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Beginners Strategy Guide to Online Micro Limit Hold 'Em
by: Mike Hellmer
It's hard to miss the fact that the last two winners of the World Series of Poker were not professional poker players and the fact that Chris Moneymaker (2003) and Greg Raymer (2004) are online players. It's no wonder that online poker is exploding. With so many new players out there giving online poker a shot it's feeding frenzy for the skilled player, or even the player with a modest amount of skills. Most of these newbies start out at the lowest limit tables until they either bust out or improve their skills and bankroll enough to move onto the higher limit tables. Even if you're a veteran of the Friday night home dealer's choice poker games, you most likely will have to change your playing style to win consistently online. But fear not, there are more unskilled players at the micro limit tables than there are skilled players.
So for all the new to limit Texas Hold 'Em players who would like to improve their chance of winning at the lowest of the low limit tables, or micro limit tables, I've put together some very basic tips which should help you to win consistently. These tips will work for most online tables with limits of $0.50/$1.00 and lower. There are several online poker rooms with micro limits as low as $0.05/$0.10, which are excellent limits for honing your skills.
It's important to realize that strategies vary for different limits, due to the amount of money involved and the general skill of the players at the table. Micro limit poker has some interesting dynamics and culture due to the fact that the amount wagered at any time is not a lot of money to most of the online players. It stands to reason that the majority of the players play at these low limits because they are beginners trying to gain experience or they are on a limited bankroll. Many of the significant cultural differences between micro limit and the higher limit tables can be broken down into these key observations. (Throughout this article I will use common shorthand to represent the cards. AK means, of course, an ace and a king. T8 means a ten and an 8. QJs means queen jack suited, while QJo means queen jack off suited. Kx means a king and a card of no significance to the hand. A common term used will be connectors, which means cards connected in rank, such as 76 or T9.)
Now that the observations are out of the way, I can get on with the strategy of how to win playing at these micro limit tables.
The objective here is to go into the flop with a strong position or fold. Do you want to be a gambler or a poker player? There is a difference and not playing anything but strong hands preflop makes you a gambler. Unless you are getting a streak of good cards, you should be folding preflop 60-70% of the time.
1. Fold all but strong hands preflop. Strong hands are any pair, AK, AQ, AJ, AT, Axs, KQ, plus high suited connectors. The more players who see the flop, the lower your odds are of winning. So if you are going to put money into the pot, put it in when you have a strong hand. The exception is when you can call a big pot. For example, if you are in the small blind and everyone calls around to you there will be 19 small blinds in the pot already (big blind and 8 big blind calls = 18 small blinds, plus your original small blind). That means you are getting 19:1 odds to call the bet with one additional small blind size bet. Any time you can get huge odds like that preflop you can play just about anything, if you like.
2. Don't protect your blind. If you are in the small blind or big blind and you don't have a strong hand don't call a raise. Too many players in the blinds will call a raise because they've already invested the blind. But since most players like to limp in (call the big blind) preflop, a raise is a good indication the player is sitting on a strong hand, like AK or a pocket pair.
3. If you have a very strong hand preflop, raise. First of all, if you do happen to chase out a player or two with the raise then the odds of your strong hand winning have improved. Second, a strong hand has a good chance of winning the pot, so you want to get as large a pot as possible. Third, you show strength, which can help you to chase out players later on.
So now you've made it to the flop with a strong hand. Does the flop help you or hurt you? Arguably there is not much in between because with five or more players seeing the flop there's bound to be someone that benefits from the flop, and if someone else benefits and you don't, then the flop hurt you.
4. Know what a draw drawing hand is. For example, a flush draw or a straight draw means that you need one card to complete the flush or the straight. Many unskilled players make the mistake that needing two cards to complete your hand is a drawing hand. This is called a runner-runner draw, and is not a drawing hand. If that's all you got then you should fold, otherwise you can typically call when you have a drawing hand. For example, you have KQo and the flop is JT5. You are sitting on an open ended straight draw where an A or 9 will give you a straight. You can bet out or call with this hand, but be very careful about calling raises. The reason has to do with the odds of making your hand and the amount in the pot, which is called pot odds. There are many fine poker books that explain the details of pot odds, but as a quick example, in the case of your open ended straight draw there are 8 unseen cards (four aces and four nines) that will make your hand and there are 47 unseen cards total (52 minus the 2 in your hand minus the flop). Your odds of getting your straight on the turn is 8/47, or about 6 to 1 that you won't get the straight. So for you to call any bet or raise, the pot (which includes the bets in front of you) when you call should be at least 6 times the amount of the call. But it's not that easy, because you actually have two chances to get the straight, on the turn and on the river, so looking forward your odds improved to 3 to 1 against. If you don't make it on the turn, then your odds jump back up to about 6 to 1 against. (Pot odds are a very import part of winning a poker, and I suggest that while you are cleaning up at the micro limit tables that you read a good poker book in preparation for moving up to the higher limits. At the end of this article I list a few of the better ones.)
5. Know what a check-raise is. A check-raise is when a player has a good hand, e.g. a set (three of a kind) after the flop and he checks hoping that someone will bet out so