How to Crush Live $1/$2 No-Limit Hold'em
$1/$2 No-Limit Texas Hold'em is by far the most popular poker game being played in casino poker rooms.
Without a doubt, your average table features a motley crew of fish waiting to give their money away.
With a little help from this article, you'll get your fair share of it.
The game is $1/$2 No-Limit Texas Hold'em, the Chevrolet Cavalier of poker. The minimum buy-in is $40 and the max $200.
$1/$2 is the smallest No-Limit game run in most casinos and for that reason the games are very, very soft.
Your Average Opponent
$1/$2 games are inhabited by everyone from 60-year-old nits, to first timers, to gamboolers who raise every hand, to young, sunglasses-wearing wannabe pros.
Some of these players are actually good, but most are not. They're first-level thinkers, thinking only of their two cards and nothing else.
They are going to be clueless to the fact that you've folded the last 30 hands and are now betting hard into them.
What they're going to be doing is thinking, "I has a pair of jacks; how much?" and then pushing the required chips into the pot.
These players are your targets, and the source of the bulk of your winnings.
Loose-passive players have two major weaknesses - they call too often before the flop and they take their hands too far after the flop.
You'll often hear new players lament about how it's impossible to beat fish because all they do is call.
This sort of thinking is so fundamentally wrong it's laughable.
Players who call too much are the ATMs of the poker world, readily dispensing money to whoever has the patience to wait for a good hand.
Your Ideal $1/$2 No-Limit Hold'em Strategy
You play tight, you make top pair or better and you bet! Not exactly groundbreaking stuff. Play ABC poker, make your good hands and bet them.
Loose-passive calling stations will do what they do best: call. So let them call, stop bluffing them, and value bet your good hands relentlessly.
When you play tight before the flop, you make your post-flop decisions easier. By playing solid hands before the flop you will make solid hands after the flop.
When you eliminate marginal hands from your repertoire you'll find yourself with fewer difficult decisions after the flop.
Your goal is to flop top pair with a good kicker or better. You have to avoid getting caught up in the table flow.
Just because half the table is limping in up front with K♥ 3♠ doesn't mean you have to.
Stick to playing tight and focus on playing hands that can flop big.
Playable Hands at $1/$2
Big Pocket Pairs (AA - TT)
These hands are already made for you. A single pair is often good enough to win at showdown, so when you start with one, you're ahead of the game.
Big pocket pairs are such big favorites that you should always raise them for value when nobody has raised in front of you. With aces, kings, queens and even jacks you should often even reraise.
The profit in these hands comes from when you flop an overpair to the board or a set. When you do, bet.
Your loose-passive opponents will be more than happy to call three streets with worse hands.
Good Top-Pair Hands (A-K - A-J, K-Q)
Top-pair hands are hands that make top pair and when they do so, do it with a good kicker.
In a game where most of your opponents are loose-passive, your kicker is going to make you a lot of money.
For example, if you have K♣ Q♣ and the board comes king-high, you can bet three streets for value against a loose-passive player.
He will be more than happy to call all the way down with K♦ 9♠ only to find his kicker is no good.
Good top-pair hands are good enough for a raise when the pot has not been raised before you.
Top-pair hands do better against one opponent than many, so keep that in mind when choosing your bet sizes.
These are hands that are rarely going to win at showdown unimproved, but when they hit they make big-pot hands.
A big-pot hand is a hand like a set, a full house, a straight or a flush. Holding these hands, no matter what the action, you're ready to put your stack on the line.
They are speculative hands because they have to hit before they'll be worth anything. They rely on the implied odds that you win your opponent's stack when you do hit.
Ideally you would like to see the flop as cheaply as possible with these hands. Speculative hands do best when played in position, so be wary about playing them from up front.
Pocket Pairs (99-22)
Pocket pairs make huge hands when they flop sets. Sets are often hidden, and you can easily stack someone who has top pair or an overpair.
For that reason it's OK to limp pocket pairs from any position.
When facing a raise, you have to think about your opponent. If he is a tight player and is unlikely to pay you off when you do hit, you're best off folding.
If, however, he is a loose player (or you're multiway with more than one loose player), you can call a reasonably sized raise to play for "set value."
The main thing about pocket pairs is that when you hit a set you should almost always be looking for the best way to get all your money into the pot.
Suited Connectors, Suited One-Gappers (Q-Js - 67s, K-Js - T-8s)
Suited connectors are great hands, played within reason. They do make both straights and flushes - both big-pot hands.
The problem is they don't do it nearly as often as you might think.
When you're in early position, you're best off folding low suited connectors.
If your table hasn't been seeing too many raises before the flop, you can limp the best suited connectors like J♥ T♥ or Q♠ J♠. All others should be folded.
Suited connectors are hands that play well in position. More often than not you're going to miss the flop or hit a weak one-pair hand.
Playing them from out of position, in contrast, is going to put you in too many marginal spots after the flop.
Suited connectors should rarely be played versus a raise unless you are on the button and it is a multiway pot, or the raise is very small.
Suited Aces (A-9s - A-2s)
Suited aces are decent speculative hands because they can flop the nut-flush draw and they do have some high-card strength with the ace.
Nut-flush draws obviously have value because you can stack smaller flushes.
The problem with flushes though is that they are right there in the open. Everyone is always aware when a flush draw comes in, and as such it is sometimes difficult to get paid.
Suited aces are good hands, but not good enough to limp in from any position. You should be more willing to limp the closer to the button you get.
Against a raise suited aces should seldom be played. You're not going to flop a flush nearly as often as you flop a pair of aces with a weak kicker.
A weak pair of aces can be a curse. You feel like you have top pair and should see a showdown, but by the time you get there you find yourself outkicked and half a stack short.
Weak Top Pair Hands (K-Jo, Q-To, etc.)
These are hands that you want to steer clear of for the most part. They are dominated hands and should be avoided at all costs unless you can get in cheap from late position.
From early position and/or against a raise they should not be played at all.
They don't make many straights or flushes, and when they hit a pair you're going to find yourself on the losing end of the kicker battle more often than not.
Everything else is trash and should not be played even if it is suited. Suited trash is still trash.
Players get themselves into trouble all the time playing weak suited trash because they think they're going to make a flush.
You don't make a flush with weak hands nearly as often as you may expect, and the rest of the time you're bleeding money. Stop playing them.
Position, Position and Position
The importance of position can't be overstated.
Many people think they understand the concept of playing in position, but they routinely call raises with marginal hands, only to play the rest of the hand out of position.
This is a leak that costs you money. When you're out of position you're playing a guessing game - you have to anticipate what your opponent may do.
They dictate the flow of the hand: if they don't want to put more money in, they don't; if they want to bet three streets, they do.
Which is why being in position is so important: it puts you firmly in the driver's seat. You get last say on everything.
If you want to see a free showdown you do; if you want to value-town someone, you do.
Your opponents will be guessing, just as you are when you're out of position.
As the better player, with the advantage of being in position, you'll ensure that they're guessing wrong more often than right.
Sit Back and Wait for the Dollars
That's really all there is to it. The most important skill you can have at $1/$2 is patience.
Sit back and wait for a good hand. You should be folding 80% of your hands.
Do not get involved just because you are bored. Start with solid holdings and make solid hands after the flop.
When you're card-dead, that doesn't mean you should be sitting around watching TV. Pay attention to the game and your opponents.
Profile them in your mind; identify who the weak players are and what their tendencies are.
If you know who the loose players are and who the tight players are, you'll be able to understand their bets and raises and what they mean.
Once you figure out your opponents' tendencies, the rest is just a waiting game. Make your big hand and value bet.
Exploit the calling stations and force them to put their money in with worse hands.
$1/$2: it's an easy game.
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The other thing is this article downplays connectors and "suited trash hands." Wrong. Connectors ARE the cash game. If you flop a strong draw start betting it immediately. Bet every street to the river and sometimes bluff on the river. This will make you more "unreadable." You can still win the pot if you miss the draw depending on who your opponent is and what he or she is holding. So once again learn what your opponent plays and "how" he or she plays so you can get a good read. Guessing what someone has and knowing how they play is HOW YOU WIN! If you raise made hands and call draws and always play the same cards from the same position in the same way (aka ABC poker) you WILL get eaten alive by a pack a frenzied sharks!
This article is so wrong on so many levels. First you are assuming that the 1/2 tables are full of idiots. Not so. It's your job as a poker player to identify bad players at a table if there are any. If your swimming in a tank full of sharks then get out! Find the fish tank and do your hunting there instead. Underestimating your opponent is a good way to lose a fight in any form. Secondly, the notion that all you have to do is play ABC poker is absurd. Any professional will read you like a book. You might as well play with your cards exposed! You must find a range of hands on your opponents and adjust your aggression accordingly. By studying there betting patterns and remembering what they play and how they play you can form a strategy of your own to defeat that opponent. e.g. (bluff a nit, milk the calling stations and trap an aggro) This article then goes on to teach you what cards to play. Seriously? If you don't know what cards to play then stay away from the poker room. You are the fish! If you are on the button, why not limp in with a random hand and raise the flop if you can isolate. Raise it again and take down the pot if your opponents acts weak and you can represent a believable hand. Worst case scenario, you get caught bluffing and show a 7-2. So what! You'll get a lot more action than these ABC players that "only play good cards."
Just wanted to add, Gunnz, that is dead on.
I've read this article a few times, and although it is A strategy, without perfect patience, tons of time, and a pretty impressive BR to pad the dry spells, it will not work. Poker has evolved, ABC poker is very exploitable. So much good reading and coaching out there, a good player will clean your clock the third time he sees you, or he'll simply never give you action. And maybe even more important, it buttonholes you into grinding 1/2 for the rest of your life, because if you take your ABC moves to the next level, 2/5, your money will disappear.
Tight/aggressive is good, and it's a fine way to play initial orbits while scoping out the competition. It's also good to revert to after pushing people off pots with bluffs. But if you play the same way every time, I guarantee you your chips will be mine, and I'm not a professional.
Mix it up, PLAY POSITION, learn your opponents, pay attention, these are the true keys to winning, and these skills translate at all levels. I spend four months a year in Vegas, playing 1/2 and 2/5 primarily. The Vegas games get tougher every single year. ABC poker will not sustain any form of decent lifestyle.
you guys act like you know evverything but i'm the only one millionaire here and its because of poker :) i am not even that good i got very lucky once and it paid off 655,000$. Rest of the time i've been good though
I play in my town at 1/2 always loose aggresive, because there are sitting only stones and very scared persons, who are afraid of everything (except they have the nuts, but they give you then a lot of live reads, when they do) so tight wouldn't be right there.
It's the math! The starting hands mentioned in this article have a positive EV. It's gonna be damned hard to consistantly beat a full-ring-cash-game, investing in negative EV starting hands.
Vs. 8 or 9 opponents, you also better have a plan, lots of discipline, and a leather ass -- if you aspire to a long-term positive outcome.
I play profitably in Vegas 1-2 & 1-3 NLHE. I WON'T play against several people using this strategy, there's just too many better games. Players who get MARRIED to BIG SLICK or IMLPIED ODDS or SUITED CONNECTORS or BLUFFING & SEMI-BLUFFING is where the money is. Please keep it up. And, please continue that honeymoon with your "favorite hand, 7-5".
I have to chuckle at the poke at "60 year old nits". You're talking about the poker-wars SURVIVORS. Maybe there's a reason so many of these vetrans have adopted this style. I once had your attitude. Sure would like to have a return of the money that notion cost me.
Wow, this article, while primarily accurate, has led to a lot of inaccurate comments.
I enjoy playing poker, and use it as a source to find extra income from time to time. I can't say I'm a consistent winner as I don't play often enough to really keep track, but I've bought thousands of dollars of furniture and payed for numerous moves playing $1-$2 in Kansas City.
The first thing I have to say is that the style written about above works for $1-$2 games to make a small profit hourly, assuming you have an average, or even slightly below average table draw. I've played in $1-$2 games in many cities in this country (Tunica, Vegas, St Louis, LA (granted, it was $1-$3), and a few more, and I can tell you that the $1-$2 and $2-$5 games in KC are tougher than average, so this strategy is tougher to make work routinely.
That being said, if you aspire to play higher, to move up in stakes, then you're doing it wrong by playing this strategy.
To start with, the comments of people talking about making $1500 a week playing $1-$2 no limit are either lying, or having hot streaks. Anyone who has played a few thousand hours of poker will tell you that the cold streaks are unbearable. You routinely get your money in good, Aces vs Queens, nut flush vs a set, set vs straight draw, and keep getting outdrawn. If your bankroll is as low as some on these comments have talked about (winning a few grand then quitting their jobs to play), they will be rudely awakened a while down the road, when their luck runs up.
The bottom line is that this strategy is exploitable. And while few players will exploit it, you need to be aware of its exploitability, and learn to exploit it yourself.
The first thing to note about this strategy is that there is very little bluffing. When a player rarely bluffs, it's easy to call pre-flop with anything, and expect to win well over 60% of the time. The ranges specified as nearly always playable (AA-TT, AK-AJ, KQ) give a better than 2-1 weight to the non-paired hands (64 non-pair combos vs 30 pair combos). If you know the player is not paired 2/3 of the time, and you know that a non-pair hand only flops a pair or better about 1/3 of the time, you see that 5/6 of the time when your opponent, using this strategy, sees the flop, he's going to have nothing but two high cards. This alone is exploitable.
An even bigger exploit is folding. When they bet the flop, then the turn, they have top pair or better, so fold.
The biggest exploit, however, is the turn raise. One thing this strategy doesn't talk about, but can be inferred, is that most people call with weak hands and raise strong hands. If your opponent is routinely betting 1 pair hands for value on the turn, then they will lose money to someone who is willing to raise them. They will either routinely call off the rest of their stack to the raise, or will routinely fold top pair to a raise. Once you identify which of these two a particular player favors, exploit it. If they fold too often, then raise them on the turn relentlessly. If they call too often, then flat the flop with your two pair/set/straight hands, then if they bet the turn, ship it in on them.
In fact, learning to exploit ABC poker, as is outlined here, is the first step to really learning to play poker. It's something that has made me a lot of money, supported my family of 4 through 6 months of unemployment, payed for a move and furniture, and can do the same for you. Better players have written better books than I ever could about this subject, but trust me when I say that this strategy, while it will win you a small amount of money over time against really bad players, will not be enough for you to try to turn pro in.
Wow... this guy is loose.
I know it doesn't sound like it to some of the commenters, but believe me, this guy is damn loose. Tighter than the field these days, but that's only because since the poker boom the no-limit field is full of maniacs. Most people have no idea how tight "loose" really is.
Those "60-year-old nits" have the wisdom of age. More realistically: to a raise, play only AK, suited or not, and pairs TT or better. Otherwise, in early position, play only pairs 99 or better, or AJ or better, suited or not. Middle to late position you can play AT, smaller pairs, KQo, KQs, KJs, if there's no raise. Not that you shouldn't play anything else, but play it seldom, and think of it as a semibluff.
This is a great article for those players who are looking to tighten up their game and cut out some common bad habits. True, it depends where in the world you go to play $1/$2 NL that makes this strategy effective or not. In Vegas, good luck! $1/$2 in Vegas might as well be 1cent/2 cent the way people play it, bingo I tell you! However, where I play this strategy is perfect. 8 out of ten players are solid regulars and then we get the ever revolving door of fish giving away their cash, calling with their "favourite hand" (which never seems to be a good one) and complaining about never hitting their draws. Its relatively easy money.
My favourite hand is AA by the way.
To those of you who get upset when someone is calling you down with garbage, why are YOU mad? I am always happy to have my opponent put their money in bad. Simple. If they catch up, oh well, thats poker for you. But if you can get your money in with best hand more often than not, you'll come out ahead.
Good luck at the tables ladies and gents!