No-Limit Hold'em Strat

This is an attempt to capture the collective knowledge of the Full Contact Poker No-Limit Strategy forum. The discussions themselves are educational, but it's not always clear to the newbie which comments are the gems. None of this is particularly original. You can find this advice spread among forums and books.

Common Misconceptions

Wait for a better spot.

Usually the better spot will be there regardless of what we do in the current hand. While it's possible that some odd metagame concern links the hands, in the vast majority of the cases we should be looking to maximize our expected value in the hand in isolation.

That's not to say that any move with a positive expectation in a hand should be taken. We should look for the play with the greatest expectation. Consider Trystero's example here:

With stacks of 100 BBs, you have AsKs on a Ts6s5c flop and are in position. A terrible player bets half the pot (3 BBs) and you know he has Td9d. He cannot fold top pair as he's been playing hold'em recreationally for 2 months. Now if we were to shove all-in here, expecting to be called every time, we'd be gambling with an edge. The play would be +EV. But clearly it is preferable to call the 1/2 pot sized bet in position and get him to put his money in when drawing dead.

You have only $X invested.

The money we have contributed to the pot is irrelevant. It's no longer our money. It's what business men call a sunk cost.

People who post this often really mean that the pot is small compared to the amount of money still in the stacks. And that's the right way to think about it.

You're the favorite, so you want a call.

It's fairly common for our hand to be the favorite but it's still better for us if the villain folds. For hands that are very close to a coin flip (e.g., a pair vs. AK or a 15-out draw), we profit more when the villain (incorrectly) folds than when he calls our bet as a dog.

Another manifestation of this is raising too small to induce calls preflop with a big pair, ignoring the implied odds that we are offering our opponents.

You have to find out where you're at.

Betting or raising for information is overrated. It's very common for the information to be "Betting there was stupid." Focus on the more straight-forward reasons for being aggressive (betting for value, bluffing, and semi-bluffing), which sometimes also yield useful information as a side effect.

I call if I'm running good

Any argument based on how lucky we've been in past hands is crap and doesn't belong in a strategy forum.

Exploitive vs. Optimal Strategies

This is a basic game theory distinction. An exploitive strategy takes advantage of the particular sort of mistake our villains tend to make. For instance, if they tend to call too much preflop we can raise with lower standards and raise a larger amount.

An optimal strategy is an attempt to play theoretically perfectly, so that no matter what the villain does he can't get an edge on us.


Pot Odds

Immediate pot odds are just the ratio of the money in the pot to the amount that we have to call. We're generally comparing our odds of winning against the villain's range to the pot odds. For instance, if the villain bets $1 into a $4 pot, then our pot odds are ($4 + $1 ) / $1 = 5 : 1. The odds against improving a flush draw in one card are 4 : 1, so we would profit calling with a flush draw against a villain with top pair.

Implied Odds

Implied odds are different than immediate pot odds. They are a fluid concept that takes into account your read of your opponents hand, the odds of making a hand that beats their hand and the size relationship between their bet size and the pot as well as the remaining effective stacks.

The simplest example would be if you hold 55 and you are 100% sure (we're never 100%, but he helps clarify the example) that your opponent has AA and will stack off on ANY flop that doesn't have an Ace in it. If he raises to $50 preflop in a 5/10 NL game and has a $1000 stack (which you cover) then this is a very profitable situation for you. You will flop a set roughly 1 in 8 times and stack your opponent. If you call the $50, you are getting implied odds of 20-1 ($1000-$50) which is much greater than your actual odds of outdrawing him on the flop which are about 8-1.

Implied odds are most useful when you have a very sneaky hand like a small pair or suited connectors (preflop) or a gutshot straight draw on a rainbow board (postflop) and you put your opponent on a very strong hand, such as a big pair (preflop) or a set or top 2 pair (postflop). To fully utilize implied odds, you and your opponents should have deep stacks in relation to any bets that you have to call.

Reverse Implied Odds (RIO)

The implied odds working against you when you make a strong hand that is 2nd best, yet if you outflop your opponent, you will likely not get paid.

A good example of this is if you hold AQ vs your opponent's AK. If you both flop an A, you are likely to lose a lot of money since you are dominated. If the flop comes Q high, you will not be able to make any money from him unless he's bluffing at the pot. Hands such as KQo, AJo, ATo, and even AQ have very large RIO.

Even AK has high RIO when you think there's a good chance that your opponent holds only 1 of 3 hands: AA, KK or QQ. In this situation, if you see a flop with them and you outflop their hand by hitting an A/K vs QQ or the A against KK, you will not get paid much if anything. However, if you're up against AA and you flop the K or the A, you will likely lose your whole stack.

Preflop Strategy


Position is far more important than the average beginner realizes. In early position, your standards should be quite tight.

  1. It's easier to identify good opportunities to bluff from late position.
  2. We get paid off with our good hands more by acting last.
  3. We avoid paying off better hands in late position by watching the action ahead of us.

We should show a profit from all position except the blinds. If there's a position that you're a net loser from (e.g., UTG), consider (as a thought experiment) replacing your current strategy with folding everything and pushing with AA. This seems like a stupid strategy, but yours is worse.

The other aspect is your position relative to the other players for whom we have specific expectations, in particular the preflop raiser. If the PFR typically put in a continuation bet (or the board looks like one that he will likely bet), the rest of the field will often check to the raiser. Since we know that the PFR will likely bet, that's not new information. We want to see what the rest of the field will do in reaction to this bet. So in a multiway pot, we might prefer acting immediately before PFR.

5/10 rule[1]

This is Ciaffone's guideline for playing speculative hands (e.g., a small pair) before the flop. Since we believe that we are taking the worst of it preflop, we need implied odds to compensate to make the overall play have positive expectation. There are three ranges defined by the fraction of the amount of money we can expect to win if we hit that the preflop wager represents.

  1. Less that 5% — Play speculative hands.
  2. Between 5% and 10% — Borderline. Consider the tendencies of the villains.
  3. More than 10% — Don't play speculative hands.

It's a common mistake for people to look for 7.5:1 (12% of the effective stack) to set mine. This ignores two important factors:

  1. The villain doesn't always pay us off when we hit.
  2. Sometimes we hit a set and still lose. In fact, we win only 82% of the time that we hit a set against a bigger pair due to set over set and one card straights and flushes.

Calling for 10% is really a fairly loose call, but the rule has the merit of being easy to calculate.


Limp and reraise can work when the other players are aggressive (or at least one is especially aggressive). It's also important to keep the stack sizes in mind when making this play, because if we define our hand too narrowly it can be very difficult to play after the flop with a deep stack.

When we have the maniac on our left (which is where we want him), this is a great strategy. The other players will be willing to call the maniac's raise with mediocre hands, so the pot can grow very quickly.

Aces and kings are the favorite hands for limp/reraise, but against thinking opponents we can profit from a wider range, including AK and perhaps junk if we have strong reads.

Sizing the opener

Standard practice is to raise the size of the pot preflop, although it's fairly common to see larger openers in live games. Larger openers are generally an attempt to exploit the villain's mistake of calling too much preflop.

Postflop Strategy

Sizing a wager after the flop

We should wager larger amounts on coordinated boards. The villains are weighing the odds you are offering against the likelihood that they will improve to a hand that beats ours. Since their chance of improving is higher on this sort of board, then we can bet more.

Flop 1
Ks Kd 5d

A good bet on this flop is 1/3 to 1/2 of the pot.

Flop 2
Ks Qs 8d

A good bet on this board is between 1 and 2 times the size of the pot.

Continuation Bets

A continuation bet is a bet made on the flop after a preflop raise with perhaps nothing. It's generally a good idea to keep betting if we hit, because our opponents will think, "It's just a continuation bet."

When deciding whether or not to bet the flop, we should consider these factors:

Number of opponents

In general, bluffs are more profitable against fewer opponents and a continuation bet with air is no exception. With several hands against us, the chance that they all missed the flop is low. Even when the villains check to us, they could have hit hard and are looking for us to bet.

Our reputation

Player that raise seldom before the flop get more credit for an overpair, so their continuation bets are more successful (unless of course they also have a reputation for folding too easily on the flop).

Our willingness to fire a second barrel on the turn (that is, bet again without a legitimate hand) can make our continuation bets much scarier. It's easy enough for the villain to call the first bet with top pair and a bad kicker if he knows that we will always check down if we really missed.

Flop texture

Expect for the villains to call on coordinated boards (flops with two of the same suit or cards close in rank). As a generalization, we should be more willing to give up on unpaired overcards in these situations because we are at best slightly ahead or way behind.

Ideally, we'd like to see a rainbow flop with one high card and the other two scattered. These are the sort of flops that the villain expects us to hit, and he seldom does with his speculative holding.

Villains' styles

If the villains are playing "fit or fold", then continuation bets are very profitable. If the villains "float" (call a bet with nothing with the intention of stealing later), then we have either give up or outplay them on the last streets.

Blocking Bets

The idea of a blocking bet is that we have a marginal hand out of position and we'd like to play a particular street for as little as possible. The theory is that if we check, then the villain might bet something substantial (e.g., the size of the pot) but we can convince him to just call a smaller bet.

The problem with this theory is that a competent villain may not cooperate and indeed force us to to a tough decision by raising. Often our attempt at a blocking bet will be highly transparent.

Playing on coordinated boards

Position is very important for all parties.

When a big hand is developing, the out of position players tend to prefer to get all-in and the in position players tend to prefer to play more streets. There is no positional advantage when all of the chips are in.

In a multiway pot, a player with a drawing hand in poor position has to predict the action behind him in order to make the right choice. He might call a first bet with reasonable odds, but then a later player raises. It's also much harder for the draw to get calls after he hits.

Keep in mind that all draws are not created equal. It's often best to fold our ordinary draw with 8 or 9 outs, but go to war with it if we have a little something extra: a pair, a combination draw (e.g., a flush draw and a gut-shot straight draw, or overcards).

Play more streets against poor players. They'll make mistakes at each decision point that you can exploit. For instance, against good players we often play our draws aggressively, because we won't get paid off when we hit it and also to balance our strategy through deception.

If a poor player gives us a chance to draw for a good price and we have position, accept his offer. Don't try to semibluff him on the flop.

Betting when you think you're behind

Sometimes turn play transpires that leaves an awkward amount of money to play on the river. If we're going to pay off a hand that beats us (due to the pot odds) and hands that we beat will check behind, it's better to bet even if we think we're a dog against his range.

For instance, suppose we make a straight on the turn and put in a large raise. A villain calls with a small stack so that we'd be getting long odds on a river call. A flush card comes on the river, which we believe more often than not beats us. If he has a worse hand (e.g., two pair or a set), he can check behind on the river and we lose value. If he made a flush, we're going to have to pay him off anyway. We're no worse off for betting when we're beat and we profit when we're ahead. Therefore, it is generally better to bet.

On the other hand, against an especially aggressive bluffer, we might check to induce a bluff here. But usually players will know that the pot is too large for this to work and they'll check behind.

Example Hand

1/2 NLHE

UTG $221
Hero $321
Button covers

Preflop ($3)
UTG raises to $6. Hero calls with 9h Th. Button calls. Others fold.

Flop ($21)
Ad 7s 8s

UTG bets $15. Hero calls. Button calls.

Turn ($66)

UTG bets $35. Hero raises to $150. Button calls. UTG raises to $200. Hero calls. Button calls.

River ($666)

Hero bets all-in for $100. Button calls.

Checking when you think you're ahead

Sometimes we think we're ahead most of the time, but we still check because the villain is unlikely to have a weaker hand that is good enough to give us action. For instance, we might suspect that our villain missed a draw on a paired board and check behind with one pair on the river. The missed draw can't give us any action, and if our villain has a big hand we just handed him money. On the other hand, reopening the betting can be a good move to bet to induce a bluff from an aggressive player.


A general definition of "floating" is when you call a player's bet postflop after flopping little or no hand at all. Floating and delayed bluffs are often associated, except that delayed bluffs usually have a more involved plan than a float does. Let's look at a couple of examples.

Example 1: A good floating situation
You call a preflop raise with 55 or 67s or some weak hand after a player raises in MP. You call preflop because your hand has some value and because you have position. The two of you take a HU flop that comes down A72 rainbow. Your opponent bets 3/4 of the pot and you call. The turn is a 9. Your opponent checks, you bet 2/3 of the pot and he angrily folds QQ face up muttering about how lucky you are to catch the A on him.

Your hand is very weak and likely not the best hand. You're not really drawing to anything here and you have no pot odds. So why did you call?

The answer has a lot of layers. We called because we have position and the flop often misses our opponent. We called because our opponent will not likely fire a 2nd bullet as a bluff (or with QQ or TT) since it's impossible for us to have a draw on this board. Mostly we called because we are going to use our position to take the pot away if our opponent shows weakness. Think about it - we almost have to have an Ace here if we called his flop bet. Sometimes we are even slowplaying a set. Although we only have 1 weak pair or no hand at all, it will be difficult for our opponent to win this pot unless he actually has flopped the Ace and the whole reason that floating works is because you do miss the flop 2/3 of the time.

Who and when to float:

  1. Float players who at least attempt to read hands. If your opponent will not fold KK because he waited for 3 hours to get that hand, don't try and make him lay it down because the A flopped.
  2. Float players who give up if they've missed and their continuation bet is called. If the board is T92 and you have 45 suited, this is a good time to float since your opponent often has 2 unpaired big cards and are only going to fire 1 bullet at the pot.
  3. Float on dry boards. The dryer the board, the better. Many opponents will fire multiple bullets if they think you're on a draw. If the board is totally dry, they fear that your flat call is more likely a trap or a made hand than it is a draw.
  4. Float weak tight players constantly. These players want and almost need a strong hand to continue and they will almost never make it. Take advantage of their tendencies and put them to tough decisions.
  5. In position and HU.
  6. Floating with some kind of draw (even a gutshot) is better than floating with total air.

Who and when NOT to float and when to give up:

  1. Any board that is very likely to have helped your opponent is one where you should fold to their c-bet.
  2. Very aggressive opponents who do not slow down are harder to contend with because they often fire 2 or 3 bullets with nothing.
  3. Tricky players who will c-bet the flop and then check the turn to get in a check-raise with a strong made hand.
  4. Calling stations don't know how to fold. Remember, you're bluffing, so they have to be able to fold.
  5. Don't float when there are other players in the pot behind you who might actually have a real hand.
  6. Floating out of position is very difficult and should not be done often at all. It is tricky to play the streets as your opponent may check behind the turn for pot control, making it harder for you to represent the big hand that you wanted.

Overall, floating is different than a delayed bluff because you give up more easily on floats because you don't necessarily have a strong hand to represent. Let's look at the difference.

Delayed Bluffs

A delayed bluff is a bluff where you call on one street and bet or raise on another with the intent of representing a very strong hand.

Example 1: Slowplaying "Trips"

Your opponent opens from MP and you call in position with AQhh. The flop comes down KK3 rainbow. Your opponent bets 2/3 of the pot and you call. The turn is a 6. Your opponent bets 1/2 of the pot and you raise him 2.5x his bet. He folds.

Why does this work? Well, delayed bluffs work because you have a big hand to represent and it's a hand that your opponent likely doesn't hold and cannot beat. In the example above, it's hard to put you on anything but Kx the way that you've played the hand. That's why delayed bluffs are often so successful - they are "transparent" in the sense that you're representing that you're playing a very strong hand in a very predictable manner. In the example above, unless you have Kx or a full house, there's no other hand that you would raise for value in this situation, so your opponent should probably fold any other hands, even as strong as pocket aces.


Delayed bluffs are expensive. You must call on one street and bet or raise on another, committing a larger % of your stack to the pot. As a result, you should pick your spots carefully because they must succeed fairly often as a result of the high risk-reward ratio.

Don't be afraid to give up. Just because you called the flop with the intention of repping trips, doesn't mean that your opponent cannot hold them. If you get the feeling that he has the hand you're trying to represent, abandon the bluff attempt.

Make sure that you have respect and the right image when running one of these plays. Also make sure that the play falls into line with how you'd play your other strong hands. If you're super aggressive and you'd always raise with KQ on a KK2 flop, then running a delayed bluff where you flat call against an observant opponent makes little sense since he'd already know that you raise the flop there with trips a high % of the time.


Overall, these plays are much more advanced and are unnecessary in many lower limit games. If the players don't understand what you're doing, it's hard to make fancy moves like these. Delayed bluffs and floating are ways to win yourself the big pots without a hand by preying on weakness in your opponent. Players who make these plays regularly are some of the toughest opponents you will face because they force you to make a hand against them while playing out of position. Once you identify these tricky aggressors, the check/raise on the turn becomes one of your biggest and most profitable moves. Done with the correct frequencies, these plays make a player both highly profitable and unpredictable at the poker table.

Bankroll Management

There's been a lot said and written about this. You might want to read the Mathematics of Poker if you're interested in a rigorous treatment. 20 buy-ins is a good number if you just want a number. Several factors affect the proper amount:

  1. tolerance for failure. Going broke for your average amateur isn't the end of the word. Each person has to assess how big a deal losing it all is. For a player who's relying on the income to pay his bills, then going broke is a big problem.
  2. real winrate. A player with a higher win rate needs a smaller bankroll.
  3. real variance. An individual's style of play affects his variance. This isn't something we can know without already having played a lot of hands.
  4. slop in the bankroll concept. A person with another source of income can effectively have a larger bankroll than the amount of money in his account or under his mattress.

Unless multitabling significantly reduces your winrate, then playing more tables (to a point) does not alter the BR needed, in the general case.

It's not that you're risking twice as much, you're just compressing time, really. Playing for 2 hours of 1 table, or 1 hour of 2 tables will be the same thing, you aren't risking any more or less in either case.

The only time you should have a larger bankroll, because of multitabling, is if you're doing like 12+, and you think your edge becomes a lot smaller.


People are more honest with their feet than their faces and hands. Any intentional deception generally happens above the waist (except perhaps on people who have read this book!). Immediate reactions tend to be genuine, while delayed responses may very well be acting.

Although there are general tells, it pays to observe individuals and match their behaviors to showdown cards and actions.

Pursed lips usually indicate thinking. When the pursing stops, look for a genuine tell immediately after. (Pursed lips are like the indicator in baseball signs.)

Some tells of strength

  1. moving closer to the action
  2. happy feet
  3. feet rising up onto the toes
  4. nostril flare
  5. overprotecting the hole cards
  6. quick look to the chips after observing new cards
  7. steepled (not interlocked) hands
  8. chin or nose up
  9. arched eyebrows
  10. sitting (more) erect
  11. chip toss with an arc
  12. expanding personal territory at the table

Tells of weakness

  1. freezing
  2. angling toward an exit
  3. interlocked ankles (perhaps around a chair)
  4. rubbing the leg
  5. hand wringing


Levels of Thinking

Level 1: What do I have? How will I play it?
Level 2: What do I think my opponent has? How would he play it?
Level 3: What do I think my opponent puts me on? How would he think I'm gonna play it?
Level 4: What do I think my opponent thinks that I am putting him on? How would he think I think he's gonna play it?

We should always try to think one level deeper than our villain. If he's only thinking on level 1, then our level 3 strategy misses the mark.

Jumping outside of poker for a moment, here's an example from the Princess Bride.

Vizzini: But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you. Are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy's? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Notice how his thinking falls apart if he puts Westley on the wrong level.

Brick and Mortar vs. Online Play

For games of equal size, online games tend to be much tougher. As a matter of speculation, this is probably because of the absence of the tourist gamblers. Players generally have a tougher time being patient in live games.

The smallest game in a casino is typically a 1/2, while online games go as low as 0.01/0.02. Therefore, a player wishing to play the lowest stakes possible is playing much higher in the casino.

Transition from Structured Limit

In general, the rhythm of no-limit is much different. There's a lot of waiting and collecting information, then a big decision. Limit constantly challenges you to make small decisions.

Here are some differences in strategy:

  1. Limit your use of the free card play. Opening the betting often means you have to commit your whole stack or fold.
  2. Don't concern yourself too much with attacking and defending blinds.
  3. Sometimes you have to give up on a nice draw.
  4. Keep track of your opponents' stack sizes, so that you know who is pot-committed, who can reopen the betting, etc.
  5. Be more careful about paying off on the river. In limit, that last bet is small in comparison to the pot, so it makes sense to call on the river even when we strongly suspect that we're beaten.
1. Robert Ciaffone; Stewart Reuben. Pot-limit and No-Limit Hold'em
2. Joe Navarro; Phil Helmuth. Read 'Em & Reap
3. David Sklanksy. Theory of Poker

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