Poker Stakes Explained – From Low Stakes Levels to High Stakes Poker
Poker is a game played around the world and for a variety of different stakes. Ranging from nickel and dime games on your dining room table to million-dollar cash games in Las Vegas and Macau, poker is still poker, regardless of the stakes.
However, one would be silly to assume that small stakes poker home games are the same as high stakes poker cash games played in the gambling Meccas of the world, and there are many differences worth noting.
In case you are not sure about the exact definitions of terms such as micro stakes, mid-stakes, or high stakes poker, I am going to explain in detail what exactly they mean.
These terms, normally used among poker professionals, actually refer to very specific games. You should know which game falls in each category if you are going to take poker as a serious career.
Let’s get started with the smallest of games around, which most players use as a training ground and a way to kick-start their poker careers and their bankrolls.
Micro Stakes – Training Wheels of Poker
Micro stakes poker is the term used for the very lowest levels of play. These games are normally played online, as the costs of running a poker game simply don’t allow for live micro stakes poker.
Micro stakes are also played in home games, with families and friends often coming together to play nickel and dime games in their homes.
These lowest stakes games include anything between NL2 and NL25 in cash games, as well as any poker tournaments with buyins of under $5.
Typically, micro stakes poker games are extremely soft, whether you are playing cash games, tournaments, or sit and goes.
Yet, in recent years, we have seen the micro stakes poker games get much tougher, as a great number of poker grinders from low-income countries have realized they can make more money playing the micros than working in their home towns.
Nevertheless, it does not take a rocket scientist to beat micro stakes poker. If you know the first thing about the game, you should be good to beat the micros and move up pretty fast.
Tips for Beating Micro Stakes Poker
- Play Tight and Aggressive: There is really no need for fancy plays at micro stakes tables. Play fairly tight, get value when you have good poker hands, and get out of the way when you don’t.
- Mind the Rake: The biggest problem with the micros is that the rake tends to be quite high compared to the blinds you are playing. Make sure you play on a room that has a reasonable rake structure at the micro stakes.
- Take Shots at Bigger Games: If you are beating the micros, you will eventually want to move up. Once you have picked up some strategy, you can try and move up whenever you have some extra cash. After all, it will be easy to replenish your bankroll if you do bust it.
Low Stakes Poker – The First Serious Levels
Beating the micro stakes should come fairly easily if you have a neck for the game of poker. Soon, the time will come to join the ranks of low-stakes poker players.
Low-stakes games include levels such as NL50 to NL200 online, as well as NL100 to NL500 in live poker. Tournaments with buyins between $10 and $30 are typically considered the low stakes as well.
In low-stakes poker, you will typically begin to encounter a fair number of solid players, especially online. Live low-stakes poker games are a real gold mine, although the rake structure can often make them difficult to beat at a high win rate.
If you have the bankroll needed to play the low-stakes games, you will have probably beaten the micros for a substantial amount and should be ready to keep going.
Expect a significant increase in average skill levels between the micro and low stakes poker. At these stakes, more professionals aspiring towards mid-stakes will be seated at your tables.
All that said, I am not saying low-stakes games will be too difficult or that you should be afraid of playing the low stakes by any means.
In fact, I recommend moving over from micro stakes to low stakes as soon as your bankroll allows it and trying to build it up fast so you can play in the games that you really want to get to.
Tip for Beating Low Stakes Poker
- Start Studying Poker: If you were able to beat micro stakes poker without any studying alone, you are about to get a reality check. You will need to put some serious time into studying poker if you want to progress further. Low stakes are a great training ground for your future career.
- Pick Your Games: At micro stakes, there are hundreds of tables available around the clock, and you can basically sit at any table and find similar opponents. At low stakes, table selection will come into play, and you may want to start avoiding playing against the regs when you have a chance to do so.
- Use the HUD: A HUD like Poker Tracker 4 is not really necessary in the lowest of games, but once you move onto the low stakes poker, using a tracker will be of great help. I highly recommend installing one and learning how to use it unless you play on a network that does not allow for the use of such programs.
Mid Stakes Poker – Where Pros Are Made
Mid-stakes poker is really the first opportunity you will have to play against truly serious poker players and win amounts that are considered good income in any country of the world.
Mid-stakes games include stakes like NL500 and NL1,000 online and anything up to NL5,000 in live cash games. Tournaments with buyins up to $109 are generally considered as mid-stakes as well.
At the mid-stakes, you will need to learn the game more extensively and have a well-crafted strategy for all scenarios that can come up.
These days, a lot of players at the mid-stakes will be familiar with the GTO poker strategies and will not be afraid to play their hands correctly regardless of how much money is on the line.
This means you will also need to switch up your game and play at a completely new level, with range vs. range wars becoming your new reality and every hand potentially costing you your whole stack.
With games being more aggressive and the stakes getting higher, you can expect to need a substantial bankroll in order to maintain a reasonable win rate.
However, if you can beat NL1,000 online, you are basically an elite poker player and should have no problem building a great career in poker if you can maintain your composure, patience, and other factors that make a great poker player.
There is plenty of room to grow from the mid-stakes, but even if you were to stay at this level for years, you should be making a good living if you are one of the winners in the games.
Tips for Beating Mid Stakes Poker
- Balance Your Ranges: Once you get to the mid-stakes, people will start looking to exploit you significantly more than before. This means you will need to balance out all your ranges to make sure you are not exploitable and learn how to size up your bets in ways that don’t open you up to being crushed by observant opponents.
- Choose Your Path: At this point in your career, you should think about whether you want to be the kind of player to exploit your opponents’ mistakes or one to play optimally regardless of the way others are playing. From here, you will be able to pick your future coaching materials between exploitative and GTO poker play.
- Be Patient: Mid-stakes are truly demanding, and there is no way to easily become a winner at these games. It will take time, dedication, and possibly some heartbreak before you are crushing the mid-stakes, but it will be well worth the effort.
High Stakes Poker – Reaching the Elite
Most poker players, even the good ones, don’t necessarily reach the level where they are regularly playing high-stakes poker games.
In the online world, high-stakes poker cash games barely run, while tournaments with buyins of $1,000 or higher do run every so often, giving players a chance to compete for the big bucks.
Yet, high-stakes poker is all about the cash games. These are usually found in live settings and can often be very lucrative.
While you may expect the high-stakes games to be tougher than mid-stakes, this is not always the case.
The reason for that is the fact that mid-stakes attract many top-level players, but many ultra-rich recreational players prefer to gamble it up for more money at one time.
This means you will often come across cash games with buyins higher than $10,000 in live poker rooms with several recreational players sitting down. Their skills can often be compared to those of low-stakes players at the online tables.
High-stakes poker is about more than just skills, though. Firstly, you will need to find ways to get into the games. Then, you also need to have enough money at your disposal, and be willing to lose massive amounts in a single poker session.
Tips to Beating High Stakes Poker
- Pick Your Games Carefully: High-stakes poker is really all about game selection, as picking the right table to sit at can win you thousands of dollars. Sitting at the wrong one can be a terrible idea. You could be playing high-stakes poker against literal poker geniuses or complete amateurs, so make sure you pick your games.
- Mind the Bankroll: The biggest danger of high-stakes poker is that you will not have a big enough poker bankroll to maintain the massive swings. Even if the games seem quite lucrative, make sure you can actually afford to play and lose if things don’t go your way.
- Build Your Resilience: Maintaining your composure during downswings is a key skill for any poker player, but it is one that truly comes into play at the highest of stakes. Make sure you are ready to take the hits and ride out the variance when things don’t quite go your way.
The Nosebleeds – The Highest of High Stakes
Even high-stakes players usually have their limits, and the games where stakes are so high that you can barely comprehend it are typically called “the nosebleeds.”
We are talking about the kinds of games you see on TV where millions of dollars are on the table, and tens of thousands are being thrown around like pocket change.
Most poker players don’t ever get a chance to sit at these tables, and you should not be too concerned about how to beat them as you will hardly ever get to play this high.
However, players who do make it to the nosebleeds are usually those who were good enough to beat all the other opposition or shrewd enough to play high-stakes poker with rich amateurs who simply enjoyed playing with them.
If you do reach the nosebleeds, continuing with the trend of finding rich people to play against is your best bet, as this is the only way to really win with so much money on the line.
Tips to Beating the Nosebleeds
- Only Play in Good Games: At the nosebleeds, you will hardly find a table made up of bad players only. However, you may well come across tables with one or two amateurs who simply like to gamble it up. This is really the only time you should risk hundreds of thousands of dollars to sit down in a poker game.
- Forget About the Cash: The amounts of money being wagered at the nosebleeds are so ridiculous that you will not be able to play well if you care about the money at all. You will need to learn to forget about the value of money and simply play the game as if nothing was at stake.
- Don’t Force It: The nosebleeds are really dangerous because a person can lose a million dollars in a single bad session. If you are not careful, you could get into debt that you can’t get out of. Make sure that you are only playing if you can truly afford it and step away if things start going the wrong way.