Micro stakes tournaments are filled with inexperienced and poor players. Recreational players abound, tossing their hat into the ring for some fun and cards. The massive fields and peculiarly wild plays that are the norm in the low buyin tournaments can be frustrating for the aspiring poker student.
Understanding that we will have to deal with navigating these large minefields, have some hands hold up, and be prepared with the mental and emotional fortitude to avoid tilting when bad things happen, how should we go about giving ourselves the best chance to take one of these tournaments down? In this series of articles we’re going to try preparing you for just that, by breaking down what we’re dealing with at various stages of the game and how to adjust your approach and strategy to give you the best chance to succeed. We’re going to start with the early stages of a micro stakes tournament, right from the first hand. Let’s talk about what we should expect, and then how to approach the field in light of those expectations.
The field will be full of weak and poor players. This isn’t news to you. But let’s break down a few types we can expect to see so we’re starting to put some definition to the madness.
These types will call. A lot. They take flops with weak hands, but also tend to call with stronger hands. Just bear in mind their limping and calling along is more likely to be a weaker holding than a premium, simply because there are more weak hands that good ones. They love the thrill of hitting a big hand, it’s what motivates and drives them. That’s why the call your raise with 96s, and why they call your flop and turn bets with a gut shot. Once in a while, they spike that big hand, and oh the thrill! Beating up on this type of player is easy. Value bet them frequently. Value bet thinner than you might against other players. When they put in a big raise, dump all but your strongest holdings. This type isn’t much for bluffing. So when you’ve raised preflop then bet all 3 streets with AA on a run out of 57KT8 and suddenly they raise you on the river, just lay it down. They’ve got you.
Or just very loose-aggressive players. They both call and raise a lot. They bet with air, with bottom pair, and with big hands. They are constantly involved in pots, but not always with the goods. Unlike very skilled players who choose a loose-aggressive style, they are just sort of flailing around, often putting themselves in bad spots. We also want to value bet our strong hands relentlessly against this player type, but we can also call them down more with medium strength hands that perform well as bluff catchers, as we’ll catch this type bluffing more frequently than they should be.
These are tight players. They’re waiting for good starting hands, and not playing much at all as a result. They are loathe to put large chunks of their stack in the middle without a hand they consider to be a winner. And their tournament life? Forget about that being put at risk without a huge hand until they get very short stacked. As an aside, these players also are the type that fancy themselves as good players because they don’t play “bad hands” (but they’re not, they’re just another variety of losing player that loses more slowly than their splashy counterparts). These players are also easy to beat… they can be easily bluffed off of small pots when they don’t have much, and off bigger pots when the board runs out scary to them. When they want to put a lot of chips in the pot, it’s a good idea to get out of the way unless your hand is very strong.
Inexperienced or newer players who don’t really know what they’re doing. They make decisions on whims that are hard for the student of the game to grasp because it leads them to doing things that don’t make good poker sense. They will usually make calling mistakes, but unlike the loose-passive stations, they may sometimes make raising mistakes overplaying hands because they don’t understand ranges, or folding mistakes because they get it in their head they’re beat without any form of critical analysis. It makes their play seem almost random at times, but it’s just a product of their lack of experience and skill sets. Simply playing a more straightforward, ABC style in pots against them works wonders.
In the early stages of these fields that are well saturated with all form of bad players, generally playing a more straightforward and conservative style works consistently well. That doesn’t mean become a nit and wait for premiums. But rather, start with reasonable ranges. Speculate cheaply when stacks are deep early on with holdings that can flop strong hands or draws. Raise your strong starting hands for value, and increase the sizing. I recently watched a training video where the coach raised 2.2x on 200bb effective stacks so he can “play a lot of hands and outplay his opponents post flop”. It turned my stomach. This is fine for world class players, or experts with a wealth of skill sets and experience to leverage their post flop advantages.
It’s ludicrous to teach to inexperienced micro stakes students trying to learn the fundamentals. Might you look silly raising to 10x over a couple limpers on level 3 with a premium pair? I’d say, who cares? You’re trying to extract value, if they will give it why not take it? Just last night a player in a $100 tournament I played online limped in from UTG and called my 5x raise with 96s. In micros, they’re doing worse. Take advantage of it. Post flop, continue building pots with big hands. This means if you flop that set or that nut flush, don’t slow play, simply bet your hand.
Players in these weak fields most common mistake is calling too much. Start building the pot. Go for 3 streets. The weak garbage that will call you down will astound you. When you miss flops, be much less inclined to bluff at these early stages. It’s okay to just give up and let it go. You still have a zillion blinds to work with. In short, try to put chips in when you have the best of it, and stop putting them in when you have the worst of it, and you’ll not only survive these early stages more often but also start to build stacks more often as well, setting you up nicely for more middle stage action. We’ll touch on that in Part 2.
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What would be your top tip for playing small stakes tournaments?