No-Limit Hold'em is game of general strategy, basic tactical skills useful in all forms of poker, and a game of intense psychology.
Let's first go over general strategy. There are two things you should quickly figure out when you enter a no-limit game:
Generally, people speak of four types of players: tight-passive, tight-aggressive, loose-passive, loose-aggressive. The first modifier (tight or loose) characterizes the number of hands the person plays while the second (passive or aggressive) describes the player's betting style. I think that for no-limit hold'em, loose-aggressive should be divided into two parts: maniacs and solid players. Let's go over each of these types of players.
Tight-passive: These people do fine in a fixed-limit game, but they won't win much money in a no-limit game. This is because they do not get full value out of their winning hands. When playing against these players:
1. Bluff at the flop a lot. Put in a raise preflop, and try to take down the pot at the flop.
2. Fold when they represent a hand. If they bet a little, they're probably on a draw or have a weak hand. In this case, you should still stick with your hand if you hold something decent. If they bet a lot, they probably possess a solid hand.
3. Take advantage of your control. Don't go wild with your bluffs, though. You should still fold preflop when you have nothing. If you make a flop bluff, think twice before making another bluff on the turn. Also, you can still win a fair amount of money off of these types of players when you hold a good hand.
Essentially, you can quickly tame these players into calling stations or folding stations. If one of these players is making a lot of money against you while being a calling or folding station, you are doing something seriously wrong. These players are common, and you will certainly encounter quite a few of them.
Loose-passive: These players have to hope that people continually bluff into them, because they frequently call with the second-best hand. Calling with the second-best hand is a recipe for disaster at no-limit games. You won't often see loose-passives playing no-limit hold'em, because they lose money too quickly playing the game. If you are fortunate enough to have a loose-passive player at your table, just win money off of him by making mid-sized bets when you hold a good hand.
Maniac loose-aggressive: These guys will buy a fair share of pots. However, they will often get themselves trapped, and they will lose their stacks in one or two hands. What separates these players from good loose-aggressives is that they lack discipline. They love the action of no-limit so much that they get themselves trapped too easily. These types of players are rare.
Strong loose-aggressive: These guys seem like they are horrible maniacs, but in reality, they are a very dangerous form of player. They will certainly lose a lot of money in pots, but they also will buy a lot of pots and win huge ones. Many of the best no-limit players in the world use this style, but I would not recommend trying to mimic this style as a beginner. The way these players win is mainly by getting a good read on the opponent, and then making a well-timed bet.
One way I try to beat these guys is to take them down in one big pot. Since they will play a lot of hands, especially shorthanded, they'll often play hands that lend themselves to being the second-best hand. Once I catch them in this situation, I just have to make sure I don't let them go too easily. Another tip is to make sure you are playing in a game where the money is not too meaningful to you. You should not let these players scare you financially when they make a large bet or raise. You need to be able to play back at these guys by re-raising or call them down.
These players only do well when people have large stacks. If you or the loose-aggressive player has a small stack, you are at an advantage because their ability to bluff is limited.
Tight-aggressive: This is my style and the strategy that I'll teach. The tight-aggressive's main problems are that he may get bluffed out too easily and that he may be too easy to read.
This is a critical concept in no-limit hold'em. Since no-limit lends itself to bluffing, one can make a lot of money simply by stealing pots if your opponents are very tight. However, this strategy obviously fails if everyone shows you down at the river!
Generally, before I play in a game, I pay attention to the number of hands going to showdowns. This is really easy to do on the internet because you don't even need to watch the game. You just leave the window open, go eat a snack, go to the bathroom, whatever. Come back twenty minutes later and see what sort of game you are about to dive into. All you have to do is scroll through the chat box and see how many hands went to showdowns and how big the pots tend to get.
All things being equal, more showdowns are better. While it is impossible to bluff if everyone calls you down, you stand to make a lot more money if people call you with tenuous holdings. The best way to make money at no-limit games is to simply sell your hand when you have it. If people call down a lot, you will be able to extract a lot of money from pot-sized or larger bets when you hit a premium holding (such as a flush or set).
The types of hands you play in no-limit differ than those in fixed-limit. This is because of implied odds. Hands like KQ go down in value because they cannot withstand much pressure. Even if you hit a King with this type of hand, you still may be losing to a set, two pair, AK, or eventually to a draw. Thus, with big cards, you generally want to take down the pot at the flop. The exception to this is if you think you have someone outkicked (like with AK vs. KJ with a K on the board), or if you hit the flop hard (like KK3 when you hold AK). In these cases, you generally want to extract money from your opponent bit by bit.
The types of hands that go up in value or ones that you can bet with confidence: pocket pairs and suited connectors (strong draws in general). Pocket pairs do well because they are sneaky and can often withhold pressure. With pocket pairs, you can bet hard if you have a set or an overpair, which are hands that people generally don't expect. Suited connectors go up in value for several reasons. First, if the flop comes weird, you generally will be paid off.
You'll get paid off a lot more on this flop than you would lose to the AK if the flop were A 7 2.
Furthermore, you can take down pots and disguise your hand with semi-bluffing.
People will probably put you on a Jack if you bet at this flop. They will then either fold or call. You'll either take down the pot at the flop, or you'll be drawing to a hand that people don't expect.
Please realize that your stack size greatly affects the types of hands you should play. Big, unpaired cards like AK or KQ do better with smaller stacks, while suited connectors are more effective with larger stacks. For more information about this, check out the "Stack Sizes" section further down on this page.
Many novice no-limit players simply don't know how much to bet. Here's the concept in a nutshell. You want extract as much money as you can from opponents who have made hands but are losing to you. You want to give people with draws bad odds. At the same time, you don't want to trap yourself.
You want to put in pot-sized bets here. This is because your opponent probably has either a straight draw or a pair of Aces. If he has a straight draw, you don't want him to draw on the cheap. If he has pair of Aces, he probably won't let go of them, so take as much as you can.
Bet into this flop, but don't bet too much. A proper bet would be just enough to make people fold if they don't have an Ace but enough to maybe make an AQ freeze up and "just" call. A half-pot-sized bet would be advisable in this situation. This way you draw relatively cheaply and can punish your opponents if you hit your flush.
This relates back to the showdown percentage. More showdowns means bluffing is less effective. Less showdowns means bluffing could be more effective. If you are in a game with a lot of showdowns (typical of lower stakes), cut down on bluffing and punish them when you have a strong hand.
According to famous poker player and author Doyle Brunson, no-limit hold'em is the Cadillac of all poker games. The skill involved with no-limit games is tremendous, even seasoned professionals admit that they still have a lot to learn at no-limit hold'em. However, don't let this scare you; no-limit hold'em is, in my opinion, the most fun of all poker games as well. It can also be profitable, sometimes even for beginners.
After playing no-limit extensively, I've noticed that the keys to winning no-limit are one's knowledge of the game and his ability to adapt to his opponents' knowledge. You must know what your skills are at no-limit and what stages of the game you have mastered. Once you realize how good you are at no-limit, you must then apply this to how others at your table play no-limit badly.
For the sake of simplicity, I am going to divide the skills of no-limit into several stages. After mastering each of these stages, one can expect his or her profit potential at no-limit hold'em to increase.
You must understand what odds you are getting if you call a bet with a draw. Since you can decide the size of the bet (it's not fixed), you should know if you are getting or giving good odds to someone.
For example, calling an unraised pot preflop with 5 5 is good odds. If you hit a set, you can expect to make a lot of money (people will not expect it, so they will call with top pair). However, let's say you have a flush draw after the turn. The pot is $10 and someone bets $20 all-in, you are getting horrible odds. You have roughly a 1 in 5 shot of hitting on the river, and you would be betting $20 to win $50.
As basic as this may be, many no-limit players have not even mastered this stage! So, if you are still insecure about pot odds, don't worry. Many others are too, and often they don't even realize it.
Attempting to check-raising for value is far less valuable when playing a no-limit game than a limit one because you may be giving your opponent's a deadly free card. In limit poker, if you have the second-best hand, you will lose a little bit. In no-limit, you could lose your entire stack!
Betting is generally preferable to calling in a no-limit game. When you bet, you can win if you have the better hand or if your opponent folds. If you call, you can only win if you have your opponent beaten. If you bet, you determine the bet size. You determine the pot odds. If you call, you are accepting someone else's odds.
If you bet, you force people to pay off when you have a good hand. If you are a caller, you have to hope someone else will willingly pay you off. The importance of aggression is why tight-passive players can win a lot more at limit than no-limit.
Different types of games require different amounts of aggression. Games with fewer players require one to be looser and more aggressive. However, if you're up against many loose opponents, you must tighten up and wait until you have a strong hand. Generally, the opposite of what the game is does well. If the game is very loose, tighten up. If the game is very tight, take advantage and steal pots.
You also must adjust to your opponent's quality. If you are up against weak players, simply giving them bad pot odds and taking money from them bit by bit works well. If you are against better players, you must set some traps.
Getting an idea of your opponent's cards is very important. This takes time and experience. However, a way to improve your reading skills is what I call the 'three question technique.' Always ask yourself these three questions when someone makes or calls a bet:
When you hold the nuts and your opponent also has a good hand, what's the best way to get all of his chips? Learning to get out of and set traps is very difficult and only experience will help in this department.
Fundamentally, game psychology and traps are used to manipulate the three questions mentioned earlier. For example, if you overbet the pot with a flush draw and then check when you hold the flush, either your opponent will fall for the trap, thinking you had top pair, or he will recognize the trap and check-fold to you on river. This slowplay is used to manipulate the variable: what does he think I have?
Generally, this sort of game psychology is only used on good players (players that have mastered the first four steps). Against weaker players, you should just build a good hand and extract money out of them bit by bit. Weaker players just play their hand; they don't think about what you have.
In the Olympics, second best wins a silver medal. In no-limit hold'em, second best loses large sums of money.
This concept is probably the toughest for players transitioning from limit to no-limit to understand. If you hold AK and flop top pair in limit hold'em, rarely will you be folding your hand. After all, your hand will win most of the time, and you do not lose too much if your hand ends up placing second. However, if you are not careful at no-limit hold'em, these types of hands will quickly cost you your entire stack.
There are six types of hands in no-limit hold'em:
Understanding these hand types means understanding how large a pot each hand type can win. Hands of lesser value are generally only able to win smaller pots, because the hands they can beat will not call large bets. For example, suppose you hold A K and the board is A J 4. Someone with K J is simply not going to pay you off that much in this situation.
However, if you hold A K and the board is A 9 6 5 2, you will likely pay off someone who holds 8 7. Again, the stronger the hand, the more likely someone is to pay off.
Obviously, any hand is capable of being a nut hand: 7 2 is the nuts on a 7 7 7 4 3 board. Nevertheless, certain starting hands lend themselves more to certain categories.
High Pocket Pairs (AA, KK, etc.): These hands are typically overpairs. If you are fortunate to hit a set with them, then it is unlikely that you will be paid off. Why? Suppose you hold A A with a board of [[Ac 8h 7h]]. It is unlikely that someone else will have top pair, because there is only one other Ace in the deck. So you are left with relatively few strong hands that you can beat except draws to a hand that beats you.
Big Unpaired Cards (AK, AQ, etc.): These hands are likely to become top pair. It is possible to hit straights with these hands, too. However, most of the time you form a hand, it will be top pair.
Small Pocket Pairs (33, 77, etc): They will generally form either category 2, 5, or 6 hands. For example, if you hold pocket sixes, chances are good that the flop will bring you a bunch of overcards or it will make you a set. Thus, your hand will either be weak or extremely strong.
Suited Connectors or Semi-Connectors (T9s, 64s): These hands tend to be category 1, 2, 5, or 6. What is nice about these hands is that you generally know your place in the pot, because these hands are either very strong or very weak.
As the rank of a hand increases, the potential risks and rewards of that hand increases as well. Obviously, a trash hand will not win a pot (except with a bluff), but it will not pay off as well.
However, it gets tricky as you get into top pairs and overpairs. These hands really cannot beat very many hands. Someone with middle pair will not call you down for big bets unless they think you are bluffing. Nevertheless, players holding top pair often pay off to people who have stronger hands.
This is why top pair and overpair tend to fare worse in no-limit than they do in fixed-limit. In fixed-limit, the bets are very small in relation to the pot. Because they are so small, people with category 2 hands will pay off, because it is worth risking a small amount of money if there is a decent chance one's opponent is bluffing. So there are a lot of hands that will pay off to top pair.
However, in no-limit, the bets tend to be large in relation to the pot. Thus, there are much fewer hands that will pay off to top pair, because people would be risking a lot more money to call down with hands that really can only beat bluffs. The hands that pay off top pair are not worth pot-sized bets. However, for many people, top pair and overpairs are worth paying off other people with pot-sized bets.
This is not to say that top pair is a trash hand in no-limit. It certainly can win a fair share of pots. However, it generally is not able to win huge pots in relation to the blinds. This is why top pair tends to be better if a person has a short stack rather than a large stack. The size of a person's buy-in holds a lot of importance in no-limit, which is why the next chapter is devoted to exploring this subject in depth.
One final important thing to note is that one pair is the most costly hand in no-limit. In other words, if you tally your net win/loss with all hands (nothing, pair, two pair, etc), you'll find that you lose the most with one pair. This is because you rarely get paid off big with one pair hands but often wind up paying off someone else. At least when you hold nothing you're unlikely to lose very much money since your hand is obviously garbage and makes for an easy fold.
One of the most important factors in a no-limit hold'em game is the amount of chips people have at the table. A person's stack size affects the strategy at the table in numerous ways. For example, the amount a person buys in for is often indicative of how well that person plays. Someone may buy in for a small amount because he is not very confident in his skills and does not want to risk much money.
However, the most important thing about stack sizes is how they affect implied odds. Implied odds is a fancy word for saying "how much you can expect to win in the future if you make a good hand, taking into account the chance of hitting that strong hand."
Let's say you hold 6 5 preflop. Your hand is not very strong. It is also doubtful that you will hit a strong hand at the flop, like a straight or trips. However, you have a good chance of hitting a draw, such as a flush draw or a straight draw. To win a lot of money on this draw, you will probably need to call a bet on the flop and see the turn and river to get the card you need to make a strong hand. If you hit a strong hand, you will want to bet a lot when you have the strong hand.
If the stack sizes are small, you cannot expect to win much if you chase a flush or straight draw. Speculative hands like suited connectors do well when people have large stack sizes, and they perform poorly when people have small stack sizes.
To be precise, here is what I consider to be small, medium, and large stack sizes:
|Small stacks||40 big blinds or fewer|
|Medium stacks||41 to 99 big blinds|
|Large stacks||100 big blinds or more|
You will see different buy-ins for different types of games. For most home games, people buy in for small stacks. A home game with $0.25-$0.50 blinds will typically have $10 to $20 buy-ins (20 to 40 big blinds). These are small stacks.
Brick-and mortar games have varying stack sizes. Nowadays, it seems that most places in Vegas restrict the buy-ins to about 40 big blinds, so people tend to have short or medium stacks. However, there are B&M games that do not cap the buy-ins, and people with 200-big-blind stacks are common. The games at online poker rooms tend to restrict buy-ins to 100 big blinds, so many people have fairly large stacks.
Stack sizes do more than just increase the value of speculative hands. They also tend to make the game fancier. Bluffing becomes a more valuable tool when people have larger stacks. You can threaten a much larger amount of money in relation to the pot when people have a lot of chips.
Suppose there is $10 in the pot. Your opponent's top pair is a marginal hand. While it will beat most hands, there is a lot on the board that massacres his hand (straight, two pair, top pair with higher kicker, etc.)
Suppose you bet $10. If your opponent has a $10 stack, he will call you, because he has so much already invested in the pot.
However, suppose your opponent has $100. He will be wary of calling. If he calls, and you fire another pot-sized bet on the turn, he will have to call $40 just to see the river. If you fire another pot-sized bet on the river, he stands to lose his entire stack due to his flimsy hand.
Large stacks increase the value of bluffing, which also means that marginal hands lose value. A hand like top pair will not get paid off when the stacks are large (except by draws or bluffs), because hands like middle pair are not going to pay off a large amount of money in relation to the pot.
Large stacks mean that fewer hands go to a showdown, and the ones that do are much more likely to involve powerful hands like straights, flushes, and sets.
Double Hold'em is a new poker variant that can only be played at Party Poker. The game requires an extra decision than regular hold'em, which makes for softer competition since players are given an additional opportunity to make a mistake.
In Double Hold'em, players are dealt three cards. Players remaining in the hand after the flop is dealt must designate one of their three cards as the "point" card. The point card is placed above the other two cards to form a triangle. It can be used in conjunction with each of the other two cards to form two possible hands.
For example, suppose you are dealt 9 9 2 and flop comes 9 4 3. The optimal play here would be to designate the 9 as your point card. This gives you top set with one combination (9 9) and a flush draw with the other combination (9 2). The two cards on the bottom, in this case 9 2, cannot be used in combination with each other.
If the hand reaches a showdown, you play whichever of your two hole card combinations gives you the best five card poker hand.
The first thing to realize about Double Hold'em is that it will take a stronger hand on average to win a pot than it does in regular hold'em. Since players are dealt an extra card, this game rests somewhere in between hold'em and Omaha in terms of how strong of winning hands you can expect to see. However, like hold'em and unlike Omaha, you can play zero, one or two of your hole cards to make the best five card poker hand.
This means hands like top pair, which are usually quite good in hold'em, become relative garbage in Double Hold'em. For example, suppose you are dealt A 10 4. Three players see a flop of 10 7 6. You designate the A as your point card to give yourself top pair, top kicker with one combination and a backdoor flush draw with the other combination. In regular hold'em, the A 10 hand would be fairly strong on this flop. However, in Double Hold'em, this hand should be played with extreme caution. It is entirely possible that you are losing to an overpair, a flopped straight, two pair, or a set. Even in a best case scenario, you're probably just a small favorite against something like a flush draw or even a flush and straight draw.
As in regular hold'em, it is important to make strong preflop decisions in Double Hold'em. You must be able to identify the relative strength of your hand based on what position you're in and what action has transpired before you. Expect to see more players seeing flops in Double Hold'em than in regular hold'em. Since everyone has an extra card, everyone feels like they can take whatever garbage they were dealt to the flop and figure it out afterwards. This is a very poor strategy. It is still crucially important to fold mediocre hands before the flop.
In Double Hold'em, you want to play hands that have the possibility of hitting the flop in a couple of different ways. For example, a hand like A 9 8 is pretty good because you've got both straight and flush draw possibilities. It is highly advisable to play non-nut flush hands with caution. In hold'em, any old flush is a pretty strong hand. In Double Hold'em, any old flush could very well be second best to a higher flush.
Hands with pocket Aces are still very strong (the strongest, to be precise; get it all-in preflop if you can), but hands like pocket Queens and pocket Jacks lose a lot of value. This is because it's much more possible for someone else to have been dealt an overpair before the flop. Additionally, players are going to make it to the flop with A K Q type of hands making it even more difficult for your pair of Jacks to hold up as the best hand.
Double Hold'em is very much a post-flop game, but that doesn't mean you should take whatever three pieces of paper you were dealt to the flop. Play tight, especially if your table is playing loose, and try to flop big hands that can win large pots. Medium pair type of hands, like K 8 8 become very strong for their set-mining value. See a flop cheaply with those hands, try to flop a set, and if you don't you can get out of the hand for a minimal loss. Avoid playing hands that aren't defined very well and don't have a chance of hitting the flop very hard. For instance, something like K 9 7 might not look too bad, but it should probably be mucked.
At first, determining the point card might seem like a whole new complicated decision, but this is actually a fairly easy aspect of Double Hold'em. What makes Double Hold'em a challenge isn't determining your point card, it's trying to decide how strong of a hand you have after the flop.
Most of the time, determining your point card will either a.) not matter or b.) be a very obvious decision, or both. Just ask yourself: which of the three possible hand combinations is worth the least to me? And then break that hand up by making the other card the point card. Very rarely will you have any decisions where all three of your possible hand combinations are all equally valuable (unless they're all just garbage and in that case, just pick a point card at random and be prepared to fold on the flop).
Sometimes the decision may seem a little tricky. For instance, suppose you hold A 7 6 and the flop comes J 5 4. Should you try to go for the flush draw or the straight draw? The correct answer is: both! By making the 7 your point card, you keep both a flush draw and a straight draw in tact. That makes for a very powerful hand and could be played for all your chips on the flop as you are only a slight dog against anyone holding a set.
The key to setting your point card is just to avoid making any huge blunders. For example, when you are dealt 7 7 A, the knee-jerk reaction might be to make the A the point card. After all, that is the card that sticks out from the crowd. But this would be a horrible blunder as you would be breaking up your pair of 7s to give yourself A7 twice.
Don't be intimidated by Double Hold'em. Even if you don't feel totally confident about the game yet, realize that the competition is so bad that you don't need to be an expert to win. Avoid the major pitfall of over-valuing mediocre hands and you're already better than the field. This is truly one of the softest poker games out there right now, so visit Party Poker today and give it a try.
Please note that if you use deposit code TIPS500, Party Poker will give you a first-time deposit bonus of 100% up to $500 for being a reader of PokerTips. This is much nicer than the standard bonus of 100% up to $100 that everyone else gets.