“Simple to learn, but a lifetime to master!”
Those words undoubtedly seem true of the ever-popular No-Limit Hold’em.
It might take an exceptionally long time to master poker. But these tips and tricks will help us become a profitable No-Limit Hold’em player right out of the gate.
Here are our top tips for playing No-Limit Hold’em. Follow these carefully, and you will maximise your chances of profit.
- Be Selective
- Table Position Matters
- Out of Position = Out of the Action
- Look at the Stacks
- Look at Villain
- Expect Swings
- Learn Basic Odds and Outs
- Know the Rules
- Be Careful with Dominated Draws
- Big Hands = Big Pots
- Bluff with Equity
- Look to Specialize
Any two hole cards can indeed make a big hand. But that does not mean we want to enter pots with a lot of holdings. Most winning players play pots with around 20-25% of their preflop starting hands.
In other words, they are not even involved in 75% of pots played.
It’s amazing how new players can dramatically increase their winrate purely by tightening up their hand selection.
Table Position Matters
It can sometimes take newer players a while to realise this, but not all seats at a poker table are equal. In fact, some seats are significantly better/worse than others.
The Button is the best position at the table, which means that we can play a broader range of starting hands profitably.
The earlier positions (middle position, blinds, under-the-gun etc.) are much weaker. We should only be playing premium holdings from these positions.
Out of Position = Out of the Action
The table seats also determine who gets to act first after the flop is dealt. Acting last on each betting round is a significant advantage in poker and is referred to as being in position.
When we are in position, we get to see what our opponent does first. So, we can make better-informed decisions.
We should always look to continue more often when we are in position. But we should give up more often when we are out of position.
Look at the Stacks
New players often wonder how strong their hand needs to be to invest their entire stack.
It depends on how deep that stack is!
For example, cash game players often play with 100bb (100 big blind) stacks. We need to be careful at this stack depth. We typically need a set (three-of-a-kind) or a powerful two pair before considering playing for stacks.
25bb stacks is an entirely different story. We should generally be ok getting the chips in with any top pair hand.
Look at Villain
New players sometimes exert most of their energy on their hole cards. They only think about what type of hands they have.
- It’s just as essential (if not more so), to think carefully about Villain’s actions and HIS types of holdings.
- We’ll, hopefully, pick up more information as we go along, such as whether our opponent is tight or loose.
Knowing our opponent will help us get a more accurate understanding of whether to continue with or fold our hand.
Hold’em (and poker in general) can be very tough on a mental level. Even if we do everything right, we can still find ourselves dropping chips at an alarmingly fast rate.
This situation doesn’t need to be a big problem. We just need to make sure we are prepared for it. The goal of a good Hold’em player is to continue playing their best game despite the swings.
The alternative is to get upset (known as tilting in poker). We end up making emotionally fuelled decisions that make our downswing much worse. Avoid at all costs!
Learn Basic Odds and Outs
It’s essential to know how often different types of draws will hit in Hold’em. This fact helps us to determine whether we are getting the right price to draw.
For example –
- A flopped flush-draw will hit roughly 19% of the time by the turn and 35% of the time by the river.
- A flopped gutshot will hit approximately 8.5% of the time by the turn 16.5% of the time by the river.
Calling draws without the right price is a typical new player mistake. It prevents them from making a profit.
Know the Rules
Every player probably knows the basic rules. But certain situations can catch less experienced players out.
For example: Who wins in this situation?
Player 1: Tc7c
Player 2: AhQh
Player 2 wins with two-pair Queens and Deuces.
New players might mistakenly think that player 2 only has one pair because the second pair is with the board.
If the twos on the board weren’t paired, then the T7 would win.
This type of situation is referred to as counterfeiting. Player 1’s two-pair has been counterfeited because of the twos on the board.
Here is another -
Player 1: TcTh
Player 2: Kh6d
Player two wins here with Four-of-a-Kind Twos, King Kicker. This scenario is another example of counterfeiting.
Player 1 had a full house on the turn, and player 2’s situation looked grim.
But once the fourth two hits the turn, player 1 can no longer use both of his tens. He now has Quads with a Ten Kicker.
Be Careful with Dominated Draws
When we are drawing in Hold’em, we want our draw to have an extremely high chance of being the best at showdown.
It’s often counterproductive to draw to a hand that may or may not be good after it gets there.
Imagine we hold the following on the turn in Hold’em and face a raise.
Without being too specific, it should, hopefully, be clear that this is a problem hand. It might make sense to get out of the way.
Newer players struggle to make the laydown. They want to know whether they’ll hit their flush or not.
The problem we have is that, even if we hit, we aren’t sure how comfortable we will be investing additional chips.
The board is paired, which means we might already be drawing dead to a full house. It’s also possible that our opponent has a higher flush draw. So, we could lose more chips on the river, even after hitting.
Big Hands = Big Pots
Different types of hands play different sized pots. A good poker player will deliberately try to engineer that.
Say we have a mid-strength holding or dominated draw. We should be looking to keep the pot small wherever possible. This play increases our chances of being able to reach showdown.
In situations where we have a nut-draw or monster made hand, we should set up a large pot. This strategy increases the size of the payout we get with our premium holdings.
We should be using larger bet sizings when we have stronger holdings. It’s a basic concept that sometimes can trip up even advanced players.
Don’t let anyone persuade you that you always need to bet the same size in every spot. This thinking is a great way to damage your winrate.
Bluff with Equity
There are some river situations where it may often be correct to bluff with total trash. However, we should be looking to have some potential when we bluff (known as semi-bluffing).
Here is a quick example.
Which is the better flop bluff?
Hand 1: Ac9s
Hand 2: Ah5h
Although both hands are relatively weak, the A5s has better potential to make a stronger 5-card holding.
Notice how it can still potentially make both flushes and straights by the river.
The A9 can never make any of these hands no matter the runout. Even if our A5s doesn’t hit by the river, it still might pick up a flush draw on the turn. We can again fire the turn as a semi-bluff.
The Lesson? Prioritise bluffing with hands that have the potential to hit big by the river.
Look to Specialize
Hold’em is played in a variety of different formats –
- Cash games
- Sit and go’s etc., etc.
It can be tempting to try a variety of different formats (nothing wrong with this). But players generally have better success when they specialise in a single variant.
Early on, we should try to decide on which format to focus. Play it with the goal of becoming better than the other players in that game.
It’s good to weigh up the pros and cons while doing this.
For example, tournaments need more significant time commitments. But they have softer playing fields making it easier to profit.
This Is Just the Beginning…
The above tips can go a long way to getting us started. But the best players continue to learn and improve throughout their lifetime.
As our adage states, the game can take - a lifetime to master.
We should do our best push through any setbacks we face.
Strive to become a better player with each passing day.
Keep doing this for long enough, and you’ll eventually be one of the best!
For more articles on poker strategy, check out the following links: