No-Limit Hold'em Lesson #4 – Size Does Matter (Chip Stacks)
To influence opponents at your table, the size of your chip stack will matter a great deal. In fact, how “deep”
you or your opponents are, should/may dictate the size bet you will make and the anticipated action you may receive following your bet. In tournaments it is important for you to look and calculate the ratio of the blinds to the shorter stack in the hand, and yourself. There will be three distinct categories of stacks to identify: short, medium and big stacks. Let’s examine what constitutes each grouping and discuss some strategies that you can use when in each situation.
(a chip amount that is normally less than 10 times the big blind). An example would be: The big blind amount is 100 and you have 900 in chips remaining (so only 9 times). An unenviable position to be in, you must get your chips in first or with a decent hand. Do not wait until in the blinds to push, you make more money with blind (dead money) in the pot with your all-in.
(a chip amount that normal falls between 20 and 50 times the big blind). An example would be: The big blind amount is 500 and you have 15,000 in chips remaining (so 30 times). When you have a chip stack between 10-20 big blinds, you must be prepared to get your chips in and not allow (if possible) to transition into the short stack mode. The reason is you become ineffective (your stack does not carry enough weight to influence others decisions in a positive way for you).
(a chip amount that is normally over 50 times the big blind). An example would be: The big blind amount is 1,000 and you have 70,000 in chips remaining (so 70 times).
Position associated with a small stack is usually inconsequential, as you will be betting your entire stack pre-flop, or on the flop (when you play a tournament hand at this particular juncture). You will stand the greatest chance of winning, and doubling up when you enter the pot first: holding a pair, or high face cards. Sometimes is will be just two suited cards, a connector, or even one face card, but you can’t allow yourself to blind out or have no chance to double up (out of the short stack mode). If you enter the pot with a small or medium pair, you should not expect to improve your hand. When holding cards that are not very strong, it is in your best interest to try to reduce the amount of opponents as much as you can. You would be very fortunate to create a “heads up”
showdown situation. So you must commit all your chips in this spot. With big cards like AK or a big pair, like QQ, I like too occasionally limp and allow someone else to raise me or others, so I can triple up or better, my stack. I am willing to take that chance and if no one raises, and I lose because I did not raise, that’s on me, but I can live with that. Keep in mind, with the blinds eating away at your stack, you must pick a spot and go all out in hopes of improving both your hand and your chip count. You will notice players on short stacks will commit their entire stack with a good holding, and check raise with a big hand, getting more money into the pot. Note
: If in late position to an unraised pot with lots of callers, you might want to see a flop if your holding plays well multi-way (a chance to double of triple up), but remember, if the calling bet is significant in relation to your remaining stack size, it might not be prudent and waiting for an opportunity to go all-in with a better holding may provide you a better opportunity to double through).
With a medium chip stack, the urgency to get involved and committed into a hand is greatly diminished. You are not faced with the prospects of making a stand, or quickly committing the remainder of your chips due to your ominous chip standing. Having some wiggle room allows you to raise, seeking an advantage, yet enables you to release a holding (you are not pot committed); to a significant re-raise, or hefty all-in move by a bigger stack, unless you have a read on that player and you believe you want to isolate them. You will notice players on medium stacks will also do a fair amount of probing bets and check raising, looking to go all-in if the opportunity presents it self to double up. Note
: It is easier to bluff a medium stack than a small or big stack because those players “like”
their standing (not in trouble), and will often fold unless they hold a very large hand. Therefore, if you make a move on a medium stack and they play back at you, expect them to hold a big/good hand, and you should better have a monster!
Position becomes essential factor on all betting rounds when afforded a big stack. With a big stack, position allows you to evaluate the bets by others (size relationship to the pot), calculate pot odds
, choose who you want to play against (you might not play a hand, seeing a solid/aggressive player re-raise the pot, prior to your turn to bet), and you can bet to bluff, semi-bluff, set up to receive a free card, or even bait your opponent into giving you action with a teaser bet. No one wants to bet a significant amount of their money when the outcome is uncertain against a big stack bettor, and when the big stack is likely to fire again on the next betting round. Those opponents willing to risk their entire stack in against your raise are more often likely to have one pair beaten. What you don’t want to do is build monster pots with only top pair or even a non-nut flush. You should see big stacks asserting themselves in the early betting rounds, making it expensive for shorter stacks to play, yet risking only a small portion of their big stack to entice action. It is never in a big stacks interest to let others draw against them without paying a premium price to play. In cash games, watch how lose a player becomes when they have the biggest stack at the table, their game changes (their mindset changes) and they are engaging others more often.
In lesson 5, we’ll take a look specifically at “hand play,” and discuss possible scenarios and desired outcomes.
No-Limit Hold'em Lesson 5 – Hand Selection
In lesson 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 lesson #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 Lesson #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 lesson (#7), I will discuss Capitalizing on Mistakes/Miscues/Blunders