Pretty much everybody who starts out playing poker does so because they were drawn by the excitement and action of the game. But once you get over that honeymoon period and realise that there is actually a skill element involved, you want to win.
The problem for most people, though, is that they never get past the lower stakes. In fact most have trouble even breaking even in these games! The biggest reason why is because they keep making key mistakes that hold back their progress. In effect, they just keep shooting themselves in the foot over and over again.
In this article I am going to discuss the top five ways in which small stakes poker players prevent themselves from winning and moving up.
1. Poor Tilt Control
The number one way in which small stakes poker players hold back their progress — and it is not even close, really — is by tilting away all of their profits.
Poker is a crazy game where you can "run bad" for weeks, months or sometimes even years in extreme cases. But in the long run everybody gets dealt the same amount of winning and losing hands. Therefore, this game really could almost be summed up as just one big mental test.
Those who are able to keep their cool and control their emotions are almost always the biggest winners. If you want finally to start getting ahead in poker and move beyond the lower stakes, then you absolutely have to start taking your tilt control more seriously.
2. Playing in Terrible Games
Another way that lower stakes players consistently shoot themselves in the foot is by playing in bad games. What do I mean by this? I mean games that don't clearly have at least one really bad player or somebody who is tilting badly. This is where the money comes from in poker.
Of course, if you play tournaments or sit-n-gos, then you don't always have control over who is at your tables. However, if you play cash games like I do, then there really is no excuse other than laziness not to make sure that you are playing in good games.
Now some people just want to sit down and play — I totally get that. But in 2016 with tougher games both online and live, if you really want to win big, then you have to be willing to go the extra mile here.
3. Playing Too Passively
One of the most beautiful things about the game of poker is that most of the time nobody actually has much of anything at all. This means that there are tons of situations where the pot simply gets awarded to the person who wants it the most.
Elite poker players already know this and from a technical perspective this is really what separates them from everybody else. They don't get dealt aces or make more flushes than others. They simply take more of those small pots that nobody seems too interested in by being more aggressive.
That said, aggression in poker can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Unbridled aggression turns you into a fish just a quickly as somebody who only ever bets with the nuts.
Even so, next time you are at the tables think about all those small- and medium-sized pots a little more deeply — those pots in which everybody is just checking or limping. Is there a way you could win those hands by betting or even raising?
4. Not Getting in the Value Bets
Value betting at the lower stakes is one of the absolute top keys to your success. The reason why is because these are the limits where you often find the types of people who have trouble finding the fold button.
It goes without saying you should be value betting as much as you can with your really big hands like full houses, sets and overpairs.
Where small stakes players often stifle their progress instead, however, is by not getting all those little value bets in with a weak top pair or middle pair. This is especially the case on the river. Put it this way — if you think that there is any chance that you are ahead, often you should just go ahead and put in that value bet anyways.
If you are value betting correctly then you will get called by better hands on occasion. Don't be afraid of this. It means you are doing it right.
5. Not Making the Correct Folds
The last way in which lower stakes players harm their progress is by not making the right folds when they should.
Once again I am not talking about the super obvious spots where you have little or nothing and it is very clear you are beaten. I am talking instead about those situations where you have a fairly good hand like top pair or even an overpair, but given the board and the line the other player has taken, it is almost impossible your opponent has less.
One great thing about the lower limits is that most people play very robotically. What I mean by this is that they don't mix up their play very well.
For instance if they call your bet on the flop and then raise your bet on the turn, their range is heavily slanted towards big hands like two pair or better. While you might have a hand that looks amazingly strong like an overpair, it shrivels up quickly when you really consider what their range actually is.
River raises are another common area where small stakes players are rarely messing around. The ability to balance their play with bluffs on fifth street is just not something that most lower limit players are capable of doing.
So once again, you can often make what seems to be a fairly difficult fold versus a river raise with your top pair because there is just very little chance that your opponent ever shows up with less.
There is no such thing as a "crying call" in poker. There is such a thing as a bad call, though.
Poker is a pretty simple game on paper. Everybody is an expert. The problem is putting it all together in the heat of the moment, because that is the only thing that actually matters.
Nothing I discussed in this article is overly complex or groundbreaking. In fact, you probably already knew many of these points at least intuitively.
However, in order for you to move forward and start getting the results that you want in this game at the lower limits, it is imperative that you truly take them to heart.
Nathan "BlackRain79" Williams is the author of the popular micro stakes strategy books Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes. He also blogs regularly about all things related to the micros over at www.blackrain79.com.