Improving Your No-Limit Game

According to the 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 us scare you. No-limit Hold’em is, in our opinion, the most fun of all poker games. It can also be profitable—sometimes even for beginners.

After playing no-limit extensively on the Internet, we’ve noticed that the two main keys to winning are knowledge of the game and ability to adapt to the knowledge of the opposition. You must know what your skills are at no-limit: which stages of the game you’ve mastered. Once you realize how you are good at no-limit, you have to apply this to how badly others at your table play no-limit.

For the sake of simplicity, we’ve divided the skills of no-limit into six stages. After mastering each of these stages, you can expect your profit potential at no-limit to increase.

1. Pot odds

You must understand what odds you’re getting if you call a bet with a draw. Since you can determine the size of the bet (it’s not fixed), you should know if you’re getting or giving good odds to someone.

For example, calling an unraised pot pre-flop 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’ll call with a top pair). However, let’s say it’s on the turn and you have a flush draw. The pot is $10 and someone bets $20 all-in. Now you’re getting horrible odds. You have, roughly, a 1 in 5 shot of hitting, and you’d be betting $20 to win $50.

As basic as this may be, many no-limit players haven’t even mastered this stage! So if you are still insecure about pot odds, don’t worry. Many other people are too and often they don’t even realize it.

2. Realizing the differences between limit and no-limit

Check-raising for value is far less valuable in no-limit than limit, because you may be giving your opponents a deadly free card. If you have the second-best hand in limit poker, you’ll lose a little bit. In no-limit, you could lose your entire stack.

3. Aggression

Betting is far better than calling in no-limit. 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 also determine the pot odds. If you call, you’re accepting someone else’s odds.

If you bet, you force people to pay off when you have a good hand. If you call, 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 they can no-limit.

4. Quick adjustment

Different types of games require different amounts of aggression. Shorter games require players to be looser and more aggressive. But if you’re up against many loose opponents, you have to tighten up and wait until you have a strong hand. Generally, doing the opposite of what the game is doing is a good approach. If the game is very loose, tighten up. If the game is very tight, take advantage and steal pots.

You also need to adjust to your opponent’s level of quality. If you’re up against weak players, simply giving them bad pot odds and taking money from them bit-by-bit works well. If you’re up against better players, you’ll have to set some traps.

5. Reading skills

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 we call the “three-question technique.” Always ask yourself these three questions when someone makes or calls a bet:

What does he have?

What does he think I have?

What does he think I think he has?

6. Psychology and traps

Once you hold the whopper and your opponent also has a good hand, what’s the best way to double through him? Learning to set and get out of 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 above. 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 will realize the trap and check-fold to you on river. The slowplay was used to manipulate the variable: what does he think I have?

Generally, this sort of game pscyhology is to only be used on good players (players that have mastered the first four steps in this section). Against weaker players, you should just build a good hand and try to extract money out of them bit-by-bit. Weaker players just play their hand; they don’t think about what you have.