No-Limit Hold'em Step 5 – Hand Selection
In step 4, we discussed “chip stack size,” and in this lesson we will put those chips into the pot by choosing the right cards to play, and by putting to use all that we have learned in the previous lessons on “correct betting sizes, bluffing, and teaser bets.” Position will play a key role in your decision making process when risking your entire bankroll, and to be most effective you must always be aware of your opponents style and tendencies.
Slow playing is not often recommended. With big hands pre-flop however, I find it acceptable under certain specific guidelines. If you are holding AA or KK, and are heads-up with an aggressive pre-flop raiser, have position on the player, and your chip count is favorable to you, by all means call the raise and let your opponent bet the flop before you raise enough to get most, or all of their remaining chips in the pot. In other words, trap them, don’t raise and chase them to the next hand. You need to capitalize on big hands (you don’t receive them that often). Should your opponent have an overwhelming chip advantage over you, be careful when over betting the pot, as it might signal a trap and result in an early fold. This tactic works best against “aggressive players” and should not be attempted against tight or timid players that will only give you action when they flop a hand that will dominate your holding. (More on playing AA and KK later in this lesson)
Always avoid being over-charged to see flops, but realize there are hands that you might normally dump in a “limit” game, that are now playable in “no limit.” Small pairs, suited connectors and ace x suited, are examples of hands that can net you a very big pot, but may cost you on average, a few more limping bets to see additional flops. Should you be raised a considerable amount, it’s very inexpensive to let your hand go (at this point), as you do not want to be consistently over-charged to play. Never pay a ton of chips to someone who is raising with a very short stack. I like to see that opponent have 10x the bet (left in his stack), before I go looking for a card to complete or significantly improve my hand.
Having said that, pairs, suited connectors and ace/x suited hands have considerable more value in no-limit than limit games, so you might ask me what cards might not carry the same weight in no-limit as they do in limit. Big cards like AK, AQ, AJ and KQ go down in value if not suited in no-limit (bigger bet poker), but still retain value to win smaller pots if played from position skillfully and against a small field. However, you can lose some huge pots playing these cards and relying on top pair and top kicker to take down massive pots. The tendency is to see a better hand than just one pair in these type pots. Playing hands such as deuces all the way through pocket sixes can be attempted in late position, with only callers in the pot and remember that low pairs connecting to sets can be beaten by a lot of other sets above your hand. Depending on cash or tournament, aggressive or passive table dynamics, I might mix it up with big cards like AK and AQ from any position, to disguise the strength of my hand. If it’s an aggressive full table, I might limp in early position (EP) with KK or AA, and then re-raise the raiser if others have entered the pot, or flat call them and let them continue betting into my bigger hand.
Having position (the last to act), is a major factor in no-limit hold’em and you can be assured that if you have a quality holding this will allow you to bet the flop more than 70% of the time, whether your hand improved or not. So when your big card hits, you will be betting and if the board comes with under-cards to your overcards, you still will be betting (representing a big over pair), to pressure your opponent(s) into submission. Remember, if more than 3 opponents, it is difficult, position or not, to get them all out with a continuation (c-bet) bet. Some players will just check and take the free card if the board is “dry.” *Dry – nothing hits the board that would seem to help players (example: you raise with AKs and the flop is Q72 rainbow – three suits). Even if they hit the queen, if an ace or king hits the turn after checked around, you should still be the leader. There are times opponents will call your raise with a pair and hit a set and check the hand to you, expecting a c-bet, so play cautiously with the hand, by keeping the pot small and manageable in case you are in trouble.
Recommendations for playing AA and KK
I don’t think you are ever wrong to raise with AA or KK (3-4 times the big blind), however, in early position (as I said above and want to repeat), you might occasionally want to limp in the pot, hoping someone will raise behind you, so you can re-raise. While in middle position I might employ the same tactic, being first in, but I must be aware there are fewer players behind me yet to act, and the possibility of no one raising is more likely. Therefore, I prefer to make a small raise there, and allow those yet to act to think I might not have a big hand, and thus induce a re-raise. Should an early position player come in the pot before me, I’d raise them about three times the size of their raise. When you are in late position you should be raising the pot and if everyone limped, you would hope that someone trailed a hand (slow played their hand), so that they could re-raise anyone raising in late position. Should this occur, I would not hesitate to re-raise and even get all my money in the pot if the situation dictated that play, but you could just call and they most likely will get the green light after the flop or next card, and all the money will get in the pot. If I get around 50% of my money in the pot before the flop, there is no doubt that I’ll be looking to put the remainder of my chips in the pot, before the turn. Note: By the way, whenever you hit a big hand, and are first to act, I suggest you bet into the raiser. This may also make your opponent think you’re trying to steal their pot, or you are on some form of draw. Your aggression will usually result in a re-raise. It is at this point you can commit the remainder of your chips and due to the size of the pot, a wanted call will occur.
Recommendations for playing small to medium sized connecting cards:
You really do not want to put a lot of money into a pot before a flop with these type hands. In fact, the best thing about playing small to medium connectors is your ability to lay it down immediately if you miss on the flop. There is no need to stay involved in a hand once the flop proves to be worthless to your holding.
In Step #6, I will discuss trouble hands, short-handed play, and some other tips and strong recommendations for when you play No-Limit Texas Hold’em.
No-Limit Hold'em Step #6 – Trouble Hands, Shorthanded Play and Tips
Trouble hands are exactly what the name implies (hands that can cost you a ton of money), so you must often avoid playing them (especially out of position), but if you choose to play them, play them with extreme caution as you may jeopardize your entire stack. However, if you are playing shorthanded, these same trouble hands (especially suited or connected cards), may not be dangerous anymore, and can be played profitably
Unsuited cards that fall into this category are: Ace/Queen, Ace/Jack, Ace/Ten, King/Queen, King/Jack, King/Ten, Queen/Jack, Queen/Ten, Jack/Ten, and the Ace/Nine combo (which has become quite popular to play recently, for what reason, I do not know).
The reason these sets of cards cause major concern and are categorized as “trouble hands,” is because they are often dominated by better starting hands, such as AA, KK, and the top connector, AK. So when playing an unsuited AQ, and you are raised from early position, the likelihood of losing a great deal of money (having an inferior hand to the raiser) is quite possible. Say a flop of A-9-2 appears, and your opponent has the AK (as advertised with a pre-flop raise from early position), you will lose a lot of money coming in second place with your AQ. Hands like JT can be costly when you flop top pair or two pair, as others playing KQ have a playable hand that can quickly snatch the pot away from you with their draw. What is important to remember is to play trouble hands as cheaply as possible, don’t over commit.
When playing short-handed, you must play aggressively, as most hands nearly unplayable at a full table, now have new worth short-handed. Not all, but quite a few hands increase in value as the number of opponents you face decreases. This is especially true about those trouble hands discussed in the previous paragraph as they can now be played strongly. One major key to playing short-handed play is having position. You will find that your play will often be dictated by position, rather than the quality of cards you might hold. When you are last to act, your bet places enormous pressure on your opponents, as they are facing the dilemma of calling your bet as well as having to bet first on subsequent rounds. Note: You should not wait for hands with outs to bet having position, fire away and win most pots that have been checked to you (while in position). You must continue to demonstrate aggressive play and pick up these available pots. It is also essential for you to note that while playing shorthanded and one additional player leaves the table, adjust your play as hand values and the tempo will change dramatically.
I thought I’d end this series with a list of things to do and not to do; some tips or recommendations that may win you a few extra pots, or save you from wasting chips when your chances of winning are marginal:
• In shorthanded games, allowing your opponent to have a free card when you hold a good hand is a way to trap an aggressive player. This will entice your opponent to bet into you with a weaker hand, and now you have him/her trapped. This will discourage him/her from playing overly aggressively in the future if you are in the hand, and can lead to your control/domination of the table.
• Never call a bet when you miss your hand completely, but if you suspect your opponent has missed their draw, and you have a little something, you might playback at them if you strongly feel they will not call your last bet.
• With small to medium connecting cards, you do not want to put a whole lot of money in the pot before the flop. You want to make a straight by the turn and if you miss completely on the flop, they are easy to toss.
• If you start out bluffing at a pot, don’t semi-bluff a second time without some type of an “out.” Example: You raise pre-flop and miss the flop completely. Most to the time you should still bet again if given the opportunity, especially if three handed or less. Should you be called or raised, go no further; it’s time to minimize the loss of chips.
• Stick to your first impressions of what hand someone has and don’t be inclined to change your opinion; your first impressions are usually correct, but be open to putting them on other hands based on betting patterns as cards roll off the deck.
• Be careful you don’t lose all your chips in an unraised pot. When many players are able to see a flop for a minimum bet, it sets up the possibility of some undetected quality hands (sets, huge flush draws). Hitting and then betting your top pair may be a prescription for an immediate setback.
• You don’t want to get all your money in a pot drawing dead. Once a pair hits the board, and a full house is possible, be very careful with your made straight or flush hand.
• If you turn a big hand, sometimes bet something into the original bettor/raiser. This will confuse him/her, and often times he/she will re-raise you. Then you can put him/her all-in, or if confused, he/she will fold. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bet). Often times if you check, they check back and lose bets.
• Over-bet the pot when you hit a set and are up against an aggressive player who usually has overestimated the strength of their hand. His/her over pair is usually a huge underdog to your made hand and you will make more money that way. Passive opponents will not re-raise you, they fold or call (if they call, they need a card for a monster, or are already there, be careful).
• When you flop a monster hand, and unlikely to be beaten, slow-play it, inviting your opponents an opportunity to bluff. If they don’t bluff, they may catch a bit of something on the turn or the river, and then you can lower the boom. Don’t be in a hurry here. Showing a bit of patience here can net you a monster pot with your monster hand.
• While holding a big pair and the flop has at least a two-card draw possible, you should never check, and almost always bet out. You must protect your big pair and cost your opponents dearly to draw. Don’t be silly and bet half the pot, ¾ pot bet, or more is advisable when flush cards and or straight cards hit the board.
• If you can see a flop cheaply and the turn with a small or medium pair, you will likely win a huge pot if you catch your set prior to the river.
• Heed one of the oldest sayings around: If you are going to call a bet, you might as well bet. Try not to check/call.
• You can usually play your possible inferior hand (with implied odds) and excellent position, if your call does not exceed “five” percent of your stack, up to “ten” percent if your hand has more outs. If you have to risk over ten percent, you should not be in the pot anymore.
• You need to have a better hand to call a raise, than you would need to open yourself, consider the re-raise then.
• No-limit is quite different than limit, and the good players will do more limping with mediocre hands in hopes of making a hand that will crush an opponent.
• An unusually small bet can indicate a probing bet by a weak hand, or could mean a big hand looking for action. Figure out the difference; know your opponent and watching previous bets will provide you with enough information in most cases to make the right assessment.
• A draw needs good position throughout the hand, and a set needs good position only on the flop, or at least won’t be affected by position as much as the drawing hand.
• Your solid play (pre-flop), in raised pots, will prevent you from being trapped most of the time.
• When a pot-sized bet is a great percentage of your remaining chips, it’s often better to commit the remainder of your stack right then.
• An over-bet leaves no doubt from an early position as to what is implied, and to make a bet 50% over the pot size would not be uncommon, nor would a bet twice the pot size. Generally, players over betting the pot are protecting a single top pair, don’t want callers (players drawing), or could be they have top pair – weak kicker and are trying to take the pot down immediately.
• Bluffing should be attempted in situations when you feel your opponent is weak.
In the next Step (#7), I will discuss Capitalizing on Mistakes/Miscues/Blunders
No Limit Hold‘em Step #7 – Capitalizing on Mistakes/Miscues/Blunders
Beginners make multiple mistakes while learning to play no limit hold‘em, and you must be alert at the tables and pick up on these miscues, to then expertly exact a premium price for their blunders. For example, most novice NL players will continue to make the same mistakes over and over, or at least until they go broke repetitively, before making an adjustment, or entirely quitting the game. Your objective is to relieve them of their chips each and every time they cross this “mistake” line: when they make improper bets; when they play weak cards out of position; when they continue to draw without having the proper pot odds; when they get involved in hands with marginal cards where they should be avoiding confrontation; when they pay the wrong price to continue in the hand; when they do not know when to cut their losses and quit for the session; when they try to bluff when it is obvious they shouldn’t; when they allow many callers to limp in pots; when they bet a hand that obviously can be beaten; and when they fail to ever defend their blinds, thus allowing others to run over them, time and time again.
When you have players at your table that demonstrate a propensity for making critical errors and wrong decisions, how should you position yourself to make the most profit?
At the top of your list should be your ability to get into hands, “heads up” with this player, and garner the most chips possible without making the player feels intimidated, humiliated, or over-matched. Note: Don’t tap on the glass syndrome. You might scare away the fish. To isolate this player you must cleverly position yourself and skillfully bet enough to chase off other potential opponents (who incidentally, if savvy, should also be aware of the soft target), without causing your potential ATM from also deciding not to engage you. Don’t focus all of your attention on the easy money, as you will often forget to factor in what other’s (yet to act), may do to derail your very obvious plan of attack. Caution: While you are narrow your vision and look only to win against the weaker opponent, you may inadvertently allow another strong player to intercept your play and take down a pot that now includes a good portion of your stack. While maintaining your patience, discipline and awareness of the entire table, be certain to devote ample consideration to winning pots contested by the weaker opponents.
Players at the table (if poker smart), will not be criticizing the play of these type individuals and if you watch closely, whether live or online, they will shield or protect them if anyone makes a verbal abuse run at that them. They know full well that making fun or making a fool out of this person will eventually, if not immediately, send them away from the action or the table. In fact, you might notice players giving encouragement and occasional praise to these individuals in hopes of “shinning them on” (a term for leading them to believe one thing when the opposite is true). Those at the table want these individuals to win a hand occasionally (as long as it is not against them), so the chip flow continues and the player believes (although they lose most hands), they have a chance from time to time. This will also entice them to repeatedly re-load their chip stack when they bust out, instead of just departing for the day. Note: chips usually flow clockwise around at table, because of POSITION!
One thing you won’t see, or you should not see, is someone coaching or teaching a player at the table. This is frowned upon by your opponents and should be left for after the session. If you genuinely enjoyed their company, and want to provide them with some uplifting motivation and reasons to continue playing, pull them aside after they depart the table and consider offering (if they seem receptive to it), ways they could improve and/or get help for their game. When at the tables, you generally have no mercy and play to win, but afterwards, a number of us want to help a fellow struggling poker player in hopes they can improve and help the game grow stronger and richer.
On a final note, the days in which you play poker should be some of the most memorable days of your life. Don’t let losing a hand or a session deter you from having a great time, learn from your mistakes so you don’t repeat them, replay hands you won, or lost in your mind to see if you could have done things a bit different to change the outcome, and always play fair and play to WIN!