In Australia’s casinos and at online poker rooms like Ignition, you’ll find a wide variety of poker games to play in. Omaha is getting more popular every day, and classic games like seven card stud still have their adherents. But there’s no doubt that the king of poker in Australia is still Texas holdem–specifically, the no-limit version of the game that has been popularized in major tournaments and on television.
If you’ve never played no-limit hold’em, you might be a little intimidated by the game, as the strategy and tactics used by the players at the tables can look deviously complex. Of course, when professional poker players are competing with each other, this is absolutely true: the levels of thinking must be complex in order to gain any edge against a very skilled opponent.
But when it comes to playing in a typical no-limit hold’em game, you don’t have to be so worried. Most of your opponents won’t be thinking very deeply at the table, and they’ll typically make some rather basic mistakes that you can exploit, provided you know a little bit about poker strategy. Here’s a look at what you should know before you buy into your first no-limit hold’em game.
When it comes to new poker players, the most common and easily fixable error made is playing far too many hands. While it cane be fun to get into the action as often as possible, playing marginal and bad hands will only cost you money in the long run. Big pocket pairs like AA, KK and QQ play well all the time, as do big suited hands. Any hand with two big unsuited cards can also be good, but usually only in small pots, as they’ll usually only make top pair.
Other hands that are very playable include low pairs like 66, suited aces such as A?8?, and suited connectors like 9?8?. These hands don’t always play well when the stacks are small, but if you and your opponent are deep stacked, they can easily win you a huge pot when you flop a big hand. If you can get in cheap in late position, unsuited connectors (T?9?) and suited one- and two-gappers (like J?8?) are also playable.
One of the most important concepts that new players regularly fail to recognize and understand is position. Being “in position” on a hand – that is, being the last player to act on each betting round – is a huge advantage, as it gives you the most control possible over the size of the pot, as well as the most information possible about your opponents’ hands before you have to make a decision. If you’re the last to act, you always have the option to check or call in order to keep a pot small, or to bet (or raise) in order to make it bigger. This also allows you to safely play a wider range of hands, as you can play more marginal holdings if you already know your opponents haven’t been betting and raising in front of you.
In contrast, being out of position puts you large at the mercy of your opponents when it comes to pot size, and means you’ll be acting before you get to see what your opponents do on each hand. When out of position, players (especially those new to the game) should stick to only playing premium hands – and even then, you’ll want to be more cautious than normal.
The majority of the time, you should be putting pressure on your opponents by making bets and raises, rather than checking and calling your opponents’ bets. By playing aggressively, you build big pots when you have the best hand, often earn free cards when you have draws, and can win pots that nobody else wants even when you don’t have a hand. Essentially, being aggressive will always give you a better chance of winning any pot you’re involved in, and will force your opponents to pay for staying in hands against you – forcing them to make the tough decisions.
On the other hand, if you’re playing low-stakes no-limit hold’em, it’s likely that most of your opponents will be playing rather passively. This makes their aggression stand out even more than usual. If a typical opponent starts betting into you, they’ll almost always have a real hand: passive players rarely bluff, so don’t count on catching them in one by making a heroic call with a hand that can’t beat them unless they have nothing. Instead, be willing to back down to aggression unless you are against an opponent who regularly plays aggressively, or if you have a truly strong hand that can beat even most “good” hands.
If you watch televised poker, you’ll be amazed at the huge bluffs that top players frequently run against each other. There are two reasons why you shouldn’t try emulating this. First of all, they’re actually not bluffing nearly as much as you think they are, as the edited versions of the sessions that are shown on TV are focused on only the most interesting hands. Secondly, even if you saw exactly how often great players bluff against each other, it would still be wrong to bluff at that frequency.
Why’s that? Well, it’s mostly because your opponents at lower limits will tend to call far too often with weak hands. That’s exactly the type of opponent that you don’t want to try bluffing: they’ll too frequently call you with hands they “should” fold, thus beating your bluffs. Essentially, your frequent bluffs will be making their “bad” calls into good ones!
Instead, you should punish theses players by making value bets with good hands. If nobody has played back at you, a hand like top pair, top kicker is well worth betting on the river. Chances are that many of your opponents will decide to call just to see what you’ve got. This is the most effective way to punish other players for never folding weak hands!
Are there several bets and raises going in on the turn or river? Chances are that your top pair hand isn’t good. In fact, if the raising is getting heavy in a game of weak, passive players, then you might even have to suspect that two pair or a set (if a flush or straight seems likely) can’t hold up, and that it’s time to fold. Big hands will ultimately win the huge pots you run into, while hands like top pair are better for winning smaller pots in which you’re the only real aggressor.
Similarly, if there’s a lot of money going into the pot preflop, you’re going to have to assume that one of your opponents has a big pair or a hand like AK. Depending on just how much money is going into the pot (and just how tight your opponents are), it’s possible that you might need KK or AA (or even just aces!) to call a huge all-in before the flop. For smaller all-in amounts, remember that having a pair or a big ace puts you in great position, while other good hands like small suited connectors really don’t play well in these situations.
Finally, one of the most important tips we can give to new players is to avoid the temptation to correct or berate your opponents. It can feel really good to tell a player they made a terrible call after they get lucky and hit a one-outer to beat you, but that’s really the wrong way to go. Not only could you potentially be educating a player who you will likely beat in the long run, but even worse, you might destroy the mood at your table. This could cause players to tighten up or even leave, which will definitely hurt your earning potential.