Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Winning micro-limit cash game players - fact or fiction?

Hello all, thanks for stopping by to take a look at my thoughts. Today's topic is one that I think hits close to home for many players that I know. We aren't professionals. We aren't playing high limits. We aren't playing medium limits. We aren't even playing low limits.

Because poker is a recreational activity for us, we play the micro-limit tables (limits below $1/$2 No Limit games and $3/$6 Limit games). I have heard stories of the micro-limit winning players. I have even had people tell me that this is where they started and that they have moved up beyond and are a winning player at higher limits. But it is my solid belief that it is statistically imposssible (data to come for you stat-heads!) to be a long-term winning micro-limit player UNLESS you play games where people play the same game, regardless of the limits being played.

I can hear you all know someone who was/is a successful micro-limit player. You might think you do. But I say that the person telling you that they are successful at these limits is doing one of three things to sustain their winning streak. Hear me out and then judge.

Type 1. These are the people that claim micro-limit success but are supplimenting their BR with bonus or affiliate money of some type. If they kept accurate records, they would be unable to show a profit at these limits for any period longer than 6 months (short term variance)

Type 2. These are the people that play "other" games than just micro-limit cash games. I myself have some pretty decent numbers in the "Sit-N-Gos" (regardless of what sites like pokerscope say). If I stuck to the $1-10 buy in SnGs, I would be showing a profit for the year, of about $250.

Type 3. These are the players who got ahead due to short-term variance and made it up to a level where they can have a sustainable profit, where the statistics I am about to share to not play a role in their games. They truely were "profitable" in the micro-limits, but it was only for a short period before they moved up to limits where they could compete without the handicap described below.

I am sure that I am missing some types. My guess is that there are a lot of players out there who sustain their micro-limit habit through one or more of the above means. Players jump up and down in limits to the low-limit games. Players play SnGs or MTTs that they can cash in and sustain the habit.

Most of us playing down at this level probably realize this and just don't care. Poker is a hobby, and losing $50-100 a month is not a big deal. If we didn't play poker, we would be playing something else like golf that can be MUCH more expensive, so we are happy where we are playing.

So that is the set-up. Now for some numbers. How can I be so sure that it is statstically impossible to be a winning micro-limit cash game player? Here are some statstics and assumptions. All the stats come from Pokerstove, the best poker calculator out there (no, they don't pay me for endorsements. yet. hint, hint)

My first assumption is that in the micro-limit games, you are very rarely going to be seeing a flop heads-up. In limit games I think everyone agrees. In no-limit, this can get a bit tougher to prove, but if you are only raising 3-5X the BB, you are bound to have several callers at this level, as people think things like "aw, it is only $0.75 more to call. I have seen this hand hit on TV and when it does I'm going to get paid off!" (sound familiar?)

So what hands can hold up to playing vs several players on the flop? The answer is going to surprise you. If you are seeing a flop with 4 other players in a hand (not unheard of at all in micro-limit limit style games) there is ONE hand that has a statstical advantage. AA has roughtly 56% equity in the pot. That's it. Here's the data:

3,166,043 games 15.734 secs 201,223 games/sec


equity (%) win (%) tie (%)
Hand 1: 55.9348 % 55.72% 00.22% { AcAd }
Hand 2: 11.0293 % 10.48% 00.55% { random }
Hand 3: 11.0345 % 10.48% 00.55% { random }
Hand 4: 11.0082 % 10.46% 00.55% { random }
Hand 5: 10.9932 % 10.44% 00.55% { random }

Let me define what I would consider a statstical advantage and you can all rip it up at your leisure. After the flop, you will have people who continue to chase flush or straight draws, sure. If you raise enough, they are still going to come along. But the majority of the time you will end up HU vs one player. This is the guy who hit his hand. If you manage to get others to come along for the ride and chase, that's great, but the guy who hit is going to cap or get you all in vs his made hand, and you need greater than 50% equity for this to be a payoff. Granted, if you can get it all in preflop, this is not an issue. There you will most likey be HU or vs 2 other opponents and your profitable hands can increase. Mostof the time, people are not going all in PF and you are going to have to make decisions after the flop vs multiple opponents. You need to have greater than 50% equity for this to be a +EV play.

Okay, so what if you have 3 opponents? What hands can hold up now? Take a look:

9,858,486 games 26.687 secs 369,411 games/sec


equity (%) win (%) tie (%)
Hand 1: 41.4413 % 40.59% 00.90% { AcKc }
Hand 2: 19.5120 % 18.64% 00.89% { random }
Hand 3: 19.5153 % 18.65% 00.88% { random }
Hand 4: 19.5315 % 18.66% 00.89% { random }

AK SOOOOOTED is no good.

18,757,262 games 50.375 secs 372,352 games/sec


equity (%) win (%) tie (%)
Hand 1: 49.2017 % 49.13% 00.31% { JcJd }
Hand 2: 16.9246 % 16.39% 00.62% { random }
Hand 3: 16.9347 % 16.40% 00.61% { random }
Hand 4: 16.9389 % 16.41% 00.62% { random }

JJ even is no good. You have to ONLY play AA, KK or QQ.

So how to counteract this disadvantage? You can't, unless you can thin the field by getting it all-in preflop, which most of the time you are only going to do with these hands. So it is a catch-22. You play any other hand after the flop vs multiple opponents and the only ones calling you have you beat and isolate you HU to take your chips. There are a few ways to get around this, like trying to play "small ball" and I know a few people who can do this successfully for a short time.

I think that the real issue is finding players who are willing to play good, solid poker at this level for a long peroid of time. I am sure that there may be one or two players out there who are going to try to prove me wrong, but the profits at this level are just not high enough for the majority of players to stick around that are willing to put in this time and effort. This level is full of players like me, who are completely there for a hobby and recreation. We aren't there to feed our families and support ourselves on poker. It is all about economics. At the micro-limits, it is not worth it and the players who want to become consistent winning players move up and out.

My guess is that the majority of the micro-limit players out there know this on some level, and don't care. They are just playing to have fun. Think about it.

Meanwhile, I'll cya at the tables.


At 11:26 AM, Blogger SirFWALGMan said...

I personally spent a year playing good solid low limit poker and winning over 3K.. as you mentioned I moved up as quickly as I possibly could. It is flawed to think someone should stay at low limits if they are successfull.. but it is possible to buy in for $50, grind .25/.50 all the way up to 5/10 and beyond and be successfull.

Having said that I did blow my 3K at 5/10 and have not been able to get into the mindset of grinding anymore.

I think a low aggression style of play works best at low limits. If like you say 19 people to the flop then you are going to want to play draws alot more and slow down with TPTK and AA type hands. Like you state the reason we raise these hands is to limit the field. If this is not happening then why raise? Anyway.. I still think it is possible to grind a roll up in the Micro limits.. it just takes a ton of discipline, some luck, and alot of adjustments to your game that do not work well in high stakes games.

At 2:07 PM, Blogger chipper said...

You may have hit on a good point here. I'm one of those players who have played for two years online now and has stayed at the $1/$2 level and below the entire time. I found that the variance IS very high at the micro levels. However, my bankroll has not grown at these levels even with the bonuses. I've never put much money into staking my online poker. Typically I put in only up to $200 at any one poker site. If I tend to get higher than than I find myself cashing out and putting $$ into another site. Hence, I never give myself the opportunity to play higher stakes - my small bankroll won't allow me to jump to $2/$4 or higher.

While at some point I'd like to play at the higher limits, I am too much of a "hobby" player to want to keep too much money out on foreign soil sites.

I know that other bloggers have 4 or 5 digit bankrolls and play at much higher levels. If I tried to initially fund 4 digits for an online roll I would be shot by my wife, especially now with kids going into college.

I may be doomed to stay at the lower limits if I keep moving money around. The variance is going to keep being its wild self there I'm afraid no matter how good I think I'm playing.

Perhaps heading up is where I should be focusing my efforts. I may find the going tough but at least the variance will be more manageable. (one can only hope)

At 8:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A hand doesn't have to be a favorite to win to be profitable.

I can't believe that for all the mathematics you've done, you can't even see the simple fact that a hand that's 40% to win is a huge winner in a game where 5 players are putting bets in.

Even in the "worst case" (actually it's the best) scenario where all 5 players continue to call all the way to the river, if you were 40% to win, then 40% of the time you will QUINTUPLE your money.

This betrays a fundamental lack of understanding about how money is made in poker. Micro-limits is beatable. Easily.

At 8:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just use some logic here, if AK suited "holds up" 41% of the time against 3 random hands that always call to the river, then slightly less than half the time you get at least 3 times what you put in. How is this a negative EV situation??

At 5:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah isn't that why we play in the micro limits? To take money like this guy's because they have no understanding of statistical odds...LOL Like the site though

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out this web page to see that Chris Ferguson did it.

It is not as hard as you think. You just need to play speculative hands even for small raises for implied pot odds. Also, I tend to bet draws after the flop with at least 10 outs pretty aggressively. As long as you minimize your losses (don't go broke with top pair), just wait to get paid off with concealed hands like an overpair, a set, two pair, a well-hidden straight (slightly unconnected board). Also, if you have the nut flush (ace) vs. another flush, you can often get paid off. It is not hard. Plenty of microlimit players don't consider what their opponent might have, or they don't care because it is such small money. It just takes a LOT of patience to find the right situations. Again, minimize your losses & play speculative hands waiting patiently for payoff hands.

At 3:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

micro limits are the most consistantly easy stakes to win at and build your poker roll if you adapt to the table,play tight and very aggressive with hands, ABC poker, no need to bluff remember u get called down 90% of time so makes sense to only bet strong hands for value.

I started my poker bankroll of just $100. I used to go broke using all my $100 roll on just 1 $100 buy in table,(stupid of me)

I then discovered poker roll management.I now sat with my $100 roll spread over 4 tables,($10 max buy in) I quickly and EASILY turned it into about $500 in about 2 weeks just by playing $10 max buy in tables - but multi tabling.

With a $500 roll i then moved up 1 stake to the $25 max buy in tables and multi-tabled untill my poker roll was 1k. With a 1k roll i now played the $50 buy in tables and thought it was going to be as easy as the super micro stakes.It wasn't the play was better and my return of investment on these stakes was lower.

My point is that i wish the standerd of play on the $10 buy in tables was the same on the $400 buy in tables, i would soon have a 500k poker roll living in vegas.If u cant consistantly beat the micro limits then u certainly can't consistantly beat the higher stakes.

To beat the micro stakes play very tight aggressive in position,NEVER BLUFF just stick to ABC poker,try and get heads up all in pre flop with your AA KK but see a safe flop with QQ and push it.

If your on a very loose table then see lots of cheap flops with hands such as suited connectors or mid pr's in late position.If u hit with these hands then u can play them very easily but if you miss then u can fold them easily aswell. pr of 5s on a A K 5 board is a massive hand to go to the felt with, most of the time a bad player holding aq aj a10 will pay you off.

I guarentee if you play a patient tight aggressive style you will see a profit within an hour,remember on 1 table u have $10 investment(not much),but $10 on 4 tables is $40 invested, treat your 4 tables as 1 big game you will soon see a massive return on your money each session.


At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is selective viewing at its best,your only seeing the negative side of all your maths examples.

"9,858,486 games 26.687 secs 369,411 games/sec


equity (%) win (%) tie (%)
Hand 1: 41.4413 % 40.59% 00.90% { AcKc }
Hand 2: 19.5120 % 18.64% 00.89% { random }
Hand 3: 19.5153 % 18.65% 00.88% { random }
Hand 4: 19.5315 % 18.66% 00.89% { random }

AK SOOOOOTED is no good."

Here you are seeing the 60% you lose to the 40% you win.
What you are missing is that when you lose 6 out of 10,you lose 6 buy ins(you can only lose your own buy in).When you win you get the other 3 players buyins.4 wins out of 10 x 3 buy ins = 12 buy ins.

At 11:10 PM, Blogger forsytemedia said...

What if you're just one unlucky mutherf------ like me who plays super duper tight, speculative hands, waits for perfect spots? And still goes broke almost every time?

Case in point. The other night i was grinding it out for 3 hours on the .5/.10 NL table right. Max $10 deposit. I flucuated from $8 to $12 over the course of the 3 hours. Finally, I get KK. I pop it up preflop. One guy re-pops it a little more. I put him on a mid pair, so I shove all in. He insta-calls with AA. I go broke in one hand.

Next night I'll do it all over again, and run into that one horrific beat that costs me everything. How do you avoid that????

At 11:07 AM, Anonymous AP said...

That could be a good point, but furthen analysis prooves you wrong!
I'm the living proove as i could complete come chalanges i placed for myself: 10$ to 7000$ in 6 months playing 2h a day and then 10$ to 1000$ in a week playing 6h a day.
The advice i have to give you to play succefully in small stakes is just play this 3 type of hands:
1º Play very agressivelly preflop with your best hands (AK suited AA KK and QQ), trying to isolate or getting all in preflop. Some times limp AA and KK UTG and then reraise if some one raises (if it goes wrong and no one raises, just make a last atempt on flop and then fold if resistence is shown). Play agressivelly on flop, where it is still cheap, and then pot control from then on, unless you improve your hand a lot.
2º play small to medium pairs limping preflop and trying to see a cheap flop. If you get raised, call a raise untill that raise is about 1/15 of the raiser stack. fold the pairs preflop if you dont hit a set (hiting a set happens 1/8 times). If you hit your set, play it very agressivelly, check raising big time or just going all in firt to enter (dont slow play, you will be in a lot of trouble)
3º dont play suited shit, play only Ax suited and connectors or suited connectors ir a multiway pot, even if raised (3 or more players). Fold those hands if your fisrt or second to enter pot preflop. On flop get agressive only with top 2 in a str8 free table or with a made str8! You might not get to play an OESD, but that depends. just dont bet it, it will be called.
The main point is selective agression! No one in micro limit games is observing you and seing that you are only getting agressive with great hands, and folding 85% preflop. If you dont have the pacience, play multiple tables. its not hard to do it and its profitable. I know i can make a proffit in low limits games, as well in medium limits. If you dont believe my style to beat low limits, try it... in the long run is superproffitable. Good luck

At 2:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" If you are seeing a flop with 4 other players in a hand " then you have some easy numbers to crunch. Assume you eack put a dime in the pot. Four other players putting in that dime gives you 4:1 pot odds, so, your bet is getting 20% pot odds. To just break even, you need to win 20% of the time. A 56% hand is a HUGE hand here. ANY hand that gives you higher odds than the pot odds, 20% is going to give you a statistical edge . That means there are many more profitable hands than AA KK and QQ in your given situation. You have a flaw in your understanding of pot odds and EV. I reccomend spending some time with a book such as "The Theory of Poker". Good luck.


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