|January 24, 2005
I've read a lot of poker books. Many of them are on Hold Em; a few are on No-Limit Texas Hold Em. But you know what? Most of them don't really apply to the most common version of No-Limit (NL) that folks are playing today. That's the low limit version of the game - the one that typically has blinds of no more than $1/$2 and a maximum buy in of $100 or so.
You've all heard about the World Series of Poker final event - where everyone puts up $10,000 and competes for what is now a multimillion dollar first prize. It's captured the imagination and attention of millions of poker players all across the world. So too has the World Poker Tour - an event that features many such tournaments with prizes of a million or more.
Well, all of this recent attention on America's favorite card game has spawned a renaissance in No-Limit. But there's just one problem: 95% of those who want to play NL Hold'Em have a very limited bankroll. Sure, a few of us out here have enough for a large game like they played in Texas when the game began a few decades ago. But who among us has thousands? Very few.
We play for $100 or $20 or $5 a shot. We play in those $1/$2 blind, $100 or $200 capped, no-limit games that are so popular in casinos and kitchens today. Talk about making a bluff at the pot for $5,000 all you want. But that kind of action is completely out of our league.
What players today, most players today, really need to learn about is how to compete effectively in the minor league game - the game with the $1/$2 blind (or less) and the maximum buy in of no more than $200 or so. These are the games people are playing. These are the games that we need to be concerned about mastering.
But let's ask ourselves the critical question. Is the strategy for a low limit version of no-limit Texas Hold'Em any different from the strategy for the game the big boys play in Las Vegas, Texas and California? Won't the same style of play and the same tactics that work for the world-class players work for me against my amateur buddies?
The simple answer is no - emphatically no. Here's why. The NL game that we're playing is filled with players who really don't know what they're doing. They don't, for the most part, understand hand values. They don't know how to figure out the play of their competitors. They aren't calculating pot odds or how their hand will do against the hand they estimate their opponent has. Their betting action really has little if anything to do with the true strength of their cards. Accordingly, it's often a mistake to make the kind of moves that might work against an experienced or otherwise knowledgeable opponent. It's often a mistake to credit their action with the same thought or intent as you would credit the move of a good opponent.
These are the same reasons that the strategies for limit hold em and limit stud written about by the excellent authors of books for good and excellent players trying to get better often don't work for the lower stakes versions of those limit games. Specifically, Seven Card Stud for Advanced Players and Hold Em for Advanced Players, both excellent books for playing with experienced players in tight/aggressive games as you'll find in Las Vegas, are not the ideal texts for starting out in the no fold em hold em lower stakes games you're apt to find among the low rollers you play with in casual games everywhere. That's why some have written texts just for starting players in limit games - because they're different and the winning strategies for them are different.
There's another reason why the strategy for these low limit no limit games is different from their larger staked cousins. It's because of the cap on the initial buy in. With a uniform cap on the starting stack, players all have a limited amount they can lose in one bet - that initial stack. For many this means that their willingness to risk it all goes way up - since the amount they have in front of them represents only a small percentage of their true bankroll. Compare this with someone who is thinking about wagering everything he's come to gamble with. It changes the dynamic. And you have to take it into consideration.
All of this is by way of preface. What I'll try to do in the articles that follow is to explain some of the useful strategies that I have employed in these Baby No-Limit games. I hope they will help you.
First lesson. Typing your opponents.
A lot is made in poker literature about getting tells on opponents. The movies are full of this. By staring at someone long enough you can find that unconscious action that will give away your opponents hand. Maybe he twirls his ring when he's bluffing or scratches the back of his head when he has a good hand or listens to the separation of Oreo Cookies when he has a monster. But pay attention and you'll be able to figure out the true strength of your opponent. Or so the myth is.
The truth is that these things are rarely visible. Yet players, especially young or otherwise inexperienced players, believe the hype and spend a lot of energy on finding that giveaway tell.
My advice to the learning low limit no limit player is not to worry about this. This is not to say that you shouldn't pay attention to your opponents. By all means watch and remember their action. But worry first and foremost about their conscious action, not their unconscious action.
In that regard, in these low stakes games, I suggest that you focus on dividing your opponents into two categories at first. Are they tight or loose? Tight or Loose. That's it. It's not the only thing you'll need to learn about them. But it's a start, and a critical one.
"Tight" means that they play few hands - folding a lot - especially to a raise. "Loose" means that they don't fold a lot - that they are in a lot of hands. That's all you have to do. Remember who folds and who doesn't.
Seems simple and ridiculously easy, I know. But it's a key window into what your opponents are likely to have. If a loose player calls the blind, for example, on the pre-flop betting round, what does it mean? Well, regardless of position, it means he could have any hand at all. But for the tight player, a call means he must have something better than just a random hand. He must have something - a pair, two high cards, a suited Ace or King - something.
We'll figure out how you use that information later. But for now, just focus on loose and tight and typing each player in that way. Can you do that? Good -- do it. Next column I'll teach you about a couple of other things to notice about your opponents and about position.
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Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 42 years, since learning the game literally at his grandfather's knee. He's been playing seriously (and winning) in casinos, poker rooms, living rooms and kitchens all over the world, for the past 12 years. He started playing seriously in 1993 at the poker room in Foxwoods Resort Casino and he's been winning just about ever since. He's won No Limit Hold‘Em and 7-Card Stud tournaments in Connecticut, Massachusetts, California and Nevada.
He is the author of Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington 2003) and articles in Card Player Magazine, Poker Player Magazine, Live Action Poker Magazine, Southwestern Poker Magazine, 5thStreet Magazine, and numerous online sites. He is under agreement for his next book, Winning Low Limit/No Limit Hold‘Em, due to be published by Kensington in early 2006.
He is by profession a union organizer and negotiator, representing broadcasters, health care workers and now teachers. He has two daughters, both of whom play poker.