I feel like tons of the noobies in the BC have serious misconceptions about microstakes poker. Here are a few I’ve seen lately.

1. The micros are just too fishy to be beat for any decent win rate.

2. The micros are too hard to be beat since UIGEA.

3. The FTR regs at higher limits don’t know how tough the micros have gotten lately.

4. The variance is so high at the micros, I’d be better off moving up.

5. I should play more tables at once to maximize my hourly earn rate.

6. I should "take shots" at higher levels.

7. I know I can beat 25nl, but I’m barely rolled for 10nl. So I’m going to deposit another couple hundred and just go for it, OK?

8. It’s easy to beat the micros – I should be able to beat this game with little or no effort.

9. I should move up where the money "means something to me." I just can’t take 2nl seriously.

The "myths" are excuses, generally the BAD excuses losing players use to excuse losing or that break-even players use to justify moving up to soon or playing under-rolled. So the real question lurking behind the myths is:

How do I know I’m beating this game and that I’m ready to move up?

Here are my responses to the mythology of microstakes as seen in the FTR BC.

1. The micros are just too fishy to be beat for any decent win rate.

The minor truism of fish "schooling" to lay bad beats on premium NLH hands gets blown out of proportion into the idea that a truly fishy game can’t be beat. The truth is the opposite: if you can’t beat the fish at 2nl, you will be crushed by the 200nl regs. Believe it. Or donate to the poker economy. Your choice.

2. The micros are too hard to be beat since UIGEA.

I believed this once – when I was a losing microstakes player. I thought that 10nl had just gotten way too hard on U.S. friendly sites. The truth is that the micros can still be absolutely crushed by U.S. players – if you got some game.

Most FTR regs who have moved up past 25nl report 5 ptBB/100 win rates, or higher. (See a discussion of win rates below.) That’s winning a buy-in every 1k hands. At 10nl and below, many of us have documented win rates of 10+ ptBB/100, or 2 BI every 1k hands. My personal best was 20k hands of 8 ptBB/100 at 10nl. Estimates of win rates become reasonable around 15k to 20k hands.

Were the games "softer" before UIGEA? Sure. I did not play pre-UIGEA, but some sites/levels/games are still legendary for their fishiness. "Old timers" on FTR and other forums talk about 20+ ptBB/100 win rates over respectable sample sizes at the micros and small stakes "back in the day." Still, even for U. S. players, game selection will have you facing competition that is extremely soft. Charmin soft. And if you want a return to the Halcyon days, join the Poker Players Alliance (it’s free), a special interest group led by folks like Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer that are pushing for legislation that would make online poker legal in the United States. A bill exempting online poker from UIGEA would immediately double or triple all (winning) U. S. players’ profitability, imho.

3. The FTR regs at higher limits don’t know how tough the micros have gotten lately.

It is true that some FTR regs give advice that noobie’s at the micros like better and find more relevant. But just because a higher limit player says something about your game YOU don’t understand doesn’t mean he doesn’t. There are three reasons this myth is total hogwash.

First, most of us play microstakes to align HUDS and other software and to learn the controls or layout for a new site. It doesn’t take long to see 6-way limp-fests, min-betting, min-raising and other hallmarks of fishy play. Second, the FTR regs who hang out in the BC look at dozens of HH’s from the micros every month. They see the crazy lines and weird things villains do – most are easily exploitable mistakes. Third, lots of the regs at 200nl and higher do personal coaching and/or make videos. The most obvious example is Grinder School, where a couple FTR mods and some other midstakes players put up weekly videos at ALL stakes from 2nl through 100nl, 6max and full ring. They crush those games, and they show you how it’s done.

FTR regs know exactly how soft the micros are.


OK, so that’s the big three. Of course, the micros can’t be both too fishy to beat (Myth #1) and to hard to beat (Myth #2), but I’ve seen both sentiments in the same thread more than once.

I admit I have sometimes believed some of these myths, but only at times I had mile-wide leaks in my game. I really sucked at poker. Making excuses about "how hard the micros are these days" only masks the real problem. Perhaps you suck at poker and need to work on your game. Like I did.

4. The variance is so high at the micros, I would be better off moving up.

No. A thousand times no. Poker equals high variance. Variance is why the fish donate. And variance tends to favor poker losers in the short run and decent players in the long run.

That’s the tough part of become a winning player. The variance was actually helping you when you were losing, providing some nice wins you didn’t deserve. Now that you’re "getting your chips in good," you’re finding that variance can sting. Almost every player who begins to win (but just barely) starts spitting the word "variance" out like it’s vomit. Variance does not get less higher up, the variance is worse. The exploitable "edge" good players have is smaller since they face fewer fish and donators. If variance tilts you, that’s even more reason to play the micros where tilt costs a few bucks instead of a few hundred.

5. I should play more tables at once to maximize my hourly rate.

I fell prey to this myth, 14-tabling 10nl. I actually got worse, lost my way, and lost my winning game. I had to relearn good poker. The micros are about learning your ABC’s. Observing closely each hand you’re involved in will pay off much better than churning through thousands of mindless hands.

How many tables is too many? Like most poker issues, it depends on FR vs. 6m, your "human bandwidth," your HUD layout, your internet connection. I believe most beginners should probably limit themselves to 4 6max tables or 6 FR tables. Perhaps less. Here are some hints.

You’re playing too many tables IF YOU…

… often miss seeing showdowns. You should have time to view AND THINK ABOUT each showdown in each hand where you commit chips. Analyze your range estimates, your line. If something confused you, mark the hand for later review.

… don’t plan preflop based on ALL players behind you. Example: At 50nl FR, in UTG and UTG+1, I rarely open small pp’s if a couple of frisky 3bettors are behind me. This means looking at the preflop stats and stack sizes for 7 or 8 players, viewing the popup menu for squeeze stats when a frisky 3bettor is behind several folks likely to cold call, and generally thinking about my odds of getting bet off my hand preflop. It takes several seconds. When I play too many tables I just auto-open or auto-fold, either spewing or missing value.

… don’t view cbetting/postflop stats on everyone remaining for every flop. In multiway pots, it’s even more important (than for head’s up) to think about who’s aggressive, who’s passive, and how you might react to the various bet/raise/call scenarios. You must have time to form a plan and several back-up plans BEFORE pulling the trigger – on EVERY flop.

6. I should "take shots" at higher levels than I’m rolled for.

This myth simply rationalizes a way to ignore sound Bankroll Management. I should know. I’ve done it. If you’re not rolled for 50nl, don’t play it. When you are rolled for it, attack it. Play all your tables at the new limit, and focus. I cringe when I see otherwise coherent FTR regs talk about "taking shots" at higher levels under-rolled. It’s a horrible idea. You’re just hoping to get lucky, to make positive variance work in your favor so you can ride an upswing (instead of skill) to higher stakes. Avoid this temptation, as it will generally be the poker equivalent of lighting several $20 bills on fire, and watching them turn to ash. The idea of gaining confidence or experience by playing a few hundred hands at a higher level than your rolled for is just a brazen excuse for lack of bankroll discipline, imo.

7. I know I can beat 25nl, but I’m barely rolled for 10nl. So I’m going to deposit another couple hundred and just go for it, OK?

No, it’s not OK. If you really could beat 25nl solidly, I guarantee you can crush 10nl. And if you can actually crush 10nl, you’ll be rolled for 25nl in a few weeks playing just a few tables at a time. Moving level by level from 2nl to 25nl is a great way to learn poker one step at a time.

Robb’s Microstakes Learning Curve

This is my personal experience about what the key points of learning were at each level.

2nl & 5nl: Preflop

Play tight pre, then bet good and fold bad. Proper bet-sizing is key.

10nl: Flop

To crush 10nl, learn to cbet, value bet, and what to do when you flop various draws.

25nl: Turn

For most hands at 10nl and lower, it’s over by the turn. Either it’s all-in, or no more is going in. At 25nl, you find lots of interesting turn spots. Winning requires a plan for the whole hand BEFORE you commit any chips.

Beating each level, step by step, will help you develop a well-rounded game. Poker will promote you when you’ve earned it, when you’re ready. And maybe a bit faster than you’re ready for.

8. It’s easy to beat the micros – I should be able to beat this game with little or no effort.

False. It’s simple to beat the micros, but not necessarily easy. By simple, I mean the path is well-marked: play, study, post HH’s, think, apply knowledge, play more, study more, post more HH’s, think more, apply more knowledge. Wash, rinse, repeat. Virtually anyone can beat the micros. Before I met Slevin, I would have said anyone can beat the micros. But you will probably have to put in some serious effort to move 2 or 3 levels up from where you’re at.

9. I should move up where the money "means something to me." I just can’t take 2nl seriously.

I agree – the stakes you play have to be meaningful. Losing a stack has to cause real psychological pain to motivate you to play better. So here’s a test. Let’s you say feel like you can’t take 5nl seriously ‘cuz the money is insignificant to you. All right. Get 10 $5 bills. Set them on fire one by one. Seriously. Try it.

You can’t do it, can you? You can’t just take $50 worth of cash that could buy you food, DVD’s, or movie tickets and just burn it, amiright? So I don’t believe the 5nl stakes aren’t meaningful to you. I think you just want an excuse to gamble for bigger stakes than you’re rolled for. And hell, go ahead. Enjoy it. But it’s setting money fire. And not just $5 at a time.

How do I know I’m beating this game and I’m ready to move up?

You know you’re beating the game after 20,000 or 30,000 hands of winning poker. You know you’re crushing the game when you’re bankroll is racing toward readiness for the next higher level. Poker will promote when you’ve earned it, and when you’re ready. Often earlier than you’re ready, but never later.

If you’re not crushing 2nl or 5nl or 10nl, then learn to. Put in the work. Quit making excuses (like I did) and kick some ass. Then your bankroll will shove you right up into more expensive games. If your bankroll ain’t moving up, you ain’t ready to either.

You should move up a level when two things are true. You have to be rolled for the next level and have enough game. At 25nl and lower, you need about 25 BI’s before moving up. So, you’re playing 5nl and wanna be at 10nl? You need $250, or 25 100bb buy-ins for 10nl. So go win it. If you’re ready to move up, it won’t take long.

When are you winning enough to be ready for a move up? When you’re consistently scoring big wins at your current level. If you’re barely squeaking out a 2 ptBB/100 win rate at 5nl, you have big leaks. Fix ’em now at 5nl, where mistakes are cheap compared to 50nl.

Playing at 10nl (or lower), move up when win rate > 5 ptBB/100 for 20k hands.

Playing at 25nl, move up when win rate > 4 ptBB/100 for 20k hands.

The chart above is based on my experience and from watching FTR regs post on their operations / blogs. Note, the win rates do NOT include rakeback or bonuses.

Some notes about levels, win rates, and Bankroll Management.

FTR shorthands all No Limit Holdem games according to their traditional 100bb max buy-in. So 10nl is NLHE with blinds of $0.05 and $0.10 since 100 x $0.10 = $10. If you’re wondering what 100nl means, divide the number by 100 and you’ll get the big blind for those tables: $1. FR means "full ring" or 9- or 10-person cash game tables. 6m and 6max refer to 6-person cash game tables.

Poker win rates for cash games are in units of bb’s (big blinds) per 100 hands or ptBB’s (Poker Tracker Big Bets) per 100 hands, a throwback to the days of limit poker popularity where the bet size doubled in later rounds. The FTR standard remains ptBB/100, which are always HALF as much as the same win rate reported in bb/100 units. For 10nl, where the big blind is a dime, a ptBB is $0.20. I think of win rates in terms of "hands needed to win a standard BI ("buy-in," or 100 big blinds).

A 5 ptBB/100 win rate earns 1 BI per 1k hands.

A 10 bb/100 win rate earns 1 BI per 1k hands.

I simply correct any win rate based on BI’s. Someone reports a 2.5 ptBB/100 win rate, which is half a BI per 1k hands. Or they report a 4 ptBB/100 win rate, which is 4/5ths of a BI or 0.8 * BI, whichever math I find easiest to do in my head.

Sample Size: many poker noobies don’t realize how insignificant a couple thousand hands are in poker. To have any reasonable reads on your game, leaks, or win rate, you need at least 15k to 20k hands.

Lots has been written about proper Bankroll Management. Below are some links to threads. Ignore sound principles, and you’ll gash your roll sooner or later – probably sooner. Time to Start Over, Need Advice Skim this noobie post and read excellent replies, especially BR Management guidelines by Spoony in Wesrman’s reply (2nd post in thread). BR Management Rant. One of Spoon’s great rants, and right on target, with good advice from guys like Lukie all the way through the thread. Spoon’s Rant: BR Management for People with Balls. Read, laugh and learn, like all of Spoon’s rants. Have plenty of BI’s to back your play.

Good luck at the tables!!

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Nine Noobie Myths About Microstakes NLHE
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