No-Limit Hold'em: Basic Strategy

Phil Hellmuth

The biggest differences between No-Limit Texas Hold'em and Limit Texas Hold'em involve position and hand value.

Position is far more important in NLHE because the decisions you make will have a greater impact on your stack. If you trap someone in No-Limit with the help of position, you can win your opponent's entire stack, as compared to collecting a few extra bets in Limit.

Big connectors like A-K, A-Q and K-Q decrease in value when you play No-Limit as you are more likely to win small pots and lose big pots with these types of hands. As well, all pairs increase in value when playing No-Limit since you are able to double through your opponents when you hit a set.

The big pairs, AA and KK, also increase in value when playing No-Limit as you are again presented with an opportunity to trap someone for his whole stack.

In No-Limit it is important to keep track of the amount of money you and your opponents have on the table. The variation in stack size greatly affects how the game is played. Here are some examples:

You have $500 and your opponent has $25. The blinds are $2/$4. You are sitting in the big blind with J-Ts and your opponent moves all-in from first position (a position referred to as "under the gun"). All other players fold.

This is clearly a situation in which you should fold since you are most certainly the underdog. Furthermore, risking an additional $21 in order to win his last $25 is not a profitable play. If your opponent also has $500, then a call may be acceptable as you have a chance of winning $500 by risking another $21. The decision of whether to call or not depends on how well your opponent plays after the flop.

You have $1,000 and your opponent also has $1,000. The blinds are $2/$4. You hold QQ and make it $20 to go. Your opponent, who is acting behind you, now moves all-in with his entire $1,000 stack.

You should fold unless you know your opponent does not have AA or KK. If your opponent had made the same play with only $60 in front of him, however, you should've called his all-in bet in the hopes that he didn't hold AA or KK.

Key Advice for No-Limit Texas Hold'em

Playing too many starting hands. In a standard $2/$4 NL game you should have a 20%-30% view of the flop percentage. This means folding A-J in first position, K-T in middle position and Q-T in late position.

Table selection. Only play in games where you have an edge. You want at least a couple of weak players at the table when you sit down. Use a table selection tool to find easy-to-beat online poker tables.

Playing the player. Make sure to quickly assess the opposition: who plays inferior hands, who folds at aggression, who bets with draws, who calls big bets with weak hands and draws, who can be bluffed, who bluffs, and so on.

Pump it or dump it.
Fold or bet/raise if the poker odds are with you. You should avoid calling unless you have a good reason, such as trapping an opponent.

Respect most big bets and raises
. This is particularly true on the turn and river, as most players won't bluff at that point in the hand.

Basic Preflop Strategy

Most of the time you should raise/reraise with top pairs (AA-QQ) and top connectors (A-K, A-Qs) in order to make low pairs and various connectors pay to see flops against you. Remember, they will often have the opportunity to double-up on you if they hit, although many beginners do not realize this and fold too often preflop.

Stick to the premium hands.
You will pay dearly to "chase" with second-best hands in NL Hold'em.

Keep most raises down to between 70% and 100% (making it three times the big blind to go typically equals an 80% pot bet) in order to save money when you get reraised or called by stronger holdings. If there are limpers in front of you, raise to about four to six times the big blind.

Have respect for strong tight players. For example, you should drop A-Q if a strong player raises under the gun.

When very weak players have entered the pot, be inclined to call and take flops with them.

Common Mistakes in No-Limit Texas Hold'em

  • Calling with weak holdings when facing a bet
  • Not releasing a decent hand when beat, thus losing the whole stack on one hand
  • Playing too many starting hands
  • Not raising preflop with premium hands (putting pressure on limpers holding drawing hands) and then going too far with them after the flop
  • Overbetting/underbetting the pot (risking a lot to win small/not protecting hand)


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