Microstakes players dream of moving up to higher levels online, where serious money can be made. But how do you rise from 25NL to 200NL? Mike Gano has done it, and he’s on the podcast this week giving specific strategies for moving up in online poker.
We asked Gano what microstakes players should be studying to break into higher stakes. He said at first, essential that you find yourself a study group. Gano runs a study group on the popular Discord chat platform, and you can find many more online study groups by poking around in poker forums and asking around your local poker room or home game.
Second, Gano suggests, focus on the fundamentals. What are the fundamental aspects of your game right now, the most basic building blocks where things are a bit fuzzy? Starting hand ranges, pot odds, standard bet sizing, various flop textures vs typical players… these are all areas to look at.
How and when GTO should fit into your studying? They’re good for idea generation, but most valuable for balance. Spend time on balanced strategy and exploitative strategy. Both will help your game.
When to move up? It takes three things:
- Bankroll of 30 to 50 buyins, depending on risk tolerance.
- Skill level are you beating current level at decent sample size. Can you beat opponents?
- Confidence are you ready and not intimidated.
Take shots on days when you’re feeling especially on top of your game.
ADJUSTING FOR JUMPS IN STAKES
At the lower stakes, you’re going to see the widest variety of player profiles, wild maniacs to uber-rocks. ABC style is the way to go at these stakes. You don’t need to do much elaborate bluffing. 3-bet bluff with suited aces and suited connectors. Barrel dry runouts with a high frequency. Use big bets with value hands. At 25NL, you’ll start to notice players get better at player profiling, board texture and how your range connects. Have good game selection, find best sites, best times, best seats and don’t be lazy about it.
BALANCING PLAY AND STUDY
Think about how much time overall you can spend on poker and still have a healthy balanced lifestyle. Grinding over 30 hours not the best. If you’re lucky to have 40 hours to play poker, 20-30 hours grinding and the rest studying poker can be a good balance to work from. It’s good to get into a routine but stay flexible enough to take some time off if you’re feeling like you’re not on your A game.
MOST COMMON MICROSTAKES LEAK
The #1 leak is lack of aggression. A couple reasons:
(1) ABC is the right way to play at the beginning, you naturally learn to play more conservatively. Another reason players are more passive is basic theory reinforces this idea.
(2) Being more aggressive picks you up more EV by exploiting specific spots like check-raising the river or donking a turn draw coming in.
Observe other aggressive players and find the method to their madness.
You must get some sort of software range tool. Equilab is the one Gano recommends in the free software category, because it saves ranges. Flopzilla is Gano’s best buy. He uses it every day. You can open it twice. Open one window, put your range in, then open another, and put your opponent’s range in. After that, get a GTO solver like PIOSolver, SimplePostFlop, or GTO Range Builder.
ADJUSTING TO 100NL AND UP
Two things come to mind for Gano in terms of adjusting as you rise in stakes online. First is balancing flop checking range when you are the preflop raiser. This is generally not something to worry about 50NL or lower.
At higher levels, players are better at noticing when your check range is imbalanced. They’re looking at missed c-bet and fold HUD stats online. As you develop your own balanced checking range, you’ll notice in other players and learn how to exploit it.
Another thing to look at is bet sizing. Players are getting better are choosing bet sizes that reflect their range’s hand strength. You’ll notice spots where opponents project the strength of their hand, this is where to exploit it.
You can always go and play in anonymous games online and then you don’t need play with a HUD. Gano thinks HUD stats are not as important as many make it, and can actually stunt growth as a player as a crutch. But if you play on a site where it’s allowed, you should use it because other regs are using them. Become familiar with basic stats.
Also essential is learning how other regs in your game play. How they play individually and collectively (population reads). You don’t need a HUD to do that, but it can help.
HOW MANY TABLES
There is a point of diminishing returns for every player where adding another table will lower your hourly win rate. It should be a priority to find where that is for you, recognizing it may change based on how you’re feeling on a particular day.
No number of tables can be prescribed because it depends on the game and the site. Time bank, level of competition, format, etc. will dictate the number of tables you can play comfortably.
If you’re new, start with one, and add one at a time over long periods of time.
When you’re missing the action or mis-clicking, it’s a sign that you’re playing too many tables. Treat this very seriously as it’s a sign that your win rate is probably suffering.
LEARNING BAD HABITS AT THE LOWEST MICROSTAKES
One bad habit that Gano still has is acting too quickly. He recommends that you take a couple extra seconds to make a decision, especially when the pot is big. To break the habit of rushing, he makes a game out of it. How many rivers in a row does he stop and think to use his time bank? The game is to see how many he can do this in a row. Trying not to act too fast is something important for everybody. He developed early on playing different tables.
Overall, as long as you try to stay flexible and open to new ideas, you’ll be fine. It can help to cultivate your capacity for awareness through techniques such as mindfulness and meditation. It helps to have strong awareness to play your A game, and know immediately when it is lapsing.
Keep learning. As long as your are steadily increasing your poker knowledge, the kinks and the bad habits will eventually work themselves out.
A GAME AND MENTAL GAME INTEGRITY
Mental game is half the battle. It is of no less importance than your tactical game. In The Mental Game of Poker, Jared Tendler talks about doing an A to C game analysis. Gano thinks it’s a good idea.
Start by writing down how your A game looks. You’re smiling, relaxed, picking great spots. Make a list. Then describe what your B game looks like. Maybe you’re no longer taking time on river decisions. Then list out C game. Maybe you’re cursing when taking bad beats.
When you know what each game looks like, you’ll have a better feel for when you move between them. When we’re tilted, we start rationalizing to play longer vs. knowing to stop.
Also stick to a time limit, especially if you notice consistently that you’re tilting after a certain amount of time. If tilt is a problem, use a stop/loss. For example, down 5 buyins, quit for the day.
EXPLOIT UNSTUDIED PLAYERS
More useful than giving specific plays would be to give an idea for playing each type of fish. There are many different types of unstudied players. Tight, loose, passive, calling station, etc. Each has a corresponding strategy:
- Vs super-tight, steal blinds and nut peddle
- Vs. really loose players, play better ranges and cooler them
- Vs. passive, you have to do value betting yourself
- Super aggressive, trap and slow play more
- Overall, you can make most from maniacs. Deal with the stress, close your eyes and call down sometimes.
TRANSITIONING FROM ONLINE POKER FROM LIVE AND BEING ON THE CLOCK
As for making decisions on the clock, it helps if you’re not playing too many tables. Besides that, do the best you can. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you make mistakes. It’s going to happen, it’s a natural part of the process. The most important part is the process itself. Get into the habit of marking your hands and reviewing them afterwards, hopefully everyday. This again, is where a study group can come in handy, like the one Gano runs.