Saturday, April 05, 2008

NLHE Pro Strategy

I'm still a bit uncomfortable describing myself as a pro and I'm not sure I'll ever do so without being a little self-conscious, but I guess I have no choice since in this case the shoe certainly fits.

I've been meaning to do a strategy post for a while, and want to focus today on some of the major changes I've made to my game since I turned pro at the start of February. For those who are new to my blog, I'm a No Limit Holdem cash game player with about 3 years experience. As a pro I have been playing short-handed games at limits from $1/2 to $3/6, playing up to 6 tables at once. Since then I've made over $20k, and while I still make many mistakes and have bad days, I feel that my game is far stronger than that displayed when I was playing as a hobby.

This won't be a comprehensive strategy guide, just a few points I think are worth making that may give some ideas on how to play a bit more aggressively and a bit more deceptively preflop, with some of my thought processes. I can't say it will work for everyone, but it seems to work for me and it might help some of you. As always, I welcome criticism and advice so please feel free to leave me any you may have -I'm really just like you (hopefully) in that I want to be the best player I can.


If you want to be a winning player the most important thing to have in a hand is not pocket Aces but position. Sometimes you will be forced to play a hand where you will be the first player to act on every street, but you should do everything possible to make sure that most of the time you are the one in last position. If you're not already on the button you can really only achieve this through raising.


If I'm going to play and I'm entering an unraised pot, I almost always raise. 6-handed, I'm raising UTG with ATs+ and any pocket pair(PP). From UTG+1, I'll include ATo and maybe a few no-gap suited connectors 87s+. From the cutoff, include TJs+ and no-gap/1-gap suited connectors 75s+. From the button, include K9o+ and any other likely suited connector no lower than 54s.

Getting Re-raised

Raising with such a broad range really keeps your opponents guessing, and disguises your premium hands AA-QQ/AQs-AK. Opponents however will adjust and start to re-raise you more frequently, and this is where it gets interesting.

If you are out of position (i.e. the re-raise has come from a player behind you), only call if you have a low PP and have the right odds to set mine. With a strong/premium pair or AK you should 3-bet. Let go of everything else, as it's not worth playing out of position with speculative holdings. Seriously. JTs may be your favourite hand in the whole world, but life will be easier if you fold it.

If you are in position (i.e. the reraise has come from a player in front of you), you have more options. You can now occasionally call with your premium pairs and AK (instead of 3-betting), and you can now also call with your suited connectors and see a flop. Your range will thus be very wide when you are in position, and should now potentially include every possible PP, AK and a broad range of suited connectors. You can also occasionally 3-bet with suited connectors and low PPs to mix things up...

What I have noticed is that when the re-raise comes from the blinds, particularly the big blind, more often than not it's being done light. The re-raise from the blinds is also very popular when someone has raised and had several callers, creating a squeeze play. In either case, you have options. Fold your weakest speculative hands and either call and outplay them with the advantage of position, or just go ahead and 3-bet expecting a fold. It doesn't really matter, long as you mix it up when 3-betting and include enough premium hands when you do so.

Playing 'Dominate-able' Hands

What I mean by this is hands that are strong but could be dominated if they hit top pair: AQ is dominated by AK on an Ah 6s 7d flop. With such dominate-able hands (AQo, KQs, AJs), I want to try and find out before the flop if I'm dominated or not. To do this I will always re-raise if I'm out of position to the raiser, and normally re-raise in position as well. This may seem expensive, but I'd rather find out preflop if I'm up against a dominating hand, and I prefer opponents announcing AA/KK early on, rather than after I make top pair top kicker on the flop.

The only time I won't re-raise in position is if I think it's likely I'll face a light re-raise from the blinds, or if the pot is multiway and my hand is a premium drawing hand like AQs that likes multiway pots.

Calling a Raise

Out of position, the only times I'll call a raise are:

  • If the raise is tiny (and my hand is reasonably robust)
  • If the pot is multiway (and my hand is reasonably robust)
  • If I have a low pocket pair

There are no other times I should be calling a raise out of position. It is NOT worth trying to overcome the positional disadvantage, so I normally either raise or fold.

In position, I'm calling only if I believe I will have position for the rest of the hand, and I think it unlikely I will face a re-raise from another player. As such, I will only be calling from the cutoff or the button, and I will usually only be doing it with drawing hands or low PPs. With premium or dominate-able hands, I will of course be re-raising myself. Very very occasionally I will smooth-call with AA/KK as a trap when I think a re-raise likely either from the button or the blinds.

General Thoughts

  • Try and play strong hands in position.
  • Raise preflop whenever you can with a wide range of hands and with the aim of gaining position
  • Don't play dominate-able hands without raising them.
  • Play speculative/drawing hands in position as cheaply as possible.
  • If someone seems weak, raise then and there.
  • Don't play strong hands out of position without raising.
  • From the blinds: re-raise button and cutoff raises with your better hands - they are usually raising with dominate-able trash.
  • Put the pressure on your opponents

That's all for now, realise most of this stuff is preflop strategy, but if you just carry the outlined aggression through to the later streets you basically know how I play. Basically this style should makes things a bit easier postflop as more pressure is put on your opponents from the start. Hope some of this is helpful. Good luck all...


Fuel55 said...

Solid advice at $2/4NL and under.

Completely and utterly exploitable at $10/20 and above ...

Anonymous said...

I definetly don't play the level fuel plays at, but i found the post to be useful.

Especially the position stuff. I read alot about position, but you really broke it down for me.

One question - What does 3 bet (or 4 bet) mean?

Does that mean you are betting 3 times the pot?

I see alot of this in your and alan's posts and wanted to know.

nemo said...

This is really amazing advice. I will be sure to print this up since I really have zero no-limit tips/books/advice. I just got lucky when I won that freeroll.

SubZero said...

3-betting means putting in the 3rd raise. So someone can raise, re-raise, 3-bet, 4-bet etc. Each time you raise you will normally be raising the size of the pot, so you won't usually go past the 4-bet - unless the stacks are very deep (more than 100BB).

Ryverrat said...

Good post. I try to play in a very similar way to how you have described and it definately works at the $0.25/$0.50 level.

Nice work. Gl

Eric a.k.a. Bone Daddy said...

solid, as the biggest leak in my game was cold calling from the blinds with specultive hands, hence, out of postion.

raise or fold baby, and fuel is wrong, players at $10/20 aren't better players, they just have a better paying day job!