No-Limit Hold'em: BSS - Advanced Concepts
Up to now we have been looking at no-limit hold'em big stack strategy articles containing a number of possible approaches for individual betting rounds. Each situation was analysed separately together with the respective concept. In theory we should already be able to select the right strategy.
However, in order to fine tune our strategy, this article will look at the concepts that we as an advanced player can deploy to perfect our gameplay.
- Bet sizes
- Hand ranges
- Betting patterns
- Way ahead / way behind situations
- Making moves
1. Bet sizes
In contrast to limit hold'em, in no -limit games we have to decide how much to bet or by how much we want to raise. The size of these values has a direct effect on our win rate.
If we aren't sure how to act in such situations, we should apply the following rule:
If we don't know how much to bet, we should bet two thirds of the pot.
However, we need to adjust the amount we bet depending on the situation. Doing so allows us to follow the protection principle and promote value maximisation.
What should our minimum bet be?
We should always bet an amount that is at least enough to give our opponents a bad ratio between the amount they have to bet and the potential winnings. A good minimum value is thus half of the current pot, which gives our opponents pot odds of 3 to 1 or worse.
How does the board influence the amount we should bet?
The more draws the board gives, the higher our bets should be. This protects us from drawing hands while often giving opponents pot odds that aren't good enough for a call.
How do the stacks influence the amount we should bet?
If we are committed to a pot by betting, then we may as well just go all-in.
If we aren't committed but want to see the showdown, we should keep the pot to a minimum through block bets.
How does our hand influence the amount we should bet?
If we think we have the best hand, we can bet less to keep our opponent in the pot. In general we should always try to play a big pot with good hands.
The worse our hand, the sooner we should check or call when in position. When out of position we should go for a small (block) bet.
How do our opponents influence the amount we should bet?
The looser our opponents, the higher our bets should be in order to maximise our profit.
- Example hand: "Bet sizes"
In this example hand we are the button with . Two weak players limped before us and we chose to go with a relatively loose isolation raise. Our aim here is to be able to play a flop heads up with one of the two weak opponents. Without opponent reads we would generally fold this hand. Now we raise to six BBs and both the small blind and villain 2 call us.The flop is , which now gives us the best possible hand at this time: the nut straight through to the eight. Both players check. At the moment we have a good hand but it can still be easily beaten. Every card combination in hearts could progress to a flush or sets / two pairs could improve to become a full house. For this reason we have to post a bet. Due to the somewhat low stack sizes we don't need to bet the full pot amount to be able to play all-in. We bet approx. two thirds. Villain 4 re-raises by the minimum amount and we can go all-in with the nuts.
2. Hand ranges
Poker is a game of incomplete information. We see our hole cards, the community cards, the progress of the hand, our opponents' actions and much more. We then try to piece this information together like a puzzle in order to arrive at the right decision. One major part of the puzzle is missing, however: the opponents' hand.
One way of filling this gap is what is known as hand reading.
Hand reading means that we "assign" our opponent one or more potential hands.
In general we give our opponents a range of hands rather than specific hands. A player who goes all-in with a board of will not always have , but may often also have hands such as , or similar. We therefore always need to think about the potential hands the opponent may have. Presuming the opponent has a specific hand only works in few cases.
The following factors are important when it comes to determining a hand range:
The style of play
The range should be larger or smaller depending on whether our opponent tends to play a lot of hands or just a few (i.e. loose or tight). Poker programs such as Poker Tracker or Office can help to provide useful information when it comes to working this out.
Players will play looser or tighter depending on their position. Here the following rule applies:
The worse the position, the tighter the player will generally act; the better the position, the looser the range.
- Here's an example:
A player who generally raises about 10% of his starting hands will raise in early position. Here he will only play very few of this 10%, meaning that we can roughly pin his hands down to the top 3%. This equates to hands such as , or better. We are therefore fairly certain as to which hand ranges we can play against and can fold e.g. with a clear conscience. However, if the player were to raise e.g. 30%, then a re-raise with may well be a smart move.
The pre-flop actions
In previously raised pots the following players will act much tighter because an opponent before them has shown strength. However, more hands will be played if several pots are already involved in the pot by calling (limping).
Which hands make sense post-flop?
Betting behaviour on the flop also gives us a lot of reads. This requires us to pay a lot of attention to the game and our opponents,
but can give us the opportunity to recognise that several players always choose a specific amount when posting a continuation bet. Other players will check and play very good hands slowly.
For more on this, refer to "Betting patterns".
Opponents will adjust their game depending on how we acted during previous hands. If we raise several hands in a row, for example, players will notice this and may try to counter with a broad range of hands.
Our Odds calculator is a good way of developing a feel for hand ranges
The better we know our opponents' train of thought, the easier it is for us to read their hands precisely. Excluding pre-flop hands may be of great use, especially during later betting rounds.
3. Betting patterns
Betting patterns refers to our opponents' betting behaviour. If we come across opponents with recurring betting patterns we have much better reads. With a little practice we may be able to guess our opponent's hand range fairly accurately.
Below is the most important information that we should try and find out as a result of our opponents' betting behaviour/patterns:
How does our opponent play draws?
If we know how our opponents play their draws, we can exclude hands from their range and adjust our gameplay accordingly. In general there are two ways of playing draws: aggressively or passively.
If we recognise that a certain opponent plays his good hands but tends to play drawing hands passively, we can often exclude draws if this opponent plays aggressively.
How does our opponent play marginal made hands?
This is a key question in terms of value maximisation. This is because a lot of weaker players overestimate their made hands when playing no-limit Hold'em. They often fail to correctly classify a hand such as top pair and then invest too much money in a pot.
However, we can use this information and make a lot of high value bets or raises with our good made hands.
How does our opponent play good made hands?
Answering this question is important in order not to unnecessarily give away too many chips to good hands. Slow play with good made hands is a common tactic. A lot of our opponents will simply check, call or minimum raise their monster hands.
We can save ourselves a lot of money if we are able to recognise when our opponents do this. If a player cold calls e.g. on the flop after a raise and re-raise, we can often presume that we are up against a monster hand. In such cases we should fold a lot of the hands we have.
Minimum bets and raises
We will often be confronted with this bet and raise amount, especially with the lower limits. Weak player will often bet the minimum. Depending on the situation, we can interpret this in different ways.
In many cases, minimum bets or raises pre-flop should often been seen as strength and the same moves post-flop rather as a sign of weakness. Pre-flop minimum raises generally include high pocket pairs such as or . A small raise should keep active opponents in the pot.
However, the intention changes post-flop. Minimum bets or raises should enable us to see the next card for little money or to help us to get to the showdown for as little money as possible. Our opponent will generally be holding a correspondingly bad made hand or a draw. In such cases, the best strategy is a raise in order to win the pot immediately.
As always with poker, there are also exceptions. As a result, pre-flop minimum raises may also means that the respective player wants to see a flop with speculative hands or that a minimum bet (with a monster hand) on the flop is designed to provoke a raise from us.
Being able to recognise betting patterns requires a lot of concentration and awareness. If we manage to achieve this, we may well end up earning a lot more money.
4. Way ahead / way behind
If we can limit our opponent to a certain hand range and notice that we are the hot favourite against part of this range but a long way behind for the remainder, then we are what is known as way ahead / way behind.
- See also the section on "Way ahead - way behind (WAWB)" from the beginners' training.
We are thus in a very uncomfortable situation. If we raise or bet, we will only see action from better hands. All of the bad hands will fold, so a raise makes little sense. But we don't want to fold either as we have a fairly good hand and are ahead of part of our opponents' range.
After excluding possible options we are left with a check-call! This gives us the opportunity to gain value from bluffs and not have to pay good hands out to such a large extent.
- Example of a WAWB hand
Villain 6 as the cut off limps in the pot first, which we can take as being a clear sign of weakness and now isolate him by raising to five BBs. The blinds fold and villain 6 calls. The flop is and gives us top pair with . After our opponents check to us, we bet for value and are quickly called. Now we think about the range that our opponent could have. It soon becomes clear that we are way ahead / way behind.Draws are not possible on this flop, so he must have a made hand. In principle we can only beat to , so our opponent won't call any other made hands or would have played differently pre-flop. ; and or better would beat us (we can ignore ). We are thus clear favourite against part of his range apart from two or three outs but would also be a clear loser against the other part. We are in a WAWB situation and either check or call.
5. Making moves
For many advanced players, no-limit Hold'em at full-ring tables is a highly static game with little action and long periods spent waiting for a playable hand. Individual tables with a lot of good players can be very tight, especially at middle limits.
For this reason it's important to integrate a few moves into our game. While most opponents play very tightly, we should thus play somewhat more loosely but without losing our basic aggressive behaviour.
Our pre-flop game is largely defined by the starting hand table, meaning we have a sound pre-flop strategy. However, in some situations this may be somewhat more aggressive. 3-betting speculative hands, e.g. , is one such example.
3-bets have several clear benefits. The higher we are in terms of limits, the better our opponents will be. In the long run our opponents will realise that we only re-raise , or better as per the starting hand table. This means that they know exactly what they are up against.
However, if we throw a few hands with e.g. suited connectors into our gameplay, it makes it harder for our opponents to read us. Our opponents will often fold their hand after our re-raise and we will have had an easy game. But every now and then there will be a flop. We then have the opportunity to win the pot directly by means of a continuation bet or to have an easy fold if we meet with resistance, unless we hit a monster hand of course.
What are the requirements for a pre-flop 3-bet?
- It is much easier to play post-flop when in position.
- Our opponent should raise quite a lot of hands in his respective position. It is also easier if we are up against a straightforward player who has few moves in his repertoire.
- The effective stack sizes need to be big. 100 BBs or more is ideal.
- Our hand has to have potential for big pots. We therefore tend to 3-bet hands that can form straights or flushes rather than e.g. or .
- Example of a 3-bet handA classic opportunity for a 3-bet with a fairly marginal hand. We know from villain 7 that he plays tightly in the early positions and very loose and aggressive when in a late position. He will therefore raise a lot of hands as the cut-off (especially if no one else has joined the pot before him) and will equally often be forced to fold on a 3-bet.With we also have a hand that can be played very easily post-flop. If we are called here and don't hit a monster hand such as two pair or better on the flop, we can fold our hand without having a guilty conscience.
Squeeze play is a certain type of pre-flop 3-bet. This occurs if a player has raised pre-flop and at least one other player has called the bet.
The advantage of this move is that the original raiser is sandwiched in and thus in a dangerous position, i.e. between our re-raise and the initial caller. We therefore force the majority of his range to fold. We don't generally need to worry about the other players in the pot as there are hardly any hands that will call a pre-flop raise and then re-raise.
And in this game the positions, opponents, stack sizes and our starting hand are all important factors when it comes to long-term success. We need to make sure that a squeeze play – like usual 3-bets – ends up in a big pot if we are called. These moves should therefore only be used if we also feel safe in big pots.
- Example of a squeeze play handIn this example hand, three opponents are in the hand with us. Villain 8 is an above-average loose aggressive player and has already raised a lot of marginal hands pre-flop. This time he raises again to three BBs as the first in the pot. Villain 1 and 2 call this amount. We can thus assume that both of these opponents have fairly speculative hands as they are in position and would have raised good hands. They want to make use of loose and aggressive gameplay in the hope of hitting something on the flop.We are now the big blind with . This is a hand with which we would like to see a flop when in late position. However, we are now out of position post-flop for the entire hand, so we are unable to call. We decide to go with a squeeze play since we assume we have high fold equity. The 15 BBs consists of our standard re-raise of three times the value of the initial raise and the number of callers: 3 x 3 BBs + 2 x 3 BBs.
Floating is a move that can be played post-flop. If we float we want to make use of the continuation bet concept. If a good opponent raises pre-flop and we call, he will usually make a continuation bet with most flops. In order to play him to our advantage, we don't raise to avoid a monster pot, we just call in order to bet the turn if we are checked.
Our floating call intends to prepare us for a bluff on the flop that we can fire off on the turn if we see any signs of weakness. Should a player remain in the hand by being passive, often enough opponents who haven't hit anything after a continuation bet will fold. The call also ensures that our opponent is not committed to the pot as the pot is generally still small enough for a fold in comparison to the size of the remaining stacks. After the opponent checks on the turn we can be fairly certain that our opponent doesn't have a particularly good hand. This is our chance to make a move.
What are the requirements for a float?
- Having position is essential as it is the only to get our opponent to check to us.
- Our opponent has to pursue a solid style of play. If he doesn't even know what continuation bets are or what a calling station is, then floating makes no sense at all.
- If we have additional outs on a made hand with showdown value, then floats are more profitable.
Each of these moves should be well thought through before actually being used. They require certain constellations and can therefore rarely be played without risk. However, with a bit of practice they can become profitable tools.
This article concludes the advanced big stack strategy section. Have fun at the tables.