Monday, July 28, 2008

The prime factors

In limit poker you really only have two factors that weigh heavily on your decision making: your cards and the size of the pot. Of course there are other factors but those two are far and away the most important.

In no-limit things get quite a bit trickier as you will need to equally consider your position in the hand, size of your stack and opponents, size of the pot, your cards, player profiles, and has anyone likely set a trap or is conspicuously weak.

It is important to understand that your cards are not the most important factor in this game and really are only used as a backup. What is absolutely imperative in this game is position and knowing that late position is primarily dominant but also knowing when to use early position to your advantage.

You can call and raise in late position with a massive range of hands whereas early position affords you a very narrow hand selection, unless you want to get busted quickly of course.

The size of your stack relative to the standard bet at a table and to the other stacks at the table is almost as important. If you don't have at least seven standard bets at the table then you are effectively playing a two street game. If you can't win the hand on the flop then you are going to be in real trouble.

The size of the pot when it comes to you should determine how much or little you should or should not be betting. Some cards don't play well in a multi-way pot while others do. Sometimes it's advantageous to limit your number of opponents because of your cards or position. Do you have enough chips to win a pot this size or not? Is it worth stealing or gambling for or not? The size of pot is a big motivator and an important factor to consider.

Who's in a hand with you? This can often mean everything in a game. Some players are weak and just bleed chips to any strong bet unless they have the nuts whereas others put you to the test at every turn. You want to avoid tougher players in general and gamblers when you have a marginal hand. There are a lot of players that I will fold pocket queens to on as little as an aggressive two bet whereas there are some that I would five bet. It just depends on the guy.

Table selection

The most underrated skill in this game is table selection. When you walk into a casino, or any game for that fact, take some time to assess the players at the table. Identify what type of players you are up against and how they come together as a collective.

No two tables are the same and the wrong strategy at a table can crush you.

Even at a consistent limit, there is a wide range in the skill level of your opponents. You don't want to sit down at a $100 game only to find out that it's filled with a bunch of big game players just waiting for their game to start.

You should find the table that is most conducive to your natural playing style because they less you have to adapt the better.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How much do I need?

Poker can be a very, very streaky game and no-limit is no exception. However, unlike the long steaks of dead cards that can weaken a limit players bankroll, a no-limit player can expect to win four out of five sessions. It isn't the bad cards that will ruin him... it will be over-reaching to bigger games, losing focus, and going on tilt.

A no-limit player can lose his entire bankroll in a single night if he isn't careful, something that a no-limit player rarely has to consider.

I generally advise that a no-limit player have at least forty buy-ins to the game he intends to play.

The stakes

The stakes being considered for this blog will be the small and medium stakes no-limit games found at most casino's and poker rooms. The size of the blind determines whether the game is short-stacked or not. As a rule, consider yourself short-stacked in a no-limit game if you have less than two full buy-ins in front of you, have at lest have the chips of the chip leader, or are playing in a deep stack game with less than a hundred and fifty buy-ins.

The games you are likely to find:

$20  capped buy-in with a half dollar big blind.

$40 capped with a one dollar big blind.

$50 capped with a one dollar big blind.

$50-100 spread with a two dollar big blind.

$100 capped with a two or three dollar big blind.

$200 capped with a five dollar big blind.

$100-300 spread with a five dollar big blind.

$400 capped with a five or ten dollar big blind.

$200-500 spread with five dollar big blind.

$600 capped with a ten dollar big blind.

$500 no cap with a ten dollar big blind.

$800 capped with a ten or twenty dollar big blind.

$1000-2000 spread with a twenty dollar spread.

Any game with a bigger blind AND a bigger minimum buy-in is considered big by my standards.

You should never play a no limit session without at least three full buy-ins that you can comfortably put on the table.

The theory of no limit hold 'em

There are many factors that make no-limit hold 'em unique in the poker world and in order to be a successful player it is necessary to understand those factors better and more clearly than your opponents.

Most game theories are based on pot odds. When the pot odds tell you to call, raise, or fold, then you do it. Play solid cards to increase the odds of success, and bluffing at critical moments enough to keep your opponents guessing. If you can do that then you can probably beat limit hold 'em and stud in your sleep because your decisions become automatic. Unfortunately, no-limit is an entirely different animal because no decision is automatic and nothing is ever cut and dry.

What is the fundamental theorem of no-limit play? Well, apologies to David Sklansky but we need a theorem that applies to full cash games as well as heads-up play and we need it to apply specifically to no-limit play. So here is that theorem:

Between equally skilled opponents, profit derives from the mistakes your opponents make solely because of financial pressure. Losses are the result of the mistakes you make solely because of financial pressure.

This idea applies without exception to no-limit play. When you or your opponent make a call because the amount of money involved is insignificant or fold because the amount is too high for you to be comfortable then someone has made a profit. Whenever you act because of financial concerns you lose and someone else wins. It doesn't matter if the amount of money truly is important to you or trivial, it is absolutely imperative that you think and act as though it isn't. You must put the financial concerns into context as just one factor of many of making the correct decision. Winning in this game is about making the correct decision regardless of financial concerns.

If your opponent has no fear of the financial stakes involved in the game and is equally skilled as you then he cannot be pressured and only luck determines who will win a given session.

An introduction to professional play

No-limit Texas hold 'em cash games are similar too and still deeply unlike many other forms of poker. It is also the deepest, most complex, difficult, dynamic, and least understood form of poker. It is also the hardest to be profitable at but the most profitable when mastered. It is not my intention in this blog to extoll the virtues of this game but rather to set down the basic principles of the game in order to become a profitable player.
If your goal is fun then this blog isn't for you.

If you desire to play tournaments, look elsewhere.

This blog is of little value if you play or want to play limit games.

This blog is designed to teach you the skills necessary to play professionally for small and medium stakes games. In order for this to be a success you will have to study intently, practice often, and work extraordinarily hard. You won't make millions but you will be able to live a life of freedom as a professional poker player. I hope that's what you want.