Winning at Limit Hold’em

General Poker Concepts

Your Poker Bankroll

If you only have a small bankroll, it is best to avoid very loose games that are also very aggressive because these games can destroy small bankrolls; therefore, if you have a small bankroll it would be much safer to play in games that are generally passive. In order to give yourself a fair shot at any limit, you should try to have a bankroll that can support some swings. Assuming that you are a winning player, a fairly good guide is to have about 200 times the maximum bet; therefore, playing at the $15-$30 level on a consistent basis, you should try to maintain a bankroll of at least $6,000. This amount will not assure with absolute certainty that you will not go broke but it should give you plenty protection from some bad sessions. Playing $15-$30 with less than $6,000 is by no means a bad idea but it means that you may find yourself out of action on occasion until you can replenish your bankroll. The main point I’m trying to make is that if you only have $700 and play $15-$30, you may very well lose it all in one or two sessions. You may get lucky and win from the beginning and never look back, but this is not the usual outcome.

If you are playing poker online, due to the nature of playing online (ie. many more hands dealt per hour, extremely loose play at times, etc.), it is likely that you will experience greater swings compared to playing in B&M; cardrooms. The swings depend on the type of game you are in and naturally the dollar amount also depends on the limit you are playing. Most often, the bigger the limit you are playing, the bigger the swings.

Game Bankroll

To a large extent, poker is a game of self-image. You should always be aware of the image you project to opponents at the table, especially when you are not playing in cyberspace but are sitting down face to face with opponents in “live” cardrooms. Anyway that you can intimidate, politely, is a plus for you. Sitting down in a $15-$30 game with $300 is not a good idea. Sitting down with $700-$800 or more is a much better idea because it creates a much better image. A good guide is to sit down with about 20 to 25 times the big bet (i.e. $400-$500 in a $10-$20 game, $1200-$1500 in $30-$60). The higher the limit, the more some players tend to increase the upper end of this guide.

Types of Games

Fairly loose games that are very passive are extremely hard to find these days. This is really too bad because for most players, this type of game is by far the easiest game to beat. Games that are both extremely loose and extremely aggressive can be the hardest games to beat. In these games when you win, you often win a mountain of chips, but on the flip side, when you lose in these games you’ve just lost a mountain of chips. The swings you experience in these games can be monstrous. Most games today fall somewhere in between these two extremes, but tend to be more towards aggressive than passive and more toward loose than tight.

Game Selection

You don’t want nine loose opponents, most of whom are very aggressive. The fewer aggressive players in your game, the better it is for you. YOU WANT TO BE THE AGGRESSIVE PLAYER AT YOUR TABLE! If lots of other players are very aggressive, it minimizes your aggressive action and this is not nearly as effective for you. You would therefore prefer a loose and passive game. In this type of game you will often win big pots when you hit the flop well with your good starting hands, and because the game is passive, you will be able to draw cheaply at your drawing hands. Compared to aggressive games, you will naturally lose much less with your losing hands in a passive game.

When scouting for a good game you should watch for the number of fundamental mistakes the players are making. If you notice players calling with garbage and drawing to inside straights without proper pot odds, it is a good game. If no mistakes or very few mistakes are being made, another game is probably more profitable.

You don’t need nine loose players in order to make money; two or three loose players give you lots of good opportunities to add chips to your stack.

Seat Selection

You want loose players on your right. You can often isolate the loose player by raising which will also punish their loose play by making them commit more money to the pot with what is most likely an inferior hand. If two vacant seats are adjacent to each other, choose the seat that is farthest clockwise so the seat to your right is vacant. You prefer most player types (loose passive, loose aggressive and solid aggressive) to your right and since you don’t know who the next player to sit in that seat will be, you have most likely chosen the right seat. The exception to choosing the seat that is farthest clockwise may occur in games with blinds. If you know the player seated two seats to your left (who will be the big blind when you are the button) never folds the big blind and if you would prefer this not to be the case, you should take the other seat. Also, if you do have a preference for being able to “steal” the blinds and if you know the player to your immediate left often folds the big blind, then you also may want to be seated so that player will be in the big blind when you are the button.

Preferably, you also want overly aggressive players on your right. You can re-raise with good starting hands and often drastically cut down the field, which is often desirable. However, if the aggressive player is seated to your left then you can check or call with good hands and when they bet or raise, you can raise or re-raise them when it gets back to you. This will often trap other players who have called the aggressive player’s bet or raise.

If a very solid player is seated to your right, you can fold all but your very good hands when he raises. If this player is seated to your left then he will fold all but his very good hands when you raise. Sitting to the left or the right of a very solid player is personal preference.

Playing Aggressively

Playing aggressively is by far much better than playing passively. When you bet or raise, there are two ways you can win the pot. You can win by having the best hand at the end or you can win by making the other player(s) fold. Playing aggressively will often narrow the field, which is usually desirable; however, some players take aggressiveness too far. The key is to be SELECTIVELY AGGRESSIVE. Be aggressive at the proper times.

Checking or Calling

Sometimes checking or just calling is the best move. Checking will sometimes induce a player to bluff. For example, in hold’em you are facing just one player and the flop is A-K-7, you have A5s. If you don’t think he has an Ace, then checking in this situation will most likely induce a bet. The player may have absolutely nothing and, if he is a weak player, may keep betting at you because he figures (correctly) that it is the only way he may win the pot. If you had shown any strength at all by betting or raising then he may have just folded. There is some danger that if you check or just call when he bets, that he will catch a miracle card to beat you, but often bad players will just bet and bet and bet at you with nothing if you act passive and just call. A good read on your player naturally helps you to decide on the best play. This play also works well against overly aggressive players.

Preparation

Before you play poker with the intention of winning you need to be ready to play. Being ready means that you should be in the right frame of mind. You must be able to focus on the game. Do not play when you are tired or when you’re sick and do not play while watching TV, listening to the radio or while you have other distractions near you. Playing winning poker can be a tough job and your hourly rate will increase by just being able to focus on the task at hand. Most players don’t and most players lose over time. BE IN THE RIGHT FRAME OF MIND AND FOCUS!

Always Play Your Best

Strive to always play your best. This seems simple enough but most players don’t, even if they know how to play well. Don’t be one of them! Playing at your best level means not being tired so you can focus on your best game. It is not humanly possible to play marathon sessions and still be playing your best game. Unless the game is exceptionally good and several players are playing bad, most often it is better to not play if you are not playing your best game.

Psychological Skills

There are three levels of thinking that are extremely important when involved in hand. Always attempt to answer the following three questions:

  • what does my opponent have
  • what does my opponent think I have
  • what does my opponent think I think he has

The level of thinking of most players never reaches the third level. Always try to answer this question.

Slow-Playing

Slow-playing means checking and waiting for a future betting round (when the limit usually doubles (usually)) to raise and thereby deceiving your opponent(s) into thinking that you have a weaker hand than you actually have. You should slow-play only if the following two conditions are met: You hold a real big hand and there is almost no chance of someone drawing out on you, and you think that you will only get action if your opponent(s) improve their hand(s).

Check-Raising

If you have a good hand that you feel confident will win the pot then check-raising can be very profitable if you are fairly certain that the player to act after you will bet if you check The greater the number of players between the bettor and you, the more value this play has for you. Your aim with this play is to get as much money into the pot as possible. Naturally, if your assumption was incorrect and the player next to act as well as all other players in the pot did not bet, then you lost money by not betting. This is obviously not true if all players would have folded to your bet anyway.

If you have a vulnerable hand that would have a much better chance of winning if as few players as possible contested the pot, then check-raising is correct if you feel confident that the player to your right will bet. For example, in hold’em a typical situation often occurs without you planning it. Say there are four other players in the pot and you are first to act after the flop with second pair. You are not real confident so you check. Three other players check also and the last player to act bets. At this time a check-raise by you may work well because it is likely that the three players who have to call two bets cold will now fold. The original bettor may only have bet his position and not actually have a hand, in which case he will likely fold immediately or on the next round. If he raises you, then you have a decision to make and you would make your decision based on what you know about this player and the feel you have for the situation. If he calls, then you must fire the second bullet on the turn. “Firing the second bullet” means following your initial bet or raise with another bet on the next round. Firing the second bullet gives you maximum chance to win the pot and is especially necessary if you feel you cannot win if you check.

Firing the Second Bullet

Sometimes firing the second bullet can get you in a lot of trouble but more often than not, it is the best play if you want to give yourself the maximum chance of winning the pot. Some players find this very tough to do. In fact, being able to fire that second bullet often separates the great players from the good players. Sometimes it is also necessary to fire the third bullet and few players are able to do this without a fairly good hand.

Defining Your Hand Early

Not playing a good hand strong early in the hand can get you in trouble. If you play your hand very strong early then you are defining your hand to the other players. You are advertising the fact that you have a very good hand. Just this advertisement by itself can at times win the pot for you when you otherwise may have lost the pot because your opponent(s) did not realize the strength of your hand. By not realizing your strength, your opponent(s) may call on hands that they would have folded and thereby perhaps catch to beat you.

Implied Pot Odds

“Implied Pot Odds” means pot odds that take into consideration the estimated amount of money that will be in the pot at the end of the hand due to future bets. You should know the importance of outs (the number of cards that will improve your hand) and know how to calculate implied pot odds. If you have a drawing hand you must use implied pot odds to determine if you should call or fold. The easiest way to calculate this is as follows: First, you count the number of outs you have. For example, if you have an open-ended straight draw then you have a total of 8 outs. To calculate the approx. percentage of hitting with only one card to come, you multiply the number of outs by two and then you add two (ie. # of outs X 2 + 2). You now multiply this number by the estimated size of the pot at the end of the hand and this result will tell you what the maximum bet is that you can call. Using our example: you have 8 outs which means you have about an 18% chance of hitting. If you estimate that the pot should reach $200 and it costs you $30 to call, then you should call because the odds dictate that you can call up to $36 (.18 X $200).

Large Pots

Large pots do not necessarily make a good game if the money comes mostly from raises but if the money comes mostly from many loose callers, then the game is good. Naturally, the more passive the game, the more hands you can play and conversely the more aggressive the game, the more selective you should be.

Tilt

Going on tilt means letting your emotions disrupt your ability to play correctly. To play winning poker it is essential that you eliminate “going on tilt” or at the very least be able to recognize it immediately so that you can quickly get your game back on track. While at the table it is imperative to stay focused and play your best. If you feel “tilt” in any way, then sit out for a few hands or a couple of rounds. If you’re playing in a cardroom, then go for a walk to cool off. If you’re playing online, then walk away from the computer and make a coffee or just relax elsewhere. Learn to simply REFUSE to go on tilt!

Your Hand Relative to the Hand(s) of Your Opponent(s)

How does your hand compare to the hand(s) of your opponent(s) ? This question needs to be answered in order for you to decide your best course of action (whether it’s best for you to check, bet, raise, fold or perhaps check-raise). Naturally, often you won’t know the EXACT hand(s) your opponent(s) have but you need to have a good idea of their hand(s) RELATIVE to your own hand. What often separates winning poker players from losing players is the amount of money they lose (or should we say, don’t lose) on their losing hands. Winning poker players frequently know when to fold their hand because they have determined it is the second best hand while losing players will often call to the end with their second best hand. The better you are at being able to determine the relative strength of your hand, the less money you will lose on your losing hands. This is very important so I will repeat it another way: It’s not just how much you can win on your winning hands, IT’S HOW MUCH YOU SAVE ON YOUR LOSING HANDS! This one single poker talent is worth tons of money and makes a HUGE difference.

Making Decisions

Making the proper decision regarding what hands to play and being able to properly evaluate the various situations that arise during the hand is naturally very important. When you are not getting any hands for awhile, it is easy to become frustrated. Resist the temptation of looking at mediocre hands as being good hands. Remember, it takes a stronger hand to call a raise than it does for you to raise. In making your decision on whether or not to call or raise, consider the quality of your hand, how many players have called, the type of players they are and their position. You should always consider these factors, no matter what your position.

Semi-Bluffing

Semi-bluffing means to bet without having a good hand at the moment but you have outs that you can hit in case you are called. Take advantage of semi-bluff situations. Naturally, your semi-bluffs have the greatest chance of success without needing to improve your hand when you face few opponents.

Running Bad

Your best defense against “running bad” or “losing streaks” is maintaining your discipline and self-confidence. Without these two factors you contribute to making things much worse. Always strive to control your emotions, not just during this period but whenever you play. If you find yourself on a losing streak it is never a bad idea to step down in limits and hopefully face easier competition. This naturally also applies if you encounter money problems. Perhaps you need a break; take one if needed.

Frequent Situations

Playing your hand incorrectly in rare situations is not that costly an error but if you play your hand incorrectly in situations that occur frequently, then it will be very costly for you. For example, in hold’em, if you often play your middle position incorrectly, then this will add up to a lot of money over time because you will be in middle position for a couple of hands every round. Make sure you cut out errors in your game that occur in frequent situations.