Tuesday, February 21, 2006

NL Observations

What I like about no limit hold 'em is that it is a game where fish are more likely (than in limit) to be punished quickly. It only takes one wrong move to lose your stack.

Because the game puts that much weight on a small number of decisions, it's easier for me to see the differences in skill levels from .10/.25 no limit to 1/2 no limit. The smaller game was my entry point into online poker, and I think it's one of the best games on the Internet. The 1/2 game, which usually comes with a $200 buy-in, is still pretty good, but the players have more of a clue in general.

But here are some very suspect trends I've seen bad players make repeatedly:

_Limping or cold-calling with big pocket pairs, especially TT through QQ. This makes absolutely no sense. A lot of the value of these big hands lies in the fact that they tend to be favorites preflop. If you limp or cold-call with them, you are putting yourself in a difficult situation postflop, when the bigger bets are made.

Last night, I raised from middle position and had one caller. Undercards flopped, and I bet the pot and got called. On the turn, I again made a near pot-sized bet. The guy folded, saying he had QQ. I had JJ. You could argue that his mistake was folding, but from his perspective, he had no clue whether he was up against AA or KK because he never once put in a raise. That led him to make a huge mistake.

_Folding. These players fold a lot because they've learned that calling big bets -- especially on later streets -- can be very expensive. Because they fold all the time, that makes them very bluffable. I prefer continuation bets on the flop and in position. Turn bluffs also hold value, but they're more risky because it costs more to sell the bluff.

_Limping with big slick. I've seen a few winning players use this tactic to mask the strength of their hand. In my mind, though, it's usually a mistake. AK is another hand that holds a lot of its value preflop, and people frequently fold if an A or a K flops anyway, whether the pot is raised or not. Limping with these cards may avoid trouble, but it also takes away their worth.

_Fearing the raise from the blinds. I've fallen in love with raising and re-raising from the blinds preflop. It's more of a tournament move, but it works surprisingly well in these no limit games too. I'll do it with any hand ATs and up, depending on the strength of my opponents. Even if you fear that you're dominated, raising from the blinds represents so much strength that it puts the fear of God in most players.

Most of the time, they will just fold, and you'll win a decent-sized pot without having to see a flop. But even if you miss the flop, it's a great opportunity to make a bluff and watch them all fold. If they don't fold, you can rest easy, knowing that you can fold and you'll likely get paid next time.

Most of the big pots in no limit games comes through traps laid between two monster hands. But lots of the money in no limit is made in smaller increments, through sheer aggression, value betting and bluffing to build up your stack.

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