PokerStars homepage
Beginners Holdem

Chapter Three:
No Limit Hold'em: The Cadillac of Poker Games - Introduction

There's a story I've been hearing all my life around the Poker club. It's related to a colorful player down in south Texas named Broomcorn. Whenever there's someone in the game who's playing real tight, the opposing players will needle him by saying: "Well, you're gonna go like Broomcorn's uncle." He'd perk up and respond sharply: "What do you mean I'm gonna go like him?" And they'd say: "Well, he anted himself to death."

That's a little story you should always keep in mind. Because whenever you find yourself playing a very tight and defensive style of Poker ... you'll be in danger of anteing yourself to "death". As I've said throughout these pages...the ante determines how fast you play in any Poker game. Since you'll generally play in a normal (or medium) ante game... if you play an aggressive style of Poker, you'll have way the best of it.

That's the way I play ... and it works. This is especially true of No Limit Hold'em which, in my opinion is the Cadillac of Poker games. That opinion is not because No Limit Hold 'em is my best game. It's an opinion shared by many of the world's best Poker players ... some of whom are only beginning to appreciate the great variety of skills you need to be a top level Hold 'em player. As I've said, although Hold 'em is similar in some respects to a game such as Seven Stud ... there are enough differences to put it in a class by itself. And it's truly a game that requires very special talents in order to play it at a world class level.

Above all else, No Limit Hold 'em is a game where you have to be aggressive ... and you have to gamble. One of the great things about Hold 'em is that there are so many different combinations of hands and different things you can do in different situations. As opposed to other forms of Poker, you can represent a lot of different hands in Hold 'em. You can also put your opponent on any one of several hands. It's a very complex game. You're forced to do a lot of guessing. So is your opponent.

It comes to a point where you have to take a chance. If you want to be a winner a big winner at No Limit Hold 'em ... you can't play a solid, safe game. You must get in there and gamble.

My philosophy of play at No Limit Hold 'em is a simple one: I try to win big pots ... and the small ones I pick up (win without a contest). It's a philosophy that necessitates a gambling style of play. My style. And it's this style that's fostered a lot of comment from countless players about how "lucky" I am. I've been hearing that for a lot of years. The simple fact is it's not true. Everyone gets lucky once in a while. But no one is consistently lucky. So it has to be something other than luck to account for the fact I've been a consistently big winner through the years. It is something else. You'll soon discover what that "something else" is.

I've appeared to be a "lucky" player because every time a big pot came up, I've usually had the worst hand. There are good reasons for that. I'm a very aggressive player. I'm reaching out and picking up small pots all the time. I'm always betting at those pots ... hammering at them. And I don't want anybody to stop me from doing that. I don't want anyone to defeat my style of play.

Consequently, if I've got any kind of a hand, any kind of a draw ... I bet. And if I get raised ... I don't quit. I go ahead and get all my money in the pot knowing I've probably got the worst hand that I'm the underdog to win the pot.

Sometimes, I'll even call a Post Oak bluff (a very small bet in a big pot) just to get a chance at a draw. Of course, if I'm going to gamble like that ... the player I'm in there with must have a lot of chips on the table. For example, I'll have a 10 9 and the Flop comes 8 3 2. And, let's say, there was $10,000 in the pot before the Flop. Now, with a raggedy Flop like that, a tight player might try to pick up the pot with a Post Oak bluff of $1200. Well, that's a gutless bet* and I'll call it trying to catch a Jack or a Seven just so I could get an open end Straight draw on Fourth St. I'm in a good position to pick up the pot on Fourth whether or not I get the draw I want. The tight player who made that weak bet on the Flop is asking me to take his money. And, in most cases, that's exactly what I'm going to do when the next card falls regardless of what it is. I'm going to move in on that tight player because I feel confident he's going to throw his hand away and not put his whole stack in jeopardy.

Since I play that way, I've got a reputation of being an extremely aggressive player. And I don't ever want to lose that reputation. It's what enables me to pick up more than what would normally be considered my share of pots.

In most cases, my opponents are afraid to play back at me because they know I'm subject to set them all in. So, when they don't have a real big hand, they let go of the pot ... and I pick it up (in a way similar to what I'd do when somebody makes a Post Oak bluff at me). The accumulation of all those small pots is a big part of my winning formula. It's the bonus I get for playing the way I do ... and it's the "secret" as to why I win.

If I win ten pots where nobody has a big hand ten pots with let's say $3,000 in them ... then I can afford to take 2 to 1 the worst of it and play a $30,000 pot. I've already got that pot paid for with all the small pots I picked up. And when I play that big pot.'s a freeroll.

As I said a little while ago, when a big pot's played... I've usually got the worst hand. I'd say over 50% of the time ... when all the money goes in, I've got the worst hand. Obviously, I couldn't overcome that unless I had something to compensate for it. And my compensation is all those small pots I've picked up.

*I NEVER make a Post Oak bluff.

Of course, I'm almost never completely out on a limb in a big pot. Whenever I make a substantial bet or raise ... I've almost always got an Out. Betting with an Out. That's what I call it. And it's the Out I have that makes me appear "lucky" when I'm a dog in a big pot and wind up winning it.

You'll have additional compensations for playing the aggressive way I recommend. You'll be able to break a lot of players because you're in there gambling all the time ... and, because of that, you'll get a lot of your real good hands paid off. Tight players don't get their real good hands paid off because they make a move so rarely that their hands are an "open book" whenever they do. And they almost never change gears (start playing loose). But you'll be out there betting, betting, betting all the time. Your opponents will see you're an aggressive player. They'll know you're out there trying to pick up all those pots ... so they'll sometimes give you a little loose action. And, since you'll hold a few hands (you won't always be out there with the worst hand) ... you'll break one or two of them. After that, they'll be scared to get involved with you.

So your style of play will be very deceiving it'll get all the other players befuddled. They won't know whether you've really got a hand or not. They won't know whether you're going to set them all in or not. Because they might have to put all their money in the pot not knowing if they have the best hand ... they won't know what to do. And anytime you get your opponents in that confused situation you'll have an advantage over them.

Of course, you don't play every hand aggressively. Occasionally you slow down ... and sometimes you completely stop and throw your hand away.

You should never start out bluffing at a pot and keep bluffing at it without an Out.

For example, whenever I raise the pot before the Flop., I'm going to bet after the Flop about 90% of the time. So if the Flop comes completely ragged (one that doesn't look like anyone can have much of it) ... I'm going to bet at the pot and try to pick it up even if I don't have a piece of the Flop. But, if I get called ... I'm usually going to give it up unless I have some kind of an Out [even as little as Third Button (a Pair made with the lowest card on the Flop) or an inside Straight draw]. Sometimes, you can keep hammering on certain players and drive them off even when you don't have an Out. But, you're usually better off when you have some kind of escape hatch.

The reason I go ahead and put all. my money in on occasion when I know I've probably got the worst hand deserves repeating since it's so important for you to understand. I do it because I don't want somebody playing back at me and trying to stop me from being the aggressor. If I allow that to happen ... it'll cramp my style. I'll no longer be able to pick up all those pots when nobody has a hand. And nobody's got anything a big percentage of the time. Somebody's got to get the money that's left out there. I want it to be me.

An example will best show you what I'm talking about. Let's say I raised before the Flop with a type of hand that's one of my favorites: small connecting cards that are suited. I'm in the pot with one player who called behind me. At this point, I put him on a couple of big cards or a medium Pair. That's all right. It's what I want him to have. Now, here's what'll happen if the following Turn comes up.


With that Flop, I'm going to lead right off and bet. If he plays back at me, I'm now going to be quite sure he's got two Aces (or better). So, I'm about a 9 to 5 dog. The pot (odds) will compensate a little bit for that price ... but it won't be laying me enough to put the rest of my money in. Yet, I'll go ahead and get it all in there because I don't want that same guy, who might be a pretty good player, taking a Jack Ten and making that same play when I don't have anything. To let his play succeed, I have to throw my hand away and give him the pot. Because I want the pot ... I can't let him succeed. I want him to fear me. I want him to have the opinion I'm going to defend the money I put out there. I don't want him to have any doubts. So I go ahead and put the rest of my money in.

In making that play on the Flop, there's a good chance I can win the pot right there. Because I'm known to play any reasonable hand (and some "unreasonable" hands in a short handed high ante game) ... I've really made it tough on him. I could've flopped a Set (of Trips), Two Pair or even the Straight. I've put him on the defensive ... and he's got a lot of guessing to do.

If he decides to call me ... it's not all that bad because I've got an Out. If I make my Straight, I'm going to break him. And if I draw out on him ... it appears like I got lucky again. Well, I did ... and I didn't. When I moved in on him, I was gambling to pick up the pot. When I didn't succeed because of his call ... you might say I got unlucky. What's more ... I am supposed to make my draws once in a while. In fact, in that specific situation I'll draw out more than one third of the time (by making my Straight or back dooring Two Pair or Trips).

A very interesting thing about that particular hand of 7 6 is that I'd rather have it than a 9 8. The reason is that when you turn a Straight with a 9 8 ... you'll frequently find that somebody is on top of you. A good example is when the Flop comes Q J 10. An A K will have you nutted and even a Sucker who plays a K 9 will have you beat. I've turned many a Straight with a 9 8...but when a Q J 10 falls, I'm always real cautious with the hand. Because people play the higher cards more frequently than the lower ones, you're less likely to be in trouble when you turn a Straight with a 7 6 than you would be with a 9 8.

I'll discuss the general category of small connecting cards in great detail a little later. As I previously noted, they're one of my favorite hands. Another of my favorites is a hand where you can turn a double belly buster (two way inside) Straight. It's one of the most deceiving hands there is ... and I especially like it in No Limit. Because it's so deceptive, I almost invariably raise with it when I can win a big pot. It has all the advantages of an open end Straight... but it's not as easy to read.

An example of turning a double belly buster is when you have a Q 10 and the Turn comes A J 8. As you can see, it's very deceptive because you can make a Straight with a Nine or a King. What's more, if you catch a King and there's someone in the pot with you with A K ... you can see all the trouble he's in.

Since double belly busters are such good gambling hands (because of their deceptive qualities), you might find the following quick rule of thumb useful for now.

It's possible to turn a double belly buster with any two cards that are part of a Straight such as a 7 6, 8 6, 9 6 and a 10 6. Also, two cards with five gaps between them such as a Q 6 can also turn a double belly buster draw. (In the Supplement at the end of this section you'll find a complete rundown on all the hands that have double belly buster potential.)

When you turn a double belly buster draw, you should very carefully note which of your possible Straights will be the nuts. For example, if you have a J 9 and the Fall is K 10 7 ... both an Eight and a Queen will make you a Straight. However, only the Eight will give you the nuts. If a Queen falls on Fourth, someone with an A J can beat your Straight. So you must be careful especially in No Limit play and you must know how to read the Board perfectly (to see what hand is the absolute nuts), Practice at home, until you don't make a single mistake. You're sure to learn after you get broke a few times with what you thought was the nuts, but was actually the second best hand.

A good case in point is the example noted in the above paragraph. A player could easily think he had the best Straight when the Queen fell ... until someone showed him an A J for all his money.

An easy way to determine whether your Straight is the nuts is by using one of the following observations. You'll have the nut Straight if:
  1. the high end of the Straight is made up with the highest card in your hand; or
  2. the high end of the highest possible Straight is already on the Board.

Drawing to a double belly buster is one of few exceptions in No Limit where you might be drawing to an inside Straight that won't make the best hand. As I noted earlier, inside Straight draws can be real good plays in No Limit Hold 'em because for a few chips you have the opportunity to win a very big pot. But, you almost never draw to a (single) belly buster Straight that will not be the best hand if you make it. They're longshot plays ... so when you do make them, you want to be sure they're the nuts.

For example, let's say you held a Q J and the Fall was 9 8 4. Now, you might want to draw at that belly buster trying to catch a Ten even in Limit, but mostly in No Limit. You know if you catch that Ten, you'll have a cinch hand. But if you held a 6 5 ... you'd never draw to it (with the same Fall) because there'd be two different Straights that could beat you if you catch a Seven. (You'd lose to a 6 7 8 9 10 and a 7 8 9 10 J.) If a man makes a Straight with you, he's either got you tied or he's got you beat. So, you never draw to the dead end of a (single) belly buster.

Before you decide to draw to a belly buster, you also want to feel reasonably certain that your opponent is going to gamble with you if you do make it. I mean, they're good plays ... but only if you can win a big pot if you make your longshot. So you want your opponent to have the best hand possible on the Board. If it came a 9 8 4 (as above) ... ideally, you want your opponent to have 3 Nines. You don't want him to have a Pair of Kings or A 9. You want him to have at least Eights and Nines, or better, 3 Nines. You want him to have a very big hand. Your Q J would be a very good hand against 3 Nines. It wouldn't be as good against a Pair of Nines because it won't make enough money. Your opponent will release a Pair far more readily than he'll release a Set.

So if you can get in real cheap and have the potential to win a big pot ... belly buster Straights are good gambles. But, you also have to be very selective about the belly busters you do draw to. You don't want it to be apparent to your opponent that you could've made a Straight. In the illustration just used, you might not get the action you want if a Ten falls off on Fourth Street. A Queen jack is actually a weak hand when the Flop is 9 8 4. Your opponent might put you on a 7 6 and, when the Ten came, he might be very leery about calling a big bet you made. The Straight possibility might even scare him off completely.

But, if a possible Straight wasn't so apparent when the Ten came off ... then, you could probably win a lot of money. Let's say, you had the Qh 9h and the Flop was J 8 2. You might want to pick the Ten off there ... because that would be a very deceptive belly buster draw. And that's the kind of inside Straight you want to draw for to win a big pot the ones that aren't so obvious.

If you graduate from Limit Hold 'em to No Limit, you'll find that you'll be doing many things (besides drawing to inside Straights) that simply won't work when all it can cost your opponent is another bet.

A good example of a bluff that has a lot of power to it in No Limit, but will rarely work at Limit play is when the Board's one card off a Straight on Fourth. Let's say there's an A K Q J out there and your opponent bets. You've got a Ten in the hole so you've got the nuts, (There's no Flush possible.) Your opponent bets, you raise and he plays back. Now ... there's no question he's got a Straight also.

An unsophisticated player would move in on him right there because he knows he can't lose. But, what good is that? He's only going to get a split.

However, add some drama and a little acting to your play and there's a chance you could win it all. You know you're going to call his re raise ... but you don't have to do it instantaneously. Take your time. Just stall around. Study the Board real hard and shake your head several times making it appear as though you overlooked the possible Straight. You could even pick up your cards slightly and make him think you're going to throw them away. Then.. put them back down and say "OK, I'll call it,"

With all your agonizing, he's got to give you credit for a Set. You've made him think you're gambling the Board will pair so you'll make a Full. If the Board does pair on the end ... you bet him all your money. There's almost no risk to that play. You represent a Full and many a time your opponent will throw his hand away. It works a lot of times. (Of course, it's harder to do in Limit because all the guy has to do is call one bet.)

As you can see from the play just described, bluffing often involves a lot of "art". But, there's "science" to it also. There's even science to calling a bluff. The following pot I was involved in will clearly illustrate what I mean.

It was a small (ante) No Limit game early in my career. I was on the Button so I limped in with a J 10 in the hole. (There were two players in the pot in front of me.) Here's what the Flop looked like:

Image 2

As you see, I had two to a (belly) Straight. Since there was no raise before the Flop, I was reasonably sure neither of my two opponents had very strong hands.

On the Flop, the guy in the first seat made a reasonable (size) bet* and the player in front of me called it. Both players had a lot of money in front of them ... so I also called.

The. fourth card was the 2s. They both checked on Fourth St. and so did I. The last card was the 3d. The Board now looked like this:

When all the cards were out, the guy in the first seat checked again. I felt when he bet (on the Flop) and then checked twice (on Fourth and Fifth) ... he had the top Pair with a small kicker. I felt the guy in front of me was drawing at some kind of Straight (and, obviously, missed his hand). Much to my surprise, he made a real out of line bet on the end far bigger than the size of the pot.

When he did that, it looked to me like he was clearly trying to steal the pot. I was also sure I had him highcarded. (As I said, I felt sure he was drawing at a smaller Straight than I was.)

If I was correct in thinking I had been drawing at the highest possible Straight ... I "knew" I'd win the pot if I just called. (I also "knew" the other player couldn't overcall because his hand wasn't strong enough.)

So I called that out of line bet...and my analysis proved correct. The player with the Pair threw his hand away and the guy who over bet the pot was drawing to a little Straight. So I won the pot with a lack high.

*Throughout these discussions, a reasonable (size) bet meant about the size of the pot.

I didn't tell you that Poker story because I won the pot with a Jack high. And you shouldn't remember it for that reason. It has a more significant message.

I stated that I "felt" neither guy had much of anything. I then went on to explain why I had that feeling. Obviously, it was more than just a nebulous feel that I had. I had played with both those guys often ... so my feel was a certain amount of reasoning and a process of elimination was involved. And a lot of it was based on recall.

Whenever I use the word "feel" should understand it's not some extra sensory power that I have (although, as I noted in the section on GENERAL POKER STRATEGY, I do believe there is something to the theories relating to ESP). I recall what happened ... even though I might not consciously do it...I recall that this same play came up (or something close to it) and this is what he did or what somebody else did. So I get a feeling that he's bluffing or that I can make a play here and get the pot. But, actually my subconscious mind is reasoning it all out.

You build up a history of every player you ever played with ... I mean everyone that you've ever done any serious gambling with. You've got some kind of information on them. It's there ... buried in your mind. And you don't have to concentrate to get it out. When the time comes to use it, it'll come naturally you won't have to force it.

All good Poker players have tremendous recall. They reach back into the depths of their mind and remember what a certain guy did in a similar situation. A good player might not realize what he's doing ... and he might not know exactly what it is ... but he feels he can make a real big play or make a super call when he feels a guy's bluffing. The vibrations are definitely there. He just knows it.

And what it actually is, is a sense of recall. The same (or similar) situation existed some time ago ... and he knows exactly what to do in this one. It's usually a stress situation when a (relatively) big amount of money's involved that these things are always true.

There's another kind of "feel" you can have in a game that doesn't depend on recall. This type of feel depends on close observation of what's going on during a particular session. You acquire this feel when you notice that a certain player is really off his game and playing far below the quality of play he's normally capable of. You see this happen all the time. A lot of players lose control and go on tilt after they get one (or more) big hands cracked (beaten). They become unglued (lose their composure). To recoup their losses, they start playing weak hands ... and they play those hands badly. Very badly. It's easy to capitalize on those situations. Here's how:

Let's say you're in a game with a high ante structure (a subject I'll soon discuss) and naturally everybody's playing real fast. You played a 9 6 and the Flop came A 9 8. Normally, if you got played with, you'd be very concerned about that Ace (and also your kicker). But, in this case, you're in the pot with a player who's losing and, from what you've been able to observe, he's playing very badly. You check on the Flop ... and so does he.

Now, all of a sudden, you get a "feel" that all he's got is the Third Button (a Pair of Eights). The reason why you feel he got "something" (a small piece of the Flop) is because he checked. He didn't bet because he wants to get the hand shown down. If he had nothing at all ... he would've bet to try to steal the pot. And, you "know" he doesn't have an Ace. You know the worst that can happen is that he could also have a Nine and run you down (chase you). Well, what you want is for him to run you down with an Eight which is what you really think he has. You know if you're really off base ... he might have a Nine.

But, you feel confident you're not wrong and if a Rag falls off on Fourth ... you bet. You know he's going to call you ... almost out of desperation because he's losing. So you make some money on Fourth and also on the end. You know he's not going to show you a hand unless he gets lucky and pairs his kicker.

The very surprising thing about the previous discussion is that the player I was referring to who's on tilt is actually a very good player. He could even be world class. Of course, the super stars of the Poker world those who I play against on a regular basis are able to exercise far more control than the average player. Yet, even a real good player has moments when he's playing considerably off his usual game. So, you have to be observant and take advantage of such opportunities when they present themselves. You'll have far more opportunities to do that against the average player simply because they lose control far more often.

There's something else that's extremely important that you'll have to be constantly aware of. It's this:

You'll have to be able to categorize your opponents as to the quality of their play ... and you'll have to play very differently against strong players than you do against weaker ones. This is of crucial importance in No- Limit play.

Shortly, I'm going to go into considerable detail on this very important subject because I've seen very good players fail to adjust their strategy when they're in a pot with a certain type of player. In fact, as recently as the 1977 World Series of Poker (in the World Championship Hold 'em event), some of the best players I know made such amateurish mistakes that I wouldn't have believed it possible if I hadn't seen it with my own two eyes. But, before I get into the specific details, I want to give you two general rules to guide you in this matter.

  1. Against a low grade player ... you simply make the obvious play. That is, you don't try to get fancy when you're in a pot with a weak player. You don't try to make subtle moves that'll be far beyond his capacity to understand or appreciate. You play fundamentally better (rather than strategically better) than a weak player. In a word, you outplay him.
  2. Against a higher grade player ... (someone who could be thinking along the same lines as you)…you must mix up your play. Sometimes you make an obvious play against a strong player (as you always would against a weak player) ... and sometimes you go at it another way and make a play that's not so obvious. Most of the time ... you have to put a play on (outmanoeuvre) a strong player.

In a nutshell, that's all there is to it. And it seems simple and logical enough. There's even very good players who know that that's what they're supposed to do. But knowing something ... and being able to execute it are not the same thing. As I said, I saw some world class Poker players make mistakes in the 1977 World Championship Tournament that only an idiot would make.

There was a particular player Who entered the Tournament for the first time ... and, almost immediately, it was easy to see that he was a weak player. He was the supreme example of a calling station a player who's next to impossible to bluff.

Even though I had never played against him before, it didn't take me very long to recognize the type of player he was. I've played with thousands just like him throughout my career. So I knew what to do when I was involved with him in a pot. More precisely ... I knew what not to do. I was not going to try to bluff him. Not even once.

I quickly decided that if I was in the pot with him, I was going to show him a hand. And, if he got lucky enough to beat me ... well, he was going to beat a hand. My mind was made up about that.

But there were other very good players in the Tournament who tried to run over him tried to force him out of a pot. They would bluff at him constantly ... and they were rarely successful. If he had anything at all ... he looked 'em up. As I said, he was the ultimate calling station. He looked enough of them up often enough to finish far higher than he was legitimately supposed to. He was probably about a 1000 to 1 dog to finish as high as he did. The reason he did was simply because so many players and some very experienced ones just handed him their money. They almost literally gave it away to him.

What they should not have done is try to bluff him. It takes an idiot, in my book, to bluff at a man who you know is going to call you.

You simply can't bluff a bad player ... because a bad player will play when he's got some kind of a hand and will pass when he doesn't have a hand. I mean ... it's clear cut. You don't have to be an expert psychologist to figure out what he's doing. All you have to know is if he's in the pot.. he's got something. And you're not going to get him out of the pot by trying to bluff him.

Above all ... you don't want to gamble with a weak player. Forget about that ... show him a hand. You do very fundamental things against a bad player. Obvious things. That is ... no tricks ... no strategic plays ... nothing fancy. Play straight forward Poker against a weak player.

For example, if a weak player raised the pot coming in (before the Flop) and then checked it on the Flop and checked again on Fourth St. well, I would automatically bet (regardless of what I've got) because I'd know he didn't have anything at all. It's simple to outplay him because his actions tell me whether he's got something or not. There's no mystery about it.

I could also outplay him by adjusting my style to his. For example, I noted that I'm always stabbing around trying to pick up pots. I could still do that with a weak player in the pot ... but I'd adjust my play because he's in there. Like I might raise him without looking at my hand. Now, here comes the Turn and he checks. Well, I'm going to bet at that pot in the dark ... because I know he doesn't have anything and I also know he's probably going to pass. He checked, didn't he? If he had something, he would've bet.

Of course, I might have to make a further adjustment. If he checked (on the Flop) and then called me ... I'd give him credit for something. If there's no Straight or Flush draw out there ... he's probably got a small piece of the Board. (If he had a big piece...he would've bet.) If he checks again on Fourth and calls me again ... then I'd know I'm going to have to show him a hand on the end unless I thought he was drawing and missed his hand. Only then would I think I had a chance to steal it on the end.

Another way I'd adjust my style when I was in the pot with a weak player is when I turned a real big hand say, a Set of Trips. As you'll learn, I don't slow play that hand. I always lead with it. But, against a weak player...I would check it because I'd know that if he had anything, he would bet. And I'd get to break him anyway. If he didn't have anything, I wouldn't mind giving him a free card. I want him to improve his hand. I want him to make something so I could break him there.

It's more difficult to outplay a strong player. You can't do simple things against better players you've got to put a play on somebody who knows what's obvious. And if he does something that's obvious like I think he's trying to pick up the pot ... well, I'll put a play on him and raise him with nothing because he might throw his hand away. But if a weak player bets at me, I'm not going to raise him... unless I've got something.

Since a good player will understand the obvious, I must try to deceive him. I'll even put a play on more than one good player. For example, if someone brought it in (raised it) in an early position and three players just called it ... I might try to pick up that pot. I might move in with nothing.

Against a good player, you'll have a lot more tools to work with ... many different strategies to use. You're effectively restricted to a "pickaxe and shovel" basic, fundamental things against a weak player. Never forget that. Don't try to devise elaborate strategies to use against a bad player. They won't work against him. Use sophisticated plays against a good player. They'll work against him.

Another point you should note about weak players is that they come in several varieties. They're not all like the one I just described. Some are completely opposite. There are some who check their good hands and bet their bad hands. They like to bluff ... and they do it almost all the time. So, with a player like that, you keep on checking it to him ... and let him bluff his money off to you.

Note that I didn't say you check raise him. You don't want to take the play away from that type of player. In fact, check raising is a strategy I rarely use. I think it's a weak play. I'll do it occasionally ... but not often.

[return to hyperlink for pg 435]

However, I suppose I encounter more check raising than the average player because I play so aggressively. If a player makes a hand, he'll check it to me thinking that I'm going to bet ... and he's usually right. Most of the time, I will bet. So he checks it to me ... and after I bet he raises.

As I said, I don't do too much check raising myself. I'll usually do it when someone seems to be trying to take the play away from me. Perhaps, I might check it ... and move in on him or something like that. But, I don't do it often. Check raising is not really a part of my philosophy of Poker. I do it on occasion you have to keep people in line but I don't look for opportunities to check raise somebody.

Surprisingly, if you employ my style of play at No Limit Hold 'em ... you won't be in constant fear of getting check raised. By playing aggressively, you might think that "well, they're probably going to get me this time" every time you bet. But, even though you'll probably encounter more check raising than most players, you'll be amazed at how many times your opponents keep throwing their hands away whenever you bet.

It all reverts back to my basic style of play. My opponents know that if I've got any kind of a hand any kind of a draw and they do check raise me ... then all of my money (and theirs) is going to the middle. And ... because they know that ... it keeps them off me it stops them from playing back at me.

There are other things that my aggressive style of play does for me. Not only does it give me an "umbrella of protection" from getting played back at (in most cases) and not only does it make my opponents constantly fear me and therefore make it easy for me to pick up numerous pots without a contest ... but it has other advantages as well. I've already told you I also get a lot of loose action. This may seem contradictory ... because how can I pick up pots easily on the one hand and get a lot of loose action on the other? But, it's easy to understand when you realize that the pots I pick up are when nobody's got a hand. And, as I said, that's a big percentage of the time. When I get so called "loose action"'s when somebody does have a hand. At those times, all the money is subject to go to the center. And when it does as you now know I've usually got the worst hand.

But I can also find a hand when I look down. And, once in a while, it's the best hand. When I'm up against another hand at those times ... the pot gets to be a mountain. It wouldn't be nearly as big if I wasn't the aggressive player I am. I'd never get the action I do when I've got a hand if I was known to slow play hands ... or do a lot of check- raising. That's why I rarely do those things.

An example of why being known as an aggressive player and constantly playing that way is the most profitable way to play Poker is clearly illustrated by the following situation.

Let's say I turned a big hand on the Flop a Set of Trips or even Two Pair. I'm first to act and I'm in the pot with someone who raised before the Flop. He's supposed to have a strong hand. He's probably got a big Pair in the hole bigger than anything that showed on the Flop.

In this situation, there's a principle I always apply in Hold 'em. I always make it a habit to lead into the raiser whenever I turn a big hand.
Most players will slow play their hand in that spot ... or hope to get in a check raise. When they do that, they're playing it wrong ... as you'll now see.

By betting right into the raiser, you make him think you're either trying to take the pot away from him or you've got some kind of draw or a mediocre hand. Consequently, he'll almost invariably raise you. At that point ... you can get all your chips in. And it's tough for him to get away from his hand because he has so much money already in the pot.

The raiser expects you to check to him on the Flop. I mean, he knows you know he's supposedly got a strong hand. He raised coming in, didn't he?

When most players turn a Set with a small Pair (or turn Two Pair with small connecting cards) ... they do the obvious. They check ... waiting for the raiser to bet. And then they put in a raise.

That's the wrong way to play it. That way they give the raiser an opportunity to get away from his hand at a minimum loss. But, if you lead into him ... and he raises there's no savings. He's almost committed to get the rest of his money in the pot.

Even if it's a raggedy Flop without a Straight or Flush draw you should still make the same play. Perhaps even more so ... because with three Rags out there a bet would indicate weakness rather than strength to most players. Since it does look like you're weak (and like you're trying to take the pot away from him) ... the average player will respond to your bet by raising.

The only risk you take when you play the hand that way is that the raiser might not raise you on the Flop because he might not have a hand ... but he might bluff at it if you check and you'd win the amount he bluffed.

However, it's far more probable he does have a hand. He's supposed to have a hand! He's represented a hand. He was the raiser. On that very reasonable assumption, I go ahead and lead into his hand. When compared to checkraising in that situation, it's the bigger money making play, by far. I think it's one of the strongest plays in Hold 'em.

If you turned a Set in an unraised pot (and it was a raggedy Flop) ... you'd have to play the hand quite differently. Depending on what Set you flopped, you might not even play it at all. You'll see what I mean in a minute. But, the concept you should understand is this:

In No Limit play, you must be very careful you don't lose all your chips in an unraised pot.

[return to hyperlink for pg 437-438]

Here's what I mean: let's say you and six other players got in for the absolute minimum that is, you all limped in for a $50 force (the Blind bet). Everybody just called. Nobody raised ... so the field wasn't weeded out at all. Now, a J 4 2 flops. You turn 3 Deuces. In the previous situation with this same Flop you should lead right into the raiser with your Set. He's probably got an overpair and will raise as expected. But, in the present situation, you must play it carefully. Very carefully. You turned a hand that's easy to get broke with. There's nothing in the pot ... and you don't want to get broke in a "nothing" pot.

The six people in the pot with you tried to turn the nuts for free. And one of them might have the nuts. Or close to it. So when one of the players commits all his money when there's only a few hundred dollars in the pot ... you better watch out. Your 3 Deuces probably aren't any good.

You could be up against 3 Jacks, but that's not as likely as 3 Fours since there was no raise before the Flop. That's the hand you should be afraid of 3 Fours.

I'm not saying you shouldn't play the hand. That's not the case at all. I'm just saying that you have to play it carefully because nobody showed any early strength. Therefore, you're not likely to be up against a big Pair. However, you could be facing another Set. Nevertheless, if it's checked to you, you've got to bet it. But you don't want to get broke with the hand because it was a nothing pot to begin with. If you get raised, your own judgement in the particular situation will have to prevail. With the Third Set (Deuces), you might want to go on with the hand ... and then you might not. With the Second Set (Fours) ... you just could not get away from it. Someone's going to have to show you 3 Jacks. That's all there is to it.

An important point for you to remember is that in a judgement situation you're always better off sticking to your first impression. Once you decide what a man's most likely to have especially in No Limit play you should never change your mind. You'll probably be right the first time ... so don't try to second guess yourself.
[return to hyperlink for pg 439] [Return to hyperlink for pg 438 and 439]

With constant observation of your opponents' play... you'll learn how to put them on a (probable) hand. Once you do...don't change your mind. Stick to your first impression. Have the courage of your convictions!

Having courage is one of the most important qualities you must have to be a good No Limit player. If you don't have it ... you'll have to restrict your play to Limit Poker. You need courage in Limit too ... but not nearly to the degree you must have it at No Limit.

A lot of Limit players and now I'm talking about the very best Limit players just can't play No Limit. They don't have the "heart" for it. What's more ... they can't adjust to the complexity of No Limit play and they find it very hard to go from what's essentially a mechanical game (Limit) to one that takes in everything (No Limit). Only very special players can make that transition successfully.

You also have to have a different "feel" for No Limit play. I mean, you have to be right just about all the time especially when your entire stack's at stake.

In Limit play, you're not going to get knocked out of a game by one or two mistakes. You can make several mistakes in a Limit game and still win the money ... because your opponents are making more mistakes than you are. Playing No Limit, you can make just one crucial mistake at any time and you can lose all your chips.

It not only takes a lot of "heart" to play No Limit ... it also takes a lot of "muscle". You need "muscle" in Limit too.. but you need much more of it at No Limit.

A strong No Limit player can keep "slapping you around" just "lean on" you and keep "leaning on" you until you melt. Of course, that could happen in Limit too ... but, again, not to the same degree.

The very best players I know are extremely aggressive players ... and that's what makes them the great players they are. The more aggressive they are ... the better they are. It's that simple. And I firmly believe that's what accounts for the difference between a very good player and a truly top player. It's the dividing line. That's for sure.

There's not a man alive that can keep beating on me. I refuse to let somebody keep taking my money ... and all the other truly top players are the same way. An aggressive player might do it for a while ... keep leaning on me. But, at the first opportunity I get, I'm going to take a stand and put all my money in the pot.

It's like that little boy who keeps sticking his head up and keeps getting slapped all the time. Well, sooner or later he's not going to stick his head up any more. So if a guy keeps going on and on and keeps pounding on me ... then me and him are fixing to play a pot.

Like me, all the top players know you have to be extremely aggressive to be a consistent winner. You have to bet, bet, bet...all the time. If I find somebody I can keep betting at and he keeps saying "take it Doyle", "take it Doyle"...well, I'm going to keep pounding on him. I'm not going to let up. And that poor guy never will win a pot from me. He's going to have to have the nuts to call me.

That's what most players do ... they keep throwing their hand away. They're weak. They sit down and try to make the nuts on you. That's hard to do. So you keep whamming on 'em and whamming on 'em and you just wear 'em down. And, sooner or later, you'll win all their money.

Perhaps now, you can see more clearly what I explained to you earlier. When a big pot comes up ... I've usually got the worst hand. That weak player finally picked up the nuts ... and that's what I usually look at in a big pot. But, I've already paid for that big pot with all the other pots I've won. So I'm freerolling with all that weak player's money (and the money of all the other weak players in the game).

You can't do that against a truly top player in No Limit ... because he's fixing to make a stand and play back at you. And that's the big difference between a merely good player and a great one.

Another important difference is that a real top player can win money with a marginal hand. A weaker player can't do that. They don't know how ... or they're afraid to put any money in the pot in a borderline situation. They want the nuts (or close to it) before they'll jeopardize any of their chips. They don't want to do too much they check a lot of hands that I'd bet for value.

Betting for value is what it's all about. For example, if it came down to a tough situation on the end and a tight player had Two Pair, but there's a possible Straight out there ... well, that tight player would probably check it trying to show the hands down.

In that same situation, as long as I felt reasonably sure my opponent didn't have that Straight I'd be more aggressive. I want to make some money on the end. I want to get value for my Two Pair. So I'd bet... and try to sell my hand for the most money I thought I could get.

I don't have to have the nuts to bet my hand on the end. If I feel like I've got the best hand ... I'm going to bet it and get value for it. A more conservative player would check it on the end and he'll get his check "called". So he'll lose that last bet.

I never was a tight player ... even when I first started to play. Experience has taught me a lot. Early in my career, I didn't know how to start at a pot and quit ... like I can now.

A very big part of winning consistently and winning big at No Limit is to get the other guy in a position where if he makes a bet he's actually jeopardizing all his chips as opposed to you jeopardizing all of yours.

That has always been the key to No Limit play as far as I'm concerned. I want to put my opponent to a decision for all his chips.
For example, if a guy's got twenty thousand dollars in chips and you lead off for six or seven thousand ... you're really betting him twenty thousand. This is because he knows if he calls that six or seven thousand ... well, then, he's got to go for the rest of it.

You're betting seven thousand ... he's betting twenty.

However, if he bets me seven ... it's just the reverse. So, I always try to make the bet that puts him in jeopardy ... not me. If he's right ... and I'm bluffing ... he's going to move in with his twenty thousand and I'm not going to call him. So he'll win seven thousand. But, if he's wrong ... and I've got a hand....he's still going to move in. But now he's going to get called and he's going to lose twenty thousand.

So he's laying me about 3 to 1 his twenty thousand to my seven. I put the commitment on him. I make him commit himself. I'm not committed. Whether he thinks I am or not ... I'm not. That's the beauty of it. He's thinking about my bet ... and wondering how much more he's going to have to put in there.

It's an either/or situation. Either I'm bluffing ... or I've got the nuts. And against me, he knows it could cost him twenty thousand his whole stack unless he throws his hand away.

And, boy, you'd be surprised how many times they say "take it Doyle", "take it Doyle". They just throw their hand away and throw their hand away ... over and over and over again. I mean ... even I'm surprised. I think to myself "well, he CAN'T throw this one away".. but I bet anyway. And there goes his hand ... chunk! It finally gets to be mechanical with them. And I've won another pot.

I've stolen so many pots I couldn't begin to count them. And most of the time, I've actually had to force myself to bet. I'd be playing and I hadn't held a hand all night. Yet ... I won every pot because I hadn't bet into the nuts yet.

It goes on and on like that. I pick up a hand and I've got nothing. The Flop comes out there and I've still got nothing. So I kind of have to hit myself to bet at it because there's a guy I've been pounding on and pounding on. And, all the time, I'm thinking "how can he throw his hand away this time"? But I bet ... and away it goes. Chunk! ... one more time.

If he takes a stand and raises me ... it gets back to my basic philosophy. If I've got a hand ... I'll go with it even though I know it's sometimes the worst hand.

By now, you should have a very good idea of how I play No Limit Hold 'em. I hope this somewhat lengthy introduction gave you a sufficient "feel" for my style of play...and I also hope it will help you to understand how I play specific hands in various situations. I'll discuss those shortly.

However, when you read those discussions you should realize it's quite difficult to state exactly what I'd do with a specific hand in a particular situation. So many things are involved. No Limit Hold 'em is a very complex game.

Most of the things I'll say will be an accurate reflection of what I'd generally do. But, I might do something else or even something completely opposite depending on who's in the pot with me and whether or not I have position on him.

Always remember ... No Limit Hold 'em is a game of position and people.

There'll be a lot of times when only your good judgement will dictate the proper play. Situations will come up all the time when a hard and fast rule will prove inadequate. Poker especially No Limit Hold 'em is not a game you can learn to play well in "ten easy lessons". A thousand hard lessons might not be enough. There are simply too many variables involved. Even the most sophisticated computer in the world would be unequal to the task.

Nevertheless, the "lessons" you'll soon be learning will go a long way in helping you to master No Limit Hold 'em. The general principles and concepts that I'll discuss about the play of specific hands will give you a far greater command of the game than almost all the players you could expect to be competing with. I wish I knew all the general guidelines you'll soon be reading when I first started to play. It would've made things a lot easier for me. That's for sure.

But before I get into how you should (generally) play specific hands ... there should be a discussion of the ante, betting structure, bankroll requirements and other considerations you'll have to make before you sit in on a No Limit Hold 'em game. So that's what I'll do now.

Chapter Listing | Tells

Beginner's Home