Tips to Help You Break Out of Micro Stakes


Poker is known for taking “a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.”  There’s only five actions available in the game (check, bet, call, raise, and fold) and if you start out playing online - as many beginners do - you don’t need to count chips or even know how to shuffle a deck of cards. 

So, what does it take to really learn the game, apart from the nuts and bolts of its mechanics? Practice by Downloading WPT Global today to your device and let’s get started.

Micro-stakes games provide the perfect arena to try playing styles and put to use the theory learned from training videos or books into real-world situations. Poker is at heart a game of betting, and wagering real money is the engine that drives all action. If you are comfortably beating the game in the micro stakes levels, there’s no reason not to try a move up to bigger stakes.

Moving up stakes involves a careful look at leaks or bad practices you may have picked up playing solely with new or weaker players. You also need to focus more on strategy and, most importantly, learn how to manage your bankroll. We’ll cover some of the basics to help moving up in stakes:

  • Tighten Your Preflop Calling Ranges
  • Don’t Pay Off the Nits
  • Set a Bankroll Management Plan and Stick to It
  • Do Your Homework and Analyze Your Competitors
  • Bluff Weak Players on the Turn and River


Tighten Your Preflop Calling Ranges

One characteristic of many micro stakes players that you’ll find less frequently moving upwards is a tendency towards preflop curiosity, as the cost of it seems so slight. Playing $0.02/$0.05, for example, a big blind does not cost much money, so throwing in calls – both limps and flat calls of raises – does not seem expensive in real terms. But looking at your stack in BB, this loose-passive preflop play is revealed for what it is – exploitable and a slow drain on chips. 

Look at the price of your preflop calls in terms of big blinds – and start to review your cash sessions in terms of big blinds won or lost per hour – and a super loose, passive style quickly shows itself to be unprofitable. 

Don’t Pay Off the Nits

It’s easy to identify players on your table who are playing lots of hands, and have dust gathering on their stacks.  Obviously, the larger the sample size of hands played against each opponent, the more accurate your stats like VPIP (“voluntarily put in pot” – a measure of how often players choose to invest chips when not in the blinds) and PFR (pre-flop raise) percentages etc. are.   A nit will fold most hands, only entering pots with super-strong hands (around 10% of the time or less) and paying off this type of player – who more often than not has the nuts or a draw to it – is avoidable.  Especially on the river, if you encounter aggressive action from a nit, the likelihood is your mid-strength hand is no good, and should be folded, no matter how tempting it is to “look him up”.  A true nit, as opposed to a tight-aggressive player or even one edging into “rock” territory, is going to be bluffing such a low percentage of the time that this is not an excuse to throw in a call, either. 

Set a Bankroll Management Plan and Stick to It

These are probably the most important pieces of advice when moving up from micro stakes: be correctly bankrolled, and don’t get stubborn.  Advice varies on how many buy-ins at a certain level are necessary before a comfortable move up to a new limit, but for NLH cash games online, 50-100 buy-ins is a reasonable cushion.  The more swings in the game, the bigger the recommended bankroll – short-handed NLHE or PLO, for example, are higher variance games than full ring hold'em. 

Your bankroll has to be large enough to absorb the inevitable downswings in poker while you work hard at making good decisions to keep building it.  Don’t ruin a good plan to move up to play $0.25/$0.50 from $0.05/$0.10 with a $5,000 bankroll, and then, feeling confident on a given day after making a few hundred dollars profit jump into $0.50/$1 tables instead. 

Likewise for tournaments, a good rule of thumb is to have 100+ buy-ins at the level you wish to play. There are pros and cons to “taking shots” at higher buy-in tournaments, or aiming for them through satellites, but that’s not a micro stakes problem. 

Do Your Homework and Analyze Your Competitors

If you’re already comfortably crushing micro-stakes tables, then strategy fundamentals are probably clear.  It can help, however, to watch training videos and read blogs – especially those tailored to exactly the level of game you’re playing.  There are a host of resources available online to hone skills developed at the low levels, and they will prepare you for playing against more sophisticated opponents. If you play on sites that allow HUDs and tracking software, there’s no reason not to utilize those tools. If not, play only the number of simultaneous tables that allow you to really pay attention to your opponents’ play (frequency and aggression tendencies) – and make notes

Bluff Weak Players on the Turn and River

The above advice opens windows on opportunities to take advantage of individual opponent's tendencies.  Tight-passive players, or those whose loose-passive propensity ends post-flop are ideal candidates for well-timed bluffs.  Getting those players heads up, their predictability is to your benefit, as you can represent strength when potential draws come in, the board pairs, etc. Especially when you're in position and a check is rarely trapping. 

In summary, if “break out of micro stakes” is on a post-it note on your fridge, there’s no reason not to give a bigger game a go.  Like all adventures in risk, preparation is key: build and keep an eye on your bankroll, don’t treat it as something to be topped up if it takes a hit, and don’t be reluctant – or ashamed – to drop down levels again if you find that you simply aren’t profitable in the new games.  If you keep learning, playing and analyzing your game, you will be profitable eventually. 

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