Not all of us like gambling large sums of money on the virtual felt. If we've ever found ourselves sweating profusely or suffering from feelings of nausea/terror when all-in on a flip, then this article might be of interest.

Some of us love the thrill of a gamble, but simply don't have the money to play the higher limit games. Most of us have bills to pay, and it would actually be irresponsible if we risked that kind of money at the poker table.

So does this mean that it's impossible for us to make it big in the world of poker? Not at all, some of the very best have started from the bottom and worked their way up. These fascinating poker anomalies are called, grinders.



Grinder – A poker player who plays a tight, low-risk poker style, using small edges to make a consistent profit.

Table of Contents

Choosing a Starting Limit

Small stakes, or low stakes poker, typically covers any cash game with a buy-in ranging between $50 and $200. Stakes below $50 are often referred to as “micro-limit” games, and sometimes stakes $5 and below are referred to as “nano-limit”. So, which game is right for us?

This essentially depends on two things -

  1. Our bankroll
  2. Our skill level


One of the biggest mistakes new players make is to “play outside their bankroll”. The swings in poker can often be large and it is necessary to have a bankroll that can cover these swings. It is recommended to have at least 25 buy-ins for the current limit we are playing. So if we want to play $50nl then we should ideally have a minimum bankroll of $1250. The first step is to decide how much money we are willing to invest and see which limit this allows us to play.

Skill Level

Studies have shown that a larger initial investment does not always result in the fastest growing bankroll. This is due to the learning curve associated with poker. Let's say we had that $1250 ready, but we weren't quite good enough to make money at the $50nl tables.

Consider the following case study. 2 Grinders begin their career at exactly the same time.

Patrick invests $1250 and plays $50nl. He doesn't have the skill level required to beat the limit and ends up losing a large chunk of his bankroll. By the time he has developed the skills to become a winning player, he is down to his last $300. He decides to play 10nl where he is a winner and his bankroll steadily grows.

Phil starts out at about the same level of skill as Patrick. He invests $150 and decides to play 5nl. Since these games are a lot softer he is already a winner in these games and his bankroll slowly grows. By the time he reaches $300, he decides to move up to 10nl. This is around the same time that Patrick reaches $300 and also begins to beat the games.

Can you see that the progress is not that much different even with a larger deposit? In some cases, a larger deposit might be best. However, we have to make a realistic judgement about our skill level before deciding where to start.

Putting in the Volume

Let's be honest, we are not going to make a living playing a 5nl cash game a couple of times a week. If we want to be true grinders we need to be able to put in decent volume. Remember that no one said this was going to be easy. Poker is often described as “the hardest way to make an easy living”.

So how can we increase our volume? There are essentially two main ways.

  1. Draw up a playing schedule. A lot of us hate doing this kind of thing. Why bother to put stuff down in writing when we can just go with the flow and do things whenever we feel like it? The problem is, very few people who have this outlook make it big. It's very important that we are both motivated and organised.

    Being an online poker professional is a lot like running a business. We need everything to run smoothly and efficiently, and this is not going to happen unless we have a clear plan. We've got nothing to lose by drawing up a quick schedule; it could be the difference between success and failure. Once done, the only thing that remains is to stick to our schedule, no matter what.

  2. Increase the number of tables. The great thing about online poker is that we are not just limited to playing one table at a time. Playing multiple tables at once is a great way to increase our volume.

    Keep in mind that this is recommended for more advanced players. When first starting out we should usually be playing one table only. Multi-tabling is something we can do when we pick up experience and can make betting decisions more quickly. Playing more tables than we can cope with is a good way to destroy our win rate.

We can also consider playing 888's “snap poker”. It's a type of fast format poker that can help us to play more hands and make real money faster.

Can it really work?

It's absolutely possible, not only to make money playing low stakes online poker, but to also make enough money to treat poker as a profession. The road can be long and difficult and mainly reserved for those with the utmost dedication....but it can be done!


This article is the opinion of poker writer and editor Chad Holloway.


Chad Holloway is a 2013 WSOP Bracelet winner who has previously worked for PokerNews as a managing editor and live reporter