micro-limits, most players give very little thought to their decisions; they know what cards they have, they don’t care what cards the bluffer has, so they make their decisions based solely on how good their hand is at that time. The concept of putting their opponent of a hand often does not enter their minds.

Raise It Up!

An observant player at a micro-limit table can often tell when a less experienced player has hit his hand by how much he bets. The online micro-limit player will make almost no effort to disguise his hand; if he has called a flop bet with two diamonds showing, then overbets the pot when a third diamond comes on the turn, he is doing everything short of shouting, “I hit the flush!” to anyone who will listen.

Roller Coaster

Bad beats, big bets and boneheaded bluffs can all lead to big swings in your bankroll. Although playing at multiple tables can cut down somewhat on the volatility, some bad players may also try multi-tabling just to play more hand and see more action. The bad player plays too many hands, calls too many raises, catches an occasional lucky card and considers poker ‘gambling’. The smart player sees a lot of hands, plays very few of them, and knows when to press his advantage and when to back off.

Next week, in Part II of our study on micro-limits, we will examine some tactics that both encompass and go beyond basic ‘ABC’ poker strategy that can insure long-term profit while riding out the short term ups and downs.

By Gerald Hanks

Gerald Hanks is from Houston Texas, and has been playing poker since 2002. He has played cash games and no-limit hold’em tournaments at live venues all over the United States.

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