by Ashley Adams
My home poker room, Foxwoods, is still a great limit stud room—with all levels of games going regularly. I learned there how to beat that game. (I also wrote a book about it: Winning 7-card Stud.)
Even so, about seven years ago, I noticed that the lower stakes games were tightening up considerably (as bad players gave up,or died) and the bigger games were getting wilder, and effectively bigger, making it tougher for a grinder like me to deal with the ever-larger swings. So I did what a lot of players did at the time: I took up no limit hold’em, primarily the $300 capped buy-in $1 - $2 blind version of the game. Now I play it just about all the time that I play there, and I’ve learned how to win in that game too. (And I wrote a book about that too, Winning No Limit Hold’em.) But the skills necessary to beat $1 - $2 no limit are very different from the skills necessary to beat the limit game.
I’ve noticed that many players, winners at limit poker, who try to make the switch from limit stud or even limit hold’em to no limit hold’em, have a hard time of it. I know that many are frustrated by their lack of success. I submit that this is often the case because the skills necessary for beating one game are not the same, and are often at variance with the skills necessary to beat the other. Unfortunately, many players take what they’ve learned in limit poker and attempt to apply it to no limit – with negative results.
In this, and my next article, I’ll focus on what I see to be the strategic differences between the limit and no limit game, with suggestions for how to adapt your play successfully. These differences were in stark display the other afternoon during a no limit session I was in. I was fortunate enough to sit to the immediate left of the player with, by far, the deepest stack in any $1 - $2 no limit game in the room. He had, roughly, $1,700. Unlike in limit, where players may buy in for any amount of money, players in this $1 - $2 no limit game are limit to buying in for $300. Huge stacks like this must be built up over time, and make for unusual and very valuable targets.
With his huge stack as my beacon, I carefully worked on my table image – something that is also much more important in no limit than in limit. I needed to make sure that if I ever did have a heads up confrontation, when I had a hand that warranted an allin bet, that he might call it. If he were certain that I was a tight, careful player, who rarely got out of line, then my ability to double up against him – my ultimate goal – would be thwarted. My betting in other hands was influenced by that prime consideration. Unlike in a limit game, when bets are fixed, I could afford in this no limit game to play sub-optimally for small bets, when my goal was to win a colossal pot down the road. I could, for example, call many pre-flop bets of $2, when setting up for a hand when I might win many hundreds of dollars. Similarly, I was much more active than I would typically be in a limit game. I raised out of position to $12 or $15, I re-raised pre-flop to $20 or $25 – not so much with an eye of winning that particular hand with my aggression (though I did enough of the time for the aggression not to cost me too much) but to set up an image of an unpredictable player. This was something I rarely did in my limit game. My hard work paid off. Later in my session, with my stack built up to $800 or so, I had a hand that I knew was far superior to his. I hit a straight on the flop that was disguised by aggression pre-flop – as if I had a premium pair. He called my large bet on the flop and then my huge bet on the turn, incorrectly assuming that he was ahead. I doubled up, turning a very good session into a bonanza!
In my next column I’ll look at some of the mistakes that good limit players often make when they switch over to no limit.
Ashley Adams is the author of Winning No Limit Hold’em and Winning 7-Card Stud. He hosts the radio show House of Cards, broadcast in markets throughout the US and on the Internet at http://www.houseofcardsradio.com. Contact Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org.