5 Tips to Help You Break Out of Micro Stakes
By Bob Garcia
If you’re a beginner poker player struggling to break out of the micro stakes, it can get overwhelming trying to figure out what you need to do to better your game and move up in stakes. That’s why we’ve compiled 5 unique tips to help you level up your game and begin the process of saying goodbye to the lowest poker limits.
Learn To Tell A Good Story
One of the best mind “hacks” for beginner poker players is to start looking at every hand you play as a complete story. When making the decision to enter the pot by taking any preflop action that is not a fold, imagine yourself saying “Once upon a time…I had a good hand” and then do your best to ensure each and every action you take throughout the remainder of the hand supports this opening line in a consistent and cohesive manner. Most importantly, if at any point in the hand, you find yourself unable to continue the story in a believable manner, take great pause before making any further aggressive action, especially against thinking players who are actively looking for inconsistencies in people’s stories.
For example, if your likeliest holdings are high cards or big pocket pairs (as it generally should be when opening in early position) and the board runs out as a low connected board like 4c6s7h8hTh with three hearts, it wouldn’t make for a very believable story if you were to make big continuation bets on all three streets. Of course, you could have a hand like 99, TT, or AK of hearts, but those don’t make up a huge part of your range and it’s not even a sure thing you would even bet any of those the entire way. Therefore, an observant opponent may very well decide to make a bit of a loose call and send you on tilt. In poker terms, this is called hand-ranging — or, from your vantage point as the active player, considering your perceived range. By always thinking about your actions from your opponents’ perspectives rather than your own, and ensuring you are telling them the story of having a strong hand, you will greatly improve your odds of getting them to take the action you want them to. Conversely…
Learn To Decipher Bad Stories
The beautiful thing about learning to tell good stories at the poker table, is that you immediately become more adept at deciphering bad ones. You can improve this process by reminding yourself at the beginning of each hand that your opponent is telling you the story of having a good hand and then looking for inconsistencies in that story. Looking at the example above, but this time from the big blind’s perspective, you should be able to see now that although it’s possible your opponent could have a good hand, very few of them make sense as triple-barrels. And when you combine this with additional factors, such as how aggressive — or “spewy” — your opponent has shown themselves to be and what your own table image has been thus far, you may find that the time is right to make a bit of a hero call with a hand like two pairs.
Play Fewer Hands
In contrast to what most amateur players do, one of the most effective ways for players to break out of the micro stakes is to play fewer hands, not more. Inexperienced players often get hyped watching poker on TV, or watching players battle it out at the highest stakes, and fail to recognize that 1. they are only seeing a small sample of hands that is not representative of the game as a whole, and 2. that these players have years and years of experience and may be playing based on prior knowledge of their opponents or the playing style at their limits. Trying to pull off a Phil Ivey level bluff with 75 offsuit against a micro stakes player who may very well not even value the few dollars they have invested on the table — nor is analyzing the hand well enough to recognize they should fold (assuming you told a very good story), is a recipe for disaster.
So instead of trying to be the table captain and proving to the world that you’re reading to break out of the micros, forget about all the fancy plays for a while and just focus on the fundamentals: playing good hands from good position. As a general rule, erring on the side of caution — more folding, less calling — is going to be the optimal play until you’ve developed a much more sophisticated understanding of the game. And so the next time you think about raising that 96s from middle position, remind yourself, the goal of the game is not to win the most hands — but to make the most money. And that, you don’t do by splashing around the micros. With that said…
Play The Hands You Do Play More Aggressively
Although you want to make sure to have good hand selection at the poker table, one of the key adjustments players can make to break out of the micro stakes is be more aggressive in the right spots.
This means that when you do enter the pot, you should be raising and 3-betting more often, and limping and calling much less. The reason for this is that playing aggressively accomplishes two key things. First, it allows you to take control of the hand and dictate the action, which can often force your opponents to make difficult decisions or give up their hand altogether (folding their share of equity in the process). And second, it allows you to build bigger pots when you do have a strong hand, which will allow you to increase your earnings and offset the inevitable swings of the game. Speaking of which…
Fall In Love With Variance
There is perhaps no greater way to get an edge on your opponents than by understanding and deeply accepting the level of variance — or “luck” — inherent in the game of poker. That’s because, no matter what stakes you play, sooner or later you’re going to face a run of cards so devastating you’ll find yourself looking up at the sky questioning why the universe has forsaken you. Although this sounds like a joke, experienced players will attest that it is anything but!
No matter how good you are, no matter how much practice or effort you put into developing your game, the reality is that when you decide to play a game where even the very best hand will still lose to the very worst hand 12% of the time, you are going to eventually experience the power of variance in all its glory. And if you don’t have the emotional and mental control to accept that in reality in the moment (and the bankroll to weather the storm), going bust is not a matter of if, but when. So rather than complaining or going on tilt every time you experience a bad beat, use the opportunity to build up your emotional control, lean in to the poker experience, and fall in love with variance.