Can’t win, always losing at micro level Holdem poker?

by ~ July 14th, 2008. Filed under: Instructional posts, Micro level poker.

One of the tough things for a beginner at no limit holdem poker is the way poker theory is seemingly at odds with what seems to win. This will happen often at the low levels. Someone who tries to play more or less within the range of recommended basics can get frustrated and bewildered when others regularly seem to win with bad preflop cards or chases of draws.

Beginners are always advised to play tight, play few hands, raise the good ones preflop, then bet strongly (1/2 to full pot bets) when you have a hand. This alone is not enough to win every time, especially if you’re playing with play money or on Facebook or something like that. In fact, it’s never going to win for you all the time, but over time it’s going to win for you more often than any other beginner strategy. Other looser strategies can win more in a short term, or even in the longer term if you are Gus Hansen or an equivalently good player relative to the level that you are playing at, and are capable of playing in this manner. One friend of mine is a very good finisher in $22/$30 tournaments and plays pretty loose in the early stages, but he’s an extremely good postflop player and isn’t going to get chipped down when he limps in and hits only top pair. Like Brunson says, when you get in with suited connectors you’re not looking to catch a pair, you’re looking for at least two pair or a strong draw. If you only catch one pair that means you’ve got a lousy kicker. If the pair is low enough you might be up against an overpair, even in a limped pot, and especially at lower levels of play. Take one stab at the pot, but you’ve got to be willing to give it up and save your chips for another round.

Take a look at your stats.

  • At a 8-10 player table, either cash games or early levels of a tournament or SnG you should be seeing 20-35% of flops as a very broad rule. If you remove the times you just check the big blind it should be lower, 15-30%. This number without the checks from the big blind position is what’s called your VP$IP, Voluntarily Put $ In Pot. It’s one of the most important stats and indicates how tight or loose a player is.
  • At low playing levels raises won’t have as much value. Normal preflop raise percentage should be around 2/3 of your VP$IP, so if you’re a very tight player and your VP$IP is 15, then your PFR should be 10%. If you’re loose at 30%, your PFR should be 20%. but at lower levels my PFR (preflop raise %) is lower than at better levels. Still, if your PFR is averaging less than 1/3 of your VP$IP at cash games or early tournaments, you need to raise more often.
  • Look at the percentage of times that you win at showdown. This should stay around 50%, maybe slightly above like 55%. If your rate is much higher then you’re too tight/weak and are getting bet out of pots. If it’s low, then you’re either too aggressive or are calling down with second best hands too often.

Of course over the short term this will fluctuate. VP$IP and PFR numbers accumulate every hand that you are dealt cards, but showdown percentage only happens when you go to showdown, which is far less often. This means to get a statistically useful reading you need more total hands for showdown, as well as for aggression, steal percentage, or any of the other stats that you can get from PokerTracker or Holdem Manager.

And if you play sit and goes or 6 max tables, then the stats that I’ve recommended above are not directly applicable. When the blinds rise and/or the table is shorter you must get more aggressive, stealing more blinds even at cash tables simply because you have fewer hands when you aren’t a blind and because weaker hands will win because of less competition.

Other words of advice; watch out for “trouble hands”. Again this is a Brunson term for hands like KQ, KJ, KT, QJ, QT, even AT. Raising from early position with these hands can get you in trouble in a 8-10 person table, and calling behind raises with them, or worse yet, from the blinds, can get you into a lot of trouble as well. The problem with them is that they look pretty, but can get you into a lot of trouble if you’re in against AA/KK or AK or AQ. If you get in with them and catch top pair, play for a small pot, don’t pay off the guy who’s got you dominated.

Just toss trash. K4s doesn’t make a straight, doesn’t give you the nut flush. J7 is veeerry rarely going to make you a straight. 96 will hit a really nice straight once in a few hundred flops, but you don’t want to be paying to see all those flops just to hit once. Other than that all you can hope for with these hands is to hit two pair or trips, but again you are going to hit so infrequently that you cannot recover the cost of all those missed flops in the one time that you do hit. These hands have their place; maybe raising from the blinds against tight players or heads-up at the end of a SnG but otherwise just fold them. A good post flop player might limp behind with these from late position, but unless you really think that you’re a better post flop player than your competition, just fold them and save your chips.

Don’t become “results oriented”. Too many beginners fold their K4 and then groan when the flop comes T44. Then in the chat box they’ll type “damn, i folded k4” This is a pretty good sign of a beginner because any decent player knows that you don’t play K4 except in particular situations. This player is encouraging himself, and others at the table who are susceptible to influence, to take chances with bad cards, hoping for the “perfect flop”. The odds are not with you, don’t be influenced by the actual outcome of one hand.

And make notes, pay attention to your reads. In the hand history you can see the mucked cards, so check to see what kind of cards the losing players held. Did he raise with AK, bet all the way through to lose to someone who paired the J on the flop? Did he limp, then call a preflop raise, then call all the way to the river when he paired the 6 on the flop with his A6? Did he limp JJ, then call down even though there was a K on the flop and someone else led the betting? Use this information to help you to decide how to play against these people when you’re in a hand against them.


Try to stick to your guns. You’ve read all over the place the proper basics for beginners (try to avoid advice coming from games at higher levels for the time being; it won’t make you a “better” player until you get the basics ingrained). Be patient, stick to the game plan, and over time you’ll be coming out ahead, plus you’ll have good fundamentals for taking it to the next level.


Some other helpful posts?

Preflop hand selection

Fear of raising preflop

Calculating Odds and Outs

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