Since the advent of online poker, players all over the world have invested time and money into upping their games. And while most of us are in it for the moolah, not everyone plays for the same kind of money. You can play for different stakes based on your bankroll and risk appetite.
Here’s what the levels for micro, small, mid, and high stakes look like:
- Micro Stakes: Blinds between $0.01/$0.02 and $0.10/$0.25
- Small Stakes: Blinds between $0.25/0.$50 and 0.$50/$1.00
- Mid Stakes: Blinds between $2/$5 and $5/$10
- High Stakes: Blinds between $5/$10 and $50/$100
- Nosebleeds: Blinds above $200/$400
While it’s still poker, the style of play differs significantly at each stake. By learning how to play at different levels, you can take advantage of the competition. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at each level, see how soft the tables are, and what kind of players to expect.
1. Micro Stakes
The micro stakes are as low as it goes, and online poker has made it possible for those who want to invest the bare minimum to enjoy the game.
The blinds at micro tables range between $0.01/$0.02 to $0.10/$0.25, and the buy-in fee at cash games is always less than $25 unless you can buy in deep (more about that in this detailed article). In fact, most online platforms will allow players to buy-in for as little as one dollar!
At the micro stakes, you’ll also find $5 to $11 tournaments with a decent payout (considering the low buy-in).
But don’t let the low buyins deceive you. Even at microstakes, you can make mid 5 figures per year.
Micro stakes typically attract two main types of players:
- Recreational players looking to enjoy poker at a low cost.
- Ambitious players looking to build their bankroll from the ground up.
For the most part, you’ll come across recreational players who will see a hand to showdown and often won’t fold, no matter the bet size. Out of the ambitious players, only a few ever make it to the high stakes through grinding, while the rest are destined to stay at the micro tables.
It’s safe to say that micro tables are the softest out there, and it can be challenging to assess the skill of players at this level. Most bets are made with little calculation or strategy in mind, making it difficult to read too much into what someone is playing with.
There’s typically a lot of betting at the micros before the flop, followed by little to no action after community cards are shown.
The drawback of playing regularly at micros is that the skills you pick up won’t transfer well to the higher stakes, and you’ll need to change your style of play as you move up.
However, if you’re patient and have the right mindset, the micros are an excellent place to build up your bankroll before stepping into the higher stakes on this list. Here are a few strategies to help you win at the micro tables.
I used to grind on micro stakes on PokerStars back in the day. I was playing 24 tables of Full Ring games. $0.10/$0.25 was my standard grinding limit before I moved up. These were the lowest limits where you could earn a decent living in some countries. Actually, you could earn a few times more than the average salary was.
Bet in Position
As mentioned, the micros are where trigger-happy poker players come to throw away their chips, so you can benefit significantly from playing in position. Try betting the most when you’re on the button, as micros are characterized by quick folds from players without a winning hand.
Only Value Bet
While a suited six and seven can be tempting to play, the micros are not the kind of table where you test your skills. Instead, focus only on value betting or raising when you have a valuable hand.
Most micro players will want to see the cards at showdown, even if they feel you have them beat. So avoid playing hands with too many possibilities and focus on value bets to win big.
Try Winning With the Nuts
You can make the most money at the micros when you’ve got a hand that also gives your opponent a strong hand. For example, if you’ve got the nuts with a high flush and someone is raising, you can bet they’ve either got a lower flush or something you can beat.
By waiting for the nuts, you can ensure a quick victory and make a small amount of cash to play the next couple of hands.
Avoid calling raises and stick to either raising or folding if someone re-raises. Opponents at the micros rarely bluff, and you won’t benefit from stringing along with a player who may outdo your hand on the river.
Additional Tip: Stick to the basics of poker strategy and avoid any fancy techniques or bluffs; you don’t need any of that at this level.
The micro stakes allow you to play poker for money without financial pressure. It’s the ideal place to start your journey as a poker player, especially if you’re still a bit shaky on the rules and order of play.
2. Small Stakes
Once you’ve saved up enough at the micro stakes, or when you’re comfortable putting a little more of your money into poker, you can join the small stakes tables. The small stakes are where poker gets exciting, and the games become more nuanced and dynamic.
The small stakes are characterized by blind sizes between $0.25/$0.50 and $0.50/$1.00, and it’s not uncommon to find players at 50NL and 100NL buy-ins playing here.
At small stakes, aspiring pros begin to carve out a living as poker players, even if it’s only as a source of extra income. You can start to earn enough to increase your bankroll at this level significantly.
Small stakes tables are usually a little more complicated, and basic poker strategies won’t work here. As mentioned, you can begin carving out a life as a pro, even making a few thousand dollars every month. With that kind of money involved, you can bet the competition is a lot tougher.
However, the quality of small-stakes games varies between poker platforms. The impressive payout attracts grinders from all over the world, so it’s not uncommon to find skilled players at this level. However, you’re sure to find card rooms with soft tables full of recreational players.
This disparity can be an advantage if you use it well. Consider playing at a few sites to find out where they’ve got the softest tables. By sitting at these tables most of the time, you can win good money and quickly build your bankroll to move on to higher stakes.
As mentioned, small stakes feature more nuanced strategies. To be successful at this level, you’ll need more than a basic understanding of poker.
Here are a few tips to help you win at the small stakes tables:
Learn About Poker Equity
To play at the small stakes, you’ll need a basic understanding of poker equity and how it works. Knowing these fundamentals can help you maximize your profits at the small stakes over the long run.
Select the Right Games
Remember, even a $100 buy-in is still a small stakes game, and the payout can be impressive. However, if you want to benefit while playing these stakes, you’ll want to take time figuring out which tables to sit at.
It’s best to visit different poker sites and get an idea of how soft the tables are. More popular sites, like Pokerstars, will probably have more challenging small-stakes tables as they receive such high volumes of traffic.
Finding the right tables to play at is an integral part of small-stakes gameplay. Additionally, some platforms offer better rake backs and rewards in small-stakes games that can help boost your monthly earnings.
Use a HUD
While some platforms don’t allow it, HUDs can be a valuable tool in upping your game and learning your opponents’ behavior and how to counter it. And once you get used to it, a HUD will help you make decisions a lot quicker than calculating probabilities in your head.
I have a great and very popular article on the best poker HUDs.
Profile Your Opponents
Learning to categorize your opponents is crucial to understanding how to counter them. By figuring out their tendencies, you’ll know when to raise, call, and fold, which can give you a significant competitive edge at the small stakes.
If you’re a focused small-stakes player, it’s possible to make between $2000 and $5000 a month from cash games and tournaments.
Even part-time small-stake players have been known to get away with $1000 a month. Of course, it all depends on the tables you choose and how well you play.
3. Mid Stakes
The most common blind sizes at mid-stakes poker lie between $2/$5 and $5/$10, with minimum buy-ins of $200. While it seems like there’s little difference between $100 and $200, the games at mid-stakes are typically on a whole other level.
On most online poker platforms, the mid-stakes are where you’ll find the best players. And if you play winning poker at this level, you can pretty much make a living in nearly any country in the world.
The mid-stakes have fewer soft tables, as many of the players are highly skilled, with years of experience. Most of these players can probably afford to play at the high stakes but choose to stay in mid stakes as the risk is less and the payout is still handsome.
The mid stakes involve a lot more reading your opponents and anticipating how they might be luring you into a trap to exploit you. For beginners, it’s hard to tell the difference between a small and mid-stakes game. However, a pro can quickly spot the level after a few hands.
The difference lies in the bet sizes, with mid-stakes games having more nuanced, well-planned raises. You’re sure to see disproportional bet sizes at the smaller stakes, but mid-stakes players are careful about who they’re pushing out of a hand and focus on keeping players they can probably beat.
If you’ve made it to the mid-stakes and consistently play here, congrats! You’re technically a professional poker player! However, these stakes are where the best of the best begin to assemble, and to play here takes more than just ambition, skill, and will.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re playing at the mid-stakes:
Take A Dedicated Approach
The mid-stakes are reserved for those who want to make a living off poker, so if you’re here, be prepared to dedicate a significant portion of your life to playing the game.
At this level, you’ll have to spend time studying poker strategy and learn to read opponents better.
Consider Level 3 Thinking
There are four levels of thinking in poker, and if you’re playing at the mid stakes, you have to at least be at level 3. Levels one and two refer to more self-engrossed players and those who can perform some basic reads on their opponents.
A player at level 3 or higher knows that they’re projecting an image through their style of play, and this image is being studied by other players. Level 3 thinkers know how this fact affects another player’s game and can manipulate this image for the desired outcome.
Choose Your Tables Wisely
When you get to the mid stakes, you have to be careful about the tables you play at as you don’t want to bump into other mid-stakes players. It’s best to spend some time scouting different poker rooms to figure out the softest tables and play there.
Platforms like Ignition Poker and Global Poker are ideal for finding softer mid-stakes tables.
As mentioned, you can’t use skill and experience alone to win at the mid-stakes. You’ll need something more practical and foolproof. It’s best to spend some time learning GTO or game theory optimally, which will help you figure out how to improve your win rate over time.
The mid-stakes are pretty nuanced and challenging to play as a beginner. Comparing the micro stakes to mid stakes would be similar to comparing a pro basketball player to an amateur playing in his backyard court. The level is worlds apart!
4. High Stakes
The high stakes are typically where most players hope to end up someday until they build the bankroll to get there. Most people stay out of high-stakes games because pots at the high stakes typically go into thousands of dollars, and you can risk losing a significant portion of your wealth here.
The high stakes involve blinds between $5/$10 and $50/$100.
This level is most often played by wealthy players (commonly known as whales) who have the financial backing to buy into these games. Some pros also tend to play at this level, but they’re typically the ones who can already afford the games.
Most high-stakes games involve spending considerable time figuring out which tables to play. Table selection is the most crucial aspect at the high stakes and can mean the difference between winning big and going broke.
Most mid-stakes players possess the skills to play at the higher stakes but may lack the nerve to face up to the outrageous bets at this level. Often, the difference between mid and high-stakes players is their ability to manage their bankrolls and careers.
If you get to this level, you probably won’t need this article, but here are a few tips to help out at the high stakes.
Get a Coach
Without a coach with significant experience, you’re likely to lose a lot of money at the high stakes. So a coach is the first thing you want to invest in when you get to the high stakes. A good mentor can help clean up your game strategies and grant you insight into understanding the dynamics at this level.
I wrote a detailed article on whether it is worth getting a coach. I have spent 5 figures on poker coaches and have a very good idea and actual experience about what worked for me. There you can find great tips on how to find a good coach, why not all coaching styles will work for you, and what kind of coaches to stay away from at any cost.
Do Your Homework
If you thought you needed to study for the mid stakes, here’s where you truly need to put in a lot of work.
At the high stakes, you’ll need to spend hours learning about ranges, frequencies, and other top-notch poker concepts that the best in the game have already mastered.
Select the Right Tables
At the high stakes, there are often so few players (on any platform) that you’ll eventually know everyone who’s playing at that level. You want to avoid sitting at tables with other regular high-stakes players as you probably won’t win much.
Instead, look for tables with new players or players who have recently moved up from the low stakes. If you’re playing live games, it’s best to sit at tables with recreational players who enjoy the thrill of gambling with that much money.
Another option would be to play high-stakes tournaments, with buy-ins above $1000. Here, you’re sure to find a few whales looking to quickly make it big and unaware of the skill level required. You can soon capitalize on such games.
Most poker players will never play at this level as the buy-ins and blinds are incredibly high. You’ll need a fortune even to play a single game at this level, and it’s not worth it unless you’re healthy already.
Even if you have the money, there are very few nosebleed games to choose from, considering there’s so much money involved at this level.
The blind values in a nosebleed game are typically above $200/$400, and the minimum buy-in is at least $20,000. You’re likely to find few poker players willing to put that kind of money on the line. And if you happen to play at this stake, you’re sure to know every other player who can afford to.
Most nosebleed games would happen in the era of Full Tilt poker (a popular online platform), where pros would play against recreational players with billions to spare. Today, very few poker rooms host tables for nosebleed games.
1. Which Stakes Have the Most Skilled Players?
Mid-stakes games typically have the most skilled players, as the investment is minimal compared to the impressive payout if you play correctly. As such, you’ll find most of the pros playing mid-stakes games.
2. Are the Stakes the Same for Online and Live Poker?
The stakes differ significantly between online and live poker, both in terms of amount for buy-ins and the skill level. Here’s a live equivalent of online stakes:
- Micro: There’s no such thing as a micro stake as the minimum buy-in at most professional live games is around 200NL.
- Small: Players at small stakes typically range between 200NL and 500NL.
- Mid: Live mid-stakes games have a more comprehensive range, between 1000NL and 5000NL.
- High: Typically higher than 10,000NL.
- Nosebleed: Most games with $200/$400 blinds are called high stakes games, with nosebleeds being a more recent term in the poker world.
It’s important to note that live players are usually less skilled than their online equivalents. So you can equate a 200NL live game to a 5NL online game. Keep this perspective in mind when playing live so you can capitalize on weaker players.
3. What Are the Best Sites To Play Small-Stakes Games?
The best sites to play small stakes games are the platforms with softer tables and better rewards and rake backs. While you can play small stakes on most platforms, it’s best to pick the ideal tables to make the most out of your games.
- America’s Cardroom
- 888 Poker
- Betsafe Poker
The competition is a lot less on these platforms as they attract more recreational players. Conversely, these platforms also have high traffic, allowing you to choose from multiple tables.
Figuring out which stakes to play is an integral part of being a successful poker player. Once you’ve gauged your skill level and what the competition is capable of, you can craft a strategy to suit your style of play and play to win in the long run.
However, remember the higher the stakes, the more investment you’ll need to learn the intricacies of the game in both time and money. So play according to your bankroll and skill level and only scale up when you’re sure you’re ready.