6-max small stakes games are where things start to get more serious. Where players can win with very basic strategy in the micro stakes, there are a lot more full time players and tough opponents to deal with in the small stakes. This is the single biggest jump that most online players will ever encounter when it comes to skill level differences.
Unless you have worked your way through the limits previously, you probably won’t be able to gather just how difficult this transition will be. I am doing my best to explain that these games are not easy by any means, and that if you think it will be a walk in the park, you are very mistake. If your goal is to turn a long term profit playing online poker, you need to first ensure that you can beat the micro stakes games before you ever take a shot in the small stakes. This is an absolute necessity.
Dynamics of Pre-Flop Play
Pre-flop play can only be so complicated, but the small stakes are full of players who will make all kinds of moves. Light three bets, four bets, and even the occasional light five bet will be things that you see on a regular occasion. You need to be ready, willing, and able to take risks if you want to make some money. This will mean that you have to stand up to aggression and create some aggression of your own. Sitting back and relaxing, especially pre-flop, is the quickest way to going broke. If your game plan was to apply and ABC poker strategy, you are better off not playing in these games at all. You have to try your hardest to make your hands non-transparent, while remaining profitable at the same time, and this is much more difficult than it might sound.
Mixing up your play is one highly effective method of throwing off your opponents, especially if you play with the same set of regulars on a consistent basis. With the advent of HUDs and other poker software, the chances are that almost all of your opponents have some sort of information on you. Because of this, you should know which players are familiar and which ones are not. If you are facing a completely random opponent who doesn’t seem like they really know what they are doing, getting overly tricky will be a considerable mistake. It is the regulars and winning players that you really need to look out for. Consider making some unorthodox plays in order to confuse your opponents and throw them off base. For example, limping in with KK or AA is not generally advisable, but it can be a great way to force your opponents to think twice in the future. The fact that you will be playing the same players over and over again allows for short term plays to pay off in the long run. Is limping in with aces a highly profitable play? Not really, but getting your opponent to fold to a limp raise is. The benefit in mixing up your play is that your regular opponents won’t know how to react in future situations.
For general pre-flop strategy in these games, the best plan is to carry over as much of the strategy that you used in the micro stakes as possible. It is much easier to make tweaks as needed to an already profitable strategy than it is to try and start with a new one altogether. One of the most common mistakes that players make is trying to reinvent the wheel when they start playing at a higher limit. Yes, the game is different and more difficult, but it is not a completely new game. Small stakes play is a mix of micro stakes basics and the occasional higher stakes tactics. In other words, strategy in these games can be as basic as you allow it to be.
Avoid open limping whenever possible, play pots in position, maximize value from your strong starting hands, and so on and so forth. These are the elements of winning poker in small stakes games. Now, with 6-max tables, it becomes more important that you add a dose of aggression here and there. When you are playing pots in position, don’t just play them for value. In these games, your position will allow you to make plays that would often fail in micro stakes games. You can re-steal pre-flop with a reasonable expectation of forcing folds from your opponents. Your opponents are generally going to be smarter, better players, but this also means that they can lay down hands. Use other players’ awareness to your advantage by forcing them to make tough decisions. You don’t like it when someone tries to push you around, and neither do they.
Post-flop play is very similar to pre-flop play in that there will be a lot of twists and turns. You won’t be able to make hands, bet, and have the money come rolling in. As a result of your increased pre-flop aggression, you will be in a lot more post-flop hands where you are forced to make some moves. If you 3 bet pre-flop in an attempt to steal, but get called, you will now need to navigate how to play the hand the rest of the way. These are the types of spots that will frequently present themselves.
The trouble with small stakes games is that you can put yourself in a world of hurt quite easily. Just one or two small mistakes can see two buy-ins down the drain. Small stakes games exchange higher variance for more money, but not necessarily higher win rates. What this means is that you will swing up and down, but will ultimately make more money in the end. The win rates, however, won’t be comparable to smaller limit games. In other words, if you won at 7bb/100 at 50NL, winning at 4bb/100 at 200NL is a lower win rate, but it will net you more money in the end. The tougher competition will require you to make a lot of bold post-flop plays that are both high risk and high reward.
If there is one piece of advice for 6-max players that would be most beneficial in post-flop scenarios, it is that you can’t be afraid. You have to understand that your big triple barrel could easily be a loss. Small stakes poker is a game that is much more long term and full of variance than the micro stakes. Some of the plays that you will apply in the small stakes but would seldom use in the micro stakes include…
River Check Raises (as bluffs and for value)
Light 3 and 4 Bets Pre-Flop
Check Raising the Turn as Bluff
As you can see, the transition from micro stakes to small stakes 6-max games calls for a “little more” of everything. Aside from this, your go-to plays will have more inherent risk. If you are comfortable with all of the plays listed above, and for a larger sum of money, you are ready to take a shot at the small stakes tables.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk