By: Jason Lake
As the story goes, there was a schoolyard bully who kept making fun of the “dumb” kid. He'd go up to the kid with a nickel in one hand and a dime in the other. “Hey, kid, which one of these do you want?” The kid would always take the nickel, then the bully would run over to his friends and tell them about it. “What an idiot! He always takes the nickel!”
Eventually, a teacher overhears the bullies laughing at the kid. She approaches him and asks, “Why do you always take the nickel?” The kid shrugs his shoulders and replies, “If I take the dime, he'll stop giving me nickels.”
The Big Nickel
This is microstakes poker in a nutshell. If you're literally playing for nickels and dimes, as the vast majority of poker players do, you'll want to emulate the bullied kid in this story. Other players will try to outsmart you with all sorts of strategies, many of which are inappropriate for microstakes – anything below NL25, if you're playing no-limit Hold'em. If you keep your strategy simple and easy to follow, you'll capitalize on their mistakes in the long run. You'll be taking their money.
But not all of it. If you keep stacking your opponents, chances are they'll avoid playing hands with you, or they'll just leave the table and never come back. They will stop giving you nickels. Poker being what it is, will result in times when your opponents win pots from you, even when you play mistake-free. That will help keep them in the game. If they make fun of you every time they take down a pot, all the better. Just don't give them any reason to leave.
The idea here isn't to play a less effective poker strategy to “let” your opponents win some of the time. Far from it. The idea is to stop trying too hard to win those dimes. The harder you try, the more likely you'll succumb to the dreaded Fancy Play Syndrome. That light 5-bet that the pros sometimes use at higher stakes probably won't work when you're playing at this level.
So how do you keep it simple at the microstakes? Focus on betting for value instead of bluffing. As a very general rule of thumb, if you have at least top pair with a good kicker, like Ace-Queen with an Ace or a Queen on the flop, you can go for three streets of value (flop, turn and river) against an overly aggressive opponent, the kind you typically find at the micros. If you have something smaller than TPGK, don't get greedy, and if all you have is a bluff, why even bother? Unless you're just using microstakes as batting practice for bigger games, that is.