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Using Aggression in the Micro Stakes | Episode #245


Sky Matsuhashi

on July 7, 2019

I discuss using your micro stakes aggression in good and poor ways.  Good: gaining value and successful bluffs.  Bad: chip spew.

In case you missed episode 243, I discussed strategies for hunting more profits with Bread & Butter Poker.

Challenge (1:55)

Here’s my challenge to you for this episode:  As you play each session the next week, have a tick sheet in front of you with the words “Value” and “Bluff” written on it. Every time you bet or raise for value, make a tick next to “Value.” If doing so as a bluff, make a tick next to “Bluff.” Count ‘em up and track them for the week. See how often you’re bluffing vs value betting. There isn’t an optimal “value to bluff ratio”, but tracking this will force you to consider why you’re making every bet or raise. This extra focus will lead to better aggressive decisions.

Now it’s your turn to take action and do something positive for your poker game.

Aggression in the Micro Stakes (3:30)

Aggression in poker means you’re making bets or raises. You’re taking the lead or the initiative in the hand when you do so, and you’re telling your opponents, “Hey, I’ve got the goods so watch out.”

The opposite of aggression is passivity. Passive plays are checking and calling. When you play passively, that’s like telling your opponents, “I don’t like my hand enough to actually put money in the pot, unless you force me to in order to see the next street or showdown.”

The real benefit of aggression is the fold equity it gives you. Betting and raising allows you to win pots without the best hand at showdown. If you play passively and just call, you’re relying on hitting your hand on the next street or having the best at showdown.

But, when you bet and they fold, it doesn’t matter what hand you hold. It only matters that your opponent wasn’t willing to put chips into the pot to look you up.

Another great aspect of aggression is that it allows you to earn more value from your strongest hands.

Many micro stakes players don’t use aggression until they’ve got a great hand. They only 3bet preflop with QQ+ and AK, or post-flop they only bet with TP and only raise with 2p+. This is because they’re overly value-oriented and they think that micro stakes players can’t fold their hands. That might be true for some, but every player is different so the level of aggression you employ MUST be dependent upon the player you’re up against.

On the flip side of the micro stakes aggression coin, with so little real-world dollars at stake, some players over-use aggression. A full buy-in at 5nl is only $5. Sure, it’s 100bb’s, but in the real world, that’s like one venti Starbucks coffee. So, some people don’t mind spewing chips when it’s just a cup of coffee on the line.

But, you’re a good poker player and you make the best use of your 100bb’s at every table.



Don’t spew chips with aggression (6:00)

You can’t just willy-nilly throw chips at pots aggressively and expect to be a winning poker player. There must be a bit of caution shown with your aggression because of the chips you’re putting at risk. And the more aggressive the bet, the more chips are at risk.

Let’s look at a simple progression of bets in a micro stakes 10NL game:

  • SB is .05, BB is .10
  • Standard 2bet open-raise is to 3bb’s or $.30
  • Standard 3bet over the 2bet is to 9bb’s or to $.90. This is almost 10% of your full starting stack.
  • A standard 4bet over the 3bet is to 25bb’s or $2.50. This is a quarter of your starting stack, and it’s put in before a flop even hits.
  • Most 5bets are just shoves at this point over the 25bb 4bet, so you’re committing your full stack of $10 with a 5bet at 10NL.

As you can see, as the raises progress, bet sizing does as well (exponentially) until somebody says “screw it” and just shoves all-in.

If you open the pot and fold, that’s only 3bb’s down the drain. If you 3bet and fold, you’re only losing 9bb’s, not optimal but not so bad. But a 4bet/fold is pretty darn costly and a 5bet often times commits everything. Now, it’s not the end of the world should you get aggressive at the wrong time or vs the wrong opponent and 4bet then fold or we lose after the 5bet shove. It’s just a small part of your bankroll after all and poker is a long-term game, and wins or losses in the short-term shouldn’t affect you too much.

BUT, we all know that it very well can affect you. We’ve all gone on tilt after 4bet bluffing then folding to the shove, or having our QQ beaten by AA after 5bet shoving vs that donk 4bettor.

Let’s face it: it sucks when our bluffs get snapped off or we get it in with a hand worse than our opponent.

This is the real insidious aspect of aggression that we often overlook. Not only does unthinking, illogical or mis-timed aggression hurt our stacks, it can also send us on tilt and cause even more harm.

By being more selective and logical with your aggression, you minimize losing valuable chips. You also stay in better control of your game and hopefully suffer from tilt a bit less often.

Let’s use smart aggression (9:25)


1. We can have smart and reasoned open-raising ranges. When we use ranges as we play, we take our off-the-felt study and the work we do and bring it all to our on-the-felt game.  We don’t have to think, “Is this hand good enough to play from the CO?” Nope, we’ve done the work already so we know it’s good enough to play. Now we can think about other important considerations like the opponents yet to act, the stack sizes involved, the tournament conditions or what we’ll do vs a potential 3bet.

2. We can make more 3bet bluffs IP. If A5s or 76s is a hand you like to 3bet bluff with, you can do this from OOP in the blinds, or IP in the CO or the BTN. If you look at your opponent’s 2bet/Fold to 3bet stat, it’s probably higher when they’re OOP vs being IP. Many players instinctively hate playing OOP post-flop, and especially in bigger 3bet pots. It takes a super donk or a super fish to call regardless of position. In general, 3bet bluffs work well when you’re doing them from IP, and if you’re called, you’ve got that post-flop position to help you find another way to take it down, to get value or to pot control your showdown worthy hand.


1. We can Cbet bluff more frequently IP. Just like Folding to 3bets pre-flop, most players fold much more to Cbets when they’re OOP. When you Cbet from OOP, you face many more raises and calls because players know that once you check the next street, they have an easy bluff opportunity. If you cbet less frequently from OOP, you’re making poker a bit easier on yourself. Save your OOP cbets for value hands and your best draws like FD’s and nut open-ended straight draws and combo draws.

2. We can raise for value when we’re well ahead of their range and they can call with worse. Many players just call with their TP hands and only raise with 2p+. But, if you know your opponent can call with worse than TP vs your raise, go ahead and make it. Your value hand needs to be ahead of their calling range. You know tons of players who cbet bluff then call raises with their draws, so get value from them. If you only ever raise with 2p+, you’re pretty easy to read and I can cbet 100% of hands and simply fold all my bluffs vs your raises. When you throw in TP hands and even some draws into your raising ranges, it makes you tougher to read.

3. Bet when checked to. This is much easier to do when IP. Their OOP checks (especially over 2 streets) means your bluff bet is more likely to work. Do this on turn and river cards that don’t connect with the board or are scary over cards. Take advantage of their show of weakness on a card that doesn't hit their range.

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Poor ways to use aggression (15:30)


1. DO NOT treat the EP as an opportunity to steal. On average, every open-raise earns you chips. But, the more often you open-raise, the more 3bets you’ll face. Stay tight from UTG through the MP, and only open up your ranges starting in the CO.

2. DO NOT 3bet bluff OOP vs a non-folder. Always look at the player’s 2bet/Fold to 3bet stat before you bluff 3bet. You want to target your 3bet bluffs vs players who can fold, so you’re looking for 60%+ Fold to 3bet. If it’s way below this, and the closer to 0 it is, you should know they’re not folding. Remember my saying

If they ain’t folding, we ain’t bluffing.

3. DO NOT 3bet or 4bet “just ‘cause.” There are times, and I know I’m guilty of it, when I 3bet or 4bet just because I think I need to show aggression here. “He’s 3betting me again? That does it, let’s see how he likes my 4bet with 22!” Not a good idea. You should bet or raise because indications point to your opponent reacting how you want them to, not just because your ego tells you to.

4. DO NOT open the pot for a steal with ATC. In today’s micro stakes games, players defend their blinds a crazy amount, plus they hate folding to cbets even OOP. So, if you choose to make the CO/BTN/SB steal with 74s vs the non-folding blinds, you’re just asking to see a flop with a crap hand vs players who are hard to bluff. Save the chips, save your patience, save your attention for better situations.


1. DO NOT cbet just to cbet.  This goes to the earlier idea of doing something aggressive just because. Have a reason for your cbet, don’t just make them 100% of the time. 100% cbetting is easy for players to exploit with bluff raises or calling down with showdown worthy hands.

2. DO NOT bet lightly into multi-way pots. The more players in the pot, the more likely somebody hit a piece of it. Think about how the flop hits the ranges they got there with, and the more connected or wet the board, the more dangerous the situation. Plus, multi-way pots are often bigger, making for more costly bets and raises.

3. DO NOT check-raise the flop without a plan for the turn. So, you looked at the popup and saw that he folds to check-raises 75% of the time. Great, do it! But, before you do, consider how you’ll approach the turn if they decide to call. Also, plan how you’ll respond to a re-raise. Here’s another old adage for you from somebody else:

If you’re surprised by how your opponent responds, then you didn’t give the situation enough thought.

4. DO NOT double or triple barrel without considering your opponent’s range. You threw out the flop bet, and that’s fine for whatever reason. But they called. What hand calls the size of bet you made on those flop cards? Now, you double-barreled, and they called again. What hands can call the flop and turn, on this board against your chosen bet sizing? You must have an idea of the hands they’ve continued with from prior streets. Do they call with draws, pairs only, or other hands? The more you reason through their continuance range, the better plays you’ll make on future streets.

Support the Show

Good Fella picked up my favorite poker software, PokerTracker 4.  My favorite since 2006!  In appreciation, I sent Good Fella my Smart HUD for PT4.  Along with the growing database of hands to study, the Smart HUD is a powerful tool in anyone's poker toolbox.

Charles Bryant purchased the Smart HUD for PokerTracker 4.  It's the best in the business, and you can get the Smart HUD by clicking here.

Some great poker peeps supported me by purchasing webinars with my 30% off summer sale:

Up Next…

In episode #246, I’ll hit you with an 8-question micro stakes Q&A!

Until next time, study smart, play much and make your next session the best one yet.


Sky Matsuhashi

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