This is a discussion on Written Poker Lessons (NL) - by Al Spath within the online poker forums, in the Learning Poker section; Hi everyone, I thought I might be able to assist those beginning players and maybe some struggling players (return to the solid aggressive fundamentals), by
Hi everyone, I thought I might be able to assist those beginning players and maybe some struggling players (return to the solid aggressive fundamentals), by providing these lessons (developed while I was Dean at Poker School Online):
No-Limit Texas Hold’em (Lesson #1)
Choosing NL over Limit Poker
(A guide for those starting out, building a solid foundation, or trying to see what they missed starting from the beginning).
The contrasts are many, beginning with the potential of losing your entire stake on one hand, or winning several times your stake under the best conditions. Unlike limit poker, the swings in no-limit poker can range widely (and wildly), from hand-to-hand and from session-to-session, and unlike limit poker, the art of bluffing (and stealing), will become a very useful and deadly tool you can call upon to win pots you would not normally be favored to win.
I have found that players who first start playing limit poker, and who build a solid/aggressive, winning poker foundation, learning the basics (patience, discipline, starting hands, position, pre-flop and post-flop play, and bankroll management), can make the transition to no-limit poker with more ease than players first starting out with no-limit poker. The biggest difference is most obvious; in limit poker, the betting structure is (fixed) and with no-limit, the betting structure is fluid (allowing the player to select an amount, any amount, to bet). Perfecting the art of proper bet selection alone can be more than enough to make you a consistent winner in this format. Mix in some added skills (dealing with position and bluffing) and you will take that bankroll to new levels in short order. Caution: You will need a bigger bankroll to start in no-limit than limit poker to compensate for the anticipated swings associated with no-limit poker games.
To play no-limit poker, you have to have a different mind set. It’s not about winning lots of small pots’; it’s about winning one or two good size pots per hour. Your ability to finesse your opponents, drawing them into situations where you can maximize your profits in a single hand, or for you to be able to apply the right amount of “pressure,” created by a correct sized bet, will enable you to increase your bankroll and enjoy this poker format. Mistakes made in no-limit poker are magnified greatly, and it is your responsibility to eliminate as many mistakes as you can from your game, and to capitalize on as many mistakes made by your opponents as you can.
The most typical mistake made by players in a no-limit game is the amount of wager they make into a pot. Generally speaking, the bet they make is too small, thus allowing other opponents to remain in the hand, and potentially out-draw, or bluff the original bettor off their hand. This passive player (making undersized bets) loses money when they bluff at pots as well; due to the perception gained by their opponents on how normally “thrifty” they are with their bets. By making proper sized wagers, opponents will not readily be able to take you lightly and your earnings will increase significantly.
It is always a good idea to vary your bets so your opposition cannot “tell” when you have a certain type hand. As a general practice, raising the pot approximately three to five times the size of the posted big blind amount would be considered a good size raise if holding hands like AA, KK, QQ, or AKs. Note: Some players’ think this is too small of a sliding scale and they use a higher range; five to seven times, as their multiplier. Use whatever scale or range that will work for you. There is no set rule to apply here. A common tendency for someone holding AKos or AQos to raise a bit more than the standard raise is often made for hand protection (in more micro limit games – under .25/.50), and at times can be a dead give-away. I would recommend you vary your raises only slightly, even with premium cards, so that no one seated at the table can immediately put you on any specific hand. Sometimes you might raise a pot three times the size of the big blind while holding AA, but at other times you may elect to only raise it two and a half times, or four time with the same hand. There are so many variables involved in the process that will be covered in latter lessons. Keep in mind there are many players who will not hesitate to go all-in with a hand like AA, whether it is the first hand of a sit-n-go, first hand of multi-table event, or when sitting at ring game. Don’t be predictable, don’t be a player your opponents can categorize! BTW, those big pairs and big cards are usually crushed in most cash games and tournaments, however, medium pairs that make sets on flops, and connecting suited cards can be devastating to those with big cards. More on that later, after you build a solid foundation of playing smartly.
Typically, players will make a wager ranging from about a third of the pot, to one equal to, or a bit larger than the size of the pot. Note: “Over betting the pot” could be a sign someone might want to get all-in or they are protecting a weak hand and want you out now; so take note of these type bets when contemplating continuing in the hand. When you see a bet that does not fit into these ranges, you should sense weakness or a possible trap. Knowing your opponents “tendencies” again will assist you in processing the information gained from just observing the “bet amount.” Bet sizes may indicate a player is searching for information, looking for table action, protecting their holdings, or may represent fear. You must learn to interpret what each bet could possibly mean, before you commit (the proper amount) to any pot. No limit poker is a game of traps, trickery, deception and outright thievery, so you must be on guard throughout each hand. I tend to respect the 2/3 to 3/4 bets into a pot, and I tend to discount/disrespect c-bets of half pot bets, and full pot bets (but that's my take from years of experience. Of course you might have a read that tells you differently.
Some quick examples to aid you: With a flop of Qd 5h 9d (and you’re holding an over pair or a hand such as AQ), dictates you make a good size bet or pot sized bet. There are flush draws available for your opponents holding two diamonds, or straight draws for those holding KJ, KT, JT, J8, and T8. You want to discourage players with these holdings from continuing, without paying an unrealistic drawing bet. And with one pair you don’t want multiple callers on a wet (coordinated or scary board). But if they call your large bet and another card comes to help their draw, be prepared to consider curtailing or abandoning your efforts to win that pot. You must be able to lay down a good hand to be successful in no limit poker. Conversely, if the flop was lacking draw possibilities, something like an Ad 4h 8c, you might want to only bet between 65-75% of the pot.
In lesson 2, I will discuss more on betting situations, including tournament play.
No-Limit Texas Hold’em Lesson #2
In lesson #1 we began talking about “betting sizes,”and I want to also turn our attention to tournament play at this juncture. As I mentioned in the first lesson, proper betting is the number one flaw in most players’ games today. As in NL games, players make betting mistakes in pot-limit and limit poker as well, but for this lesson, we will concentrate on no-limit tournament betting.
So what is the most common betting mistake made at the tables anyway? How about UNDER BETTINGthe pot. This is a definite sign of weakness and demonstrates a player’s inability to utilize “betting” a proper amount in hopes of setting up potential bluffs, steals, or to attain proper value in a hand. The central theme of no-limit poker is to “pressure” your opponents, putting the guesswork on them. Here’s an example: A pot containing $1,000 is checked to a late position player on the river, and he/she bets $100. What’s wrong with this message sent by the bettor? Why would anyone bet such a small amount? Do they assume this minimal bet is going to drive most of the players out of the pot, or is it going to invite someone who has checked with a strong, or semi-strong hand to make a play at the pot? I think the latter, putting the pressure back on the original bettor, and I must say that this “betting” mistake is made more often than any other mistake.
Let’s look at the same situation (this time just after the flop), for another examination of the correct way to bet the hand. What should a person in late position holding a decent hand (or trying to steal the pot) bet, when the pot is laying $1000? How about “betting 2/3's of the pot.” This will in most cases be enough to end the draws and eliminate the weaker hands by those who have checked. You know the ones who are only willing to pay a minimal amount to see “another card” that might just make their hand after the flop. The bet pressures all remaining players to consider pot odds, which are very unfavorable to them at this stage facing this size bet. They will also be forced to consider the possibility that their hand may not be strong enough to beat you with or without help on the turn and/or river.
By betting 2/3 or more of the pot, other benefits to the bettor/raiser (aside from garnering information and eliminating to many drawing hands), is that it also sets up the possibility to steal in later rounds, take a free card, or win with another bet on a later round, and at the same time it’s adding value to the pot. What do you do when you find yourself with the nuts at the end, and again the hand is checked to you? Do you bet a minimal amount hoping that you will get a caller or a raise? Or do you again bet an amount that “may,” indicate you could possibly be stealing the pot and thereby induce a call or two from your opponents? I guess the question you need to ask yourself is; wouldn’t it be better to bet $600-$700 and get one caller, than to bet $100 and get multiple callers? Sometimes your bet might look fishy and get someone to challenge you with an ill-advised call. Yet there are times when you can get your (unskilled) opponent to attempt a steal from you? Wouldn’t you prefer they raise your bet and not just raise a $100 bet? Don’t waste your time on betting small amounts to elicit callers or raisers. If you want to make a bet of 2/3 to 3/4 the size of the very large pot, I find no fault in doing so to mix up your play and still extract value from the hand, but never bet the minimum amount into any pot if you expect to have a reasonable chance of winning without holding the top hand. Remember, betting the proper amount puts the pressure on your opponent; they must ask themselves; do you have something or are you bluffing?
Let’s now get back to “opening bets,”as they relate to what the initial round of betting creates. If there are a lot of limpers allowed into a pot, you can generalize and say that the winning hands will be “much stronger” than when the pot is played with fewer players. That is why your big pairs will more often hold up when you raise and eliminate most of the field, instead of being “caught” on the turn or river by a drawing hand that was mistakenly allowed to remain in the hand and see cards “cheaply.”Referring back to lesson 1, you are reminded to raise pre-flop with strong hands the proper amount (X times the posted big blind amount), to reduce the field and strengthen your position to win the pot. It is a mistake to limp in with premium cards and allow others with speculative cards to continue in the hand without paying a price to proceed. NOTE: Unless you are at a very aggressive table and you expect a raise, and you intend to re-raise of call just that person (in order to trap them with an inferior hand).
Here’s one more example of how to bet a hand properly, and this time from out of a “blind position” at the table. Let assume you have 56os in the big blind and see the flop with four other callers, for nothing more than your tournament posted big blind amount
of $50. There is $275 in the pot (small blind folded), and the flop comes 5T6 rainbow. What should you do in this situation? If you said check, you would be wrong (unless it’s an aggressive table and you expect a bet you then can check-raise (more below on this move); if you said bet the minimum, you would be wrong, and if you said bet about $100, you still would be wrong. If you don’t bet more than half the pot, you might set your self up for a horrific beat from someone with top pair already, or you might get drawn out on. You must protect your flopped two pair and make it a bit expensive for anyone with a single top pair, or anyone foolish enough to chase a gut-shot straight, or three-flush to continue. Note: When I say protect your hand; this is not a DEFENSIVE measure, but rather an OFFENSIVE maneuver that you must incorporate into your game. Bet enough to take down the pot or eliminate most of the players in the hand. You stand a greater chance of having your two-pair hold up and to take down your opponents the majority of time using this betting strategy. Allowing your opponents to bet a lesser amount allows them to continue in the hand and quite possibly win all the chips in a pot you built. You just cannot permit this to happen if you expect to become a winning NL player.
Advanced Player Move - When in the blinds and you see a flop very cheaply (no raises), and you know someone at the table will bet if you do indeed check, you can check-raise from the blinds with two pair, or even when you hit top pair, weak kicker. Your check raise from an out a position considered (out of position), indicates huge strength and USUALLY makes others fold. Do not attempt this against a calling station with only top pair, they won't go away.
In lesson #3, I will be discussing additional holdings and making feeler bets
No-Limit Texas Hold’em Lesson #3 – Bluffing, Beating a Bully and Feeler Bets
In lesson #2 we began talking about “Correct Size Bets,”and now I want to discuss the art of bluffing, how to deal with a bully at the tables and making feeler bets. I spoke about make the “correct” size bets into a pot and spotting those who are not betting properly, so now is the time to elaborate on how exploit the table with a bit of larceny (in the art form known as bluffing).
A “bluff” is a bet of some nature when you have little or no chance of winning the pot if someone calls. A “semi-bluff” is a bet, that if called, you don’t hold the best hand, but you have a hand that could improve and be the best hand. Bluffing is primarily attempted to win pots. Some additional benefits can be garnered by its use (advertising for future pots), but you should employ a bluff only when you think it will be successful. It is highly recommended you limit the amount of bluffs attempted, as the fewer attempted, the more effective the bluffs you try will be. If you are getting good cards and dominating the table, players will notice and may think you have been bluffing at some of those pots, so bluff less often when you are picking up more than your share of pots, and bluff a bit more when premium cards are sparse, and you have “table position.” If the field checks to you, I’d be inclined to take their word (they are weak), and fire out a decent sized bet to further convince them to surrender; right now. Most of your opponents won’t be holding strong enough hands to slip in a check-raise, so be prepared to fire enough money into the pot to discourage anyone on a draw from continuing. Note: If they are playing a long shot hand, and continue to draw against you, you can continue to punish them on the turn if the card hitting the board appears to provide little or no help to anyone remaining in the pot.
Bluffing “represents” holding a specific strong hand, as is the case when a third card in a particular suit hits the board and you bet. You are indicating you have a made flush and only those individuals having a flush, a bigger flush, a giant-sized flush draw, or a full house (or house draw), will play back at you. Remember, the amount of money bet in your attempted bluff is relative to the size of the pot, the size of your stack, and the size of your opponents stack (more later in lesson 4, on the influence of stack size). If you bet too little, your opponent might not be deterred and still call. If you bet too much, your opponent might sense you are over betting a hand that lacks real value. Therefore, I suggest you bet an amount that is not considered wimpy, or one that appears to be unusually large. It is also difficult to bluff at times when your opponent can readily see that you have a limited amount of resources (chips), and they have plenty of ammunition in front of them. Additionally, if your opponent is a loose player, your efforts to bluff may not be as effective, so know your opposition, their style, tendencies, and most of all, how they perceive you. If they believe you are a solid or tight player, they will tend to respect your bluff attempts more readily. In the event you are playing way to many hands (who me), don’t expect your bluff attempts to go unnoticed or unchallenged.
Some additional bluffing reminders/tips:
• Bet sizes are your “keys” to putting players on hands.
• Raising with a straight draw, when a flush draw is present is not advised.
• Draws that do not contain a “nut draw” should be played with “position,” and very carefully.
• Bluffers usually have nothing (busted draw) and seldom bluff when they have a hand of uncertainty.
Bullies like shorthanded tables and they love to find opponents with shorter stacks than them. Although you might find it tempting to play a few more hands against them, it is wiser to sit and wait for hand you can extract a great deal of money from them. Keep in mind, any pot entered with a bully sitting at the table is likely to be raised, so be very selective and committed when you do play a hand. Be especially cognizant of the “other” players in the pot and don’t focus entirely on the bully. Players yet to act “behind” you have also noticed the bully and may too be playing stronger hands in hopes of trapping their prey (which might include you). So tend to call a bully most times, rather than raise (unless you have a hand that dictates you want to isolate him or her alone), and see what others (yet to act in the hand), are going to do. You should bluff back at the bully on occasion, giving them a taste of their own medicine, as you might suspect, they tend to have weak holdings and will back off.
A “teaser bet or probing type bet,” is made to entice others to give a player action, or can be a sign of a weak hand. Players who have made hands will put an “undersized” bet, crying for a call or a raise, to tempt opponents into committing more chips. While on occasion, an improper sized feeler bet may indicate the bettor is testing the waters to see if their hand is strong enough to take down the pot. NOTE: Advanced players will do this when they are strong; hoping you will act as if their bet indicates weakness! Be very observant when your opponent puts an “unusual” amount into a bet, and consider the size of the bet to the existing pot before you decide whether or not the player is enticing you to give them action, or is weak! Playing back at a weak player will net you the pot on most occasions, but only those times you “read” them correctly.
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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.
Short Stacked (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.
Medium Stacked (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).
Big Stacked (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
September 21st, 2015, 2:10 PM
Al Spath 
Poker at: Full Flush
No Limit Hold‘em Lesson #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!
December 30th, 2015, 4:06 AM
Thank you for these lessons
I really appreciate the time and effort you took to make these lessons...I have problems with TIA's (brain clots is closest) When that happens I have to Re-learn again so appreciate the "Primer" on poker Ty
August 14th, 2016, 6:16 PM
Poker at: pokerstars
Game: Texas holdem
re: Poker & Written Poker Lessons (NL) - by Al Spath
thanks for the tips, you are doing the right thing, thanks again.
August 20th, 2016, 12:57 PM
Online Poker at: ACR
Great article. I've saved it to my computer so that I can refer to it from time to time when I'm struggling or not sure of what to do in a particular situation.
September 4th, 2016, 8:58 PM
Poker at: pokerstars
been playing for a few years now, but it is till useful thanks
September 6th, 2016, 4:24 PM
Online Poker at: Poker stars
Game: Hold em
Thanks, another good read. It's enligthening to find some pointers that reflects my own weakness. I love lesson 3 and 4.
September 7th, 2016, 5:25 PM
Poker at: Pokerstars
Game: Hold Em
Usefull article! Go on with your cause, some of us get are really reading here haha.
Its good next time to add your comments and opinions not just copy paste it, but i dont tell its bad. Also the poll here is a good idea too. Just giving ideas not offending your labor!
September 7th, 2016, 5:58 PM
Online Poker at: Poker Stars
re: Poker & Written Poker Lessons (NL) - by Al Spath
good article. well written. I gained a few tips here I'm going to use. thanks