holding-t9Limit hold’em was perhaps the first game in online poker that suffered through the competition getting better. The average pot sizes fell through the floor during 2003 and 2004 due to players discovering concepts like hand strength and position in greater numbers. Back in 2001 and 2002, you could actually see some very bad players in games as high as $20-$40 and even higher……not so now.

So just what can you expect in limit hold’em these days at the various levels? Well in this article I am going to take a look through the various levels and try to inform you of what to expect at each generic phase.

Micro Stakes

I would classify this level at anything starting from $0.01-$0.02 up to and including $0.10-$0.20. You will encounter various definitions of what constitutes “low stakes” and “medium stakes” etc but much of this is dependent on the outlook of certain players. A player who had only ever played $200-$400 may consider $50-$100 to be medium stakes or even $75-$150.

It is not my purpose to debate these interpretations, merely to provide you with firm guidelines. You will not encounter serious players at micro-stakes games. These levels will be full of poker novices and players recently converted from play money games.

You can sometimes use these levels as a training tool to practice things like multi-tabling or trying out a sites software without it costing you too much money. I remember when I first used my Poker Office software, I used it in micro-stakes games until I became versatile with it. So the upshot is that these games are beatable but the rake is very high.

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Low Stakes

Here I would classify the games from $0.25-$0.50 up to and including $3-$6. These levels are still very soft and can be beaten by a player with a good solid game who can also play decent poker post flop. These levels are basically populated by many recreational players and players who simply want to play for more meaningful amounts of money without it hurting them too much.

Obviously you are going to encounter differences at either extremes of what I classify as low stakes. For instance an average player at $3-$6 will be better than the average player at $0.25-$0.50 but in my experience the difference is not insurmountable for someone who is just prepared to put a little work and effort into improving their game.

Just like the low stakes games, the rake can be very high here too and it is imperative that you acquire a decent rakeback deal. But decent pre-flop and post flop play should make you a winner in these games.

Middle Stakes

I would classify games at the $5-$10 to $20-$40 levels as middle limit but as I have said, definitions can differ. Now you will be starting to see a big increase in skill and you may now encounter professional players for the first time and serious amateurs. These are the levels that have seriously toughened over the past few years and now you start to encounter important factors like game selection coming to the fore.

You are gong to have to work much harder on your own game to succeed at these levels and you will encounter many types of plays that you didn’t experience at the lower levels. Plays like bluff-raising the river and three betting pre-flop with small suited connectors as a balancing play. With a good game and decent game selection then you can still make money at these levels.

High Stakes

Anything from $30-$60 to $100-$200 is high-stakes action although many players would call $30-$60 as middle limit. Personally having played $150-$300 and $30-$60, I have played in many games where I have not been able to tell the difference.

I seriously do not recommend to anyone to get involved with these games unless you have proven yourself at the higher end of the middle limits over a considerable number of hands (20,000+). The technical level of the average player in these games will be very high and you will have to game select with meticulous care in order to find the value.

In fact you could easily find yourself in situations in which the so called weak players in these games are still very strong. Most of the time you will be better off simply playing more tables at a lower level than moving up into these.

Nosebleed Stakes

Anything $150-$300 level or above is what I call “nosebleed” stakes. This means that a daily loss can be in the region of $15,000 or more. The players in these games will be the very best in the world and finding any kind of value will be a serious test. The variance at this level will also be more severe due to the very aggressive nature of the games and the high average skill level.

It is common for players at these levels to have bankrolls of at least 500 big bets. In fact many professional players have double that figure and swings of 300 big bets are common. Imagine going on a 400 big bet downswing at $300-$600 ($240,000). Stay well clear of these games unless you are either one of the very best in the world or you have beaten the high-stakes games over a highly significant sample size.

Carl “The Dean” Sampson is sponsored by Cake Poker and can be seen at www.cakepoker.com/thedean and at www.pokersharkpool.com