How to play no-limit Texas hold’em

no-limit texas holdem
Posted on: June 09, 2021 06:49 PDT

No-limit Texas hold’em is the Cadillac of poker, although wildly, the game isn’t technically legal in Texas. It’s the most popular poker game played by a wide margin, and for good reason. The game is fun, exciting, and can be highly profitable if you become a skilled player. But before you get to that level, you must first understand the rules and basic concepts of this great game.

Basic rules of Texas hold’em

Before getting into the no-limit variant, let’s quickly go over the basic rules of Texas hold’em, which apply to all forms of the game, including no-limit. First things first, one player starts the hand with a dealer button in front of them. The player to the left of that individual is the small blind, and must put in a forced bet before the cards are dealt. To the left of the small blind is the big blind, and that player must also put in a forced bet before the cards are dealt. 

The hand then begins with each player at the table being dealt two cards face-down, also referred to as “hole cards.” Based on the strength of those two cards, each player determines if they want to call the value of the big blind, raise, or fold, which is often referred to as pre-flop action.

Those who continued in the hand will see the flop, three community cards that are placed face-up on the table. Another round of betting ensues. Next is the turn, one additional face-up community card with the third round of betting. The hand wraps up with the river, a final face-up community card. After this final round of betting, the player who made the best five-card poker hand between the five community cards and the two hole cards wins the hand.

Definition of ‘no-limit’

There are four types of Texas hold’em played in casinos — limit, spread limit, pot-limit, and no-limit. In NLH, players can wager up to the size of their stack as they’d like at any point in the hand. This is what makes the game so exciting. You can potentially double-up in one hand, whereas it’s virtually impossible to do that in limit hold’em if you have a big stack.

These days, you’ll have a hard time finding a spread limit or pot-limit hold’em game. In pot-limit, you can only bet up to the size of the pot, and in spread limit, your bet is limited to a range of bet sizes. Limit hold’em, otherwise referred to as fixed limit, requires players to bet a set amount and only that amount. That's where no-limit Texas hold’em greatly differs.

How is Texas Hold’em different from regular poker?

Texas Hold’em is a specific type of poker. Regular poker is a larger term that refers to the overall game. Within that genre, there are games like stud poker, draw poker, Omaha, and hold’em. Each of them can have sub-categories as well. Texas Hold’em is a particular game.

Higher stakes and larger pot sizes

Texas Hold’em raises the stakes of the game. In games like stud and draw, betting is limited. In Texas Hold’em, there is a limit version, but those limits reflect the blinds and can be high.

No Limit Texas Hold’em offers the highest stakes, as there is no limit on the bets. You can move all-in at almost any time, risking your entire stack of chips. Bet sizing can vary greatly, from minimum bets to pot-sized bets and all-ins. This allows the pot to grow. Players in no-limit games must be prepared to face big moves and risk all of their chips.

Five community cards

The basic rules of Texas Hold’em include two hole cards, which are private and for your eyes only, and five community cards. The dealer puts those cards in the middle of the table and all players can use them. The goal is to use any of those community cards and your two hole cards to create the best five-card hand.

Community cards appear in a certain order. After you receive your hole cards, the dealer will burn one card and set it to the side, and then deal the three cards that make up the flop. This is also known as third street and when postflop play begins. 

A round of betting ensues, followed by the dealer burning another card and dealing one turn card. This is called fourth street. 

After another round of betting, the dealer burns one more card and deals the river, or fifth street. This completes the board, and the final round of betting leads to the end of the hand.

Four rounds of betting

The first round of betting starts after each player receives their hole cards. Betting begins with the player to the left of the big blind. If you want to play your cards, you must call the amount of the big blind or raise. If you are in the big blind, you may check or call any raise to you, or you can fold to a raise.

The second round of betting is after the flop of three cards. Betting then starts with the person in the small blind. You can check, raise, or fold.

After the turn card appears, the small blind goes first again, and the same options apply. This happens in the same manner after the final river card. This is the last chance to bet.

More skilled gameplay

Texas Hold’em has a skill component inherent in the game, one that often takes poker out of the “games of chance” category to make it a skill game.

You can play the basic poker game and win sometimes, but the more you learn about the strategies of the game, the more you will win. This has been proven through studies and statistics over time. 

By using pod odds and implied odds, game theory, and various strategies, you can become more competitive. It is why hold’em tournaments are such a big part of the game and players can rise to the highest levels through education and study.

Fundamental concepts of no-limit Texas hold’em

The game of no-limit Texas hold’em can be frustrating at times. When the cards aren’t going your way, you can feel miserable. But when you’re hitting everything in sight or your bluffs are getting through, there isn’t a better feeling in poker. 

The best players (think Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, Phil Hellmuth) understand that it’s best to remain level-headed, win or lose. If you get too high or too low in this game, you’ll get eaten alive. Bad beats are a big part of the game, and it’s crucial that you avoid getting too upset after a rough hand. Accept that they’re going to happen from time to time and focus on your goal of becoming a long-term winning player.

Risk vs. reward

No-limit Texas hold’em is an easy game to learn, but a tough game to master. It’s a true gambling game, although skill is very much the main contributing factor long-term. Unlike limit hold’em, you could be putting your entire stack at risk in any given hand. While that might be cause for concern, the flipside is that you could also double your entire stack in any hand. That’s what makes the game so exciting.

There is a risk versus reward component to no-limit Texas hold’em. You have to be willing to risk money to win money, but the payout of taking those risks, once you learn how to play at a high-level, will be more than worth it. There are thousands of people who play this game for a living, many of whom become wealthy playing NLH, or at least make enough to pay their bills.

How to play winning no-limit Texas hold’em poker

No-limit Texas hold’em and limit hold’em strategy greatly differ. In limit, the best players play tight-aggressive, meaning they play a short range of hands but play the pots they enter aggressively. In NLH, aggression is also important, but most winning players expand their hand selection range compared to limit poker.

Beyond that, beating this difficult game requires patience and persistence, and a sizable bankroll. No-limit Texas hold’em is a high-variance game with so many ups and downs. Because you can lose all your chips in one bad unlucky hand, it’s important to have a large bankroll if you play the game for a living, to offset the bad runs.

The best players also focus on table position before entering a hand. Certain marginal hands such as suited connectors (7-8, 8-9, 9-10, etc.) are best played only from late position (on or directly to the right of the dealer button). The reason for that is, late position provides the best bluffing opportunity because you have more information about the holding of your opponent’s hand in that position. Thus, why you should eliminate middling hands in earlier positions and just fold those cards pre-flop.

Key strategies for no-limit Texas Hold-em

It is no secret that factors like position are important for players who want to win in hold’em poker. But the strategies go deeper, and you don’t need to be a professional or high roller to understand them. 

To be a winning poker player, whether in your home game, at your local casino or cardrooms, or in World Series of Poker tournaments, you can learn more about starting hands, table selection, reading your opponents, and raising strategies to improve your win ratio. 

It takes a little time and practice, but these strategies are practical and doable.

Be selective with your starting hands

The best way to learn what starting hands to play in which position is to memorize a chart. Great minds of poker have compiled the statistics, and many poker entities have put them into charts for you to see. 

There are certain factors that affect which starting hands to play: position, whether or not someone bet before you, and how much someone bet, raised, or re-raised. 

It should be obvious that strong hands like pocket aces, kings, queens, and jacks are playable from any position, as is AK suited. Also playable in any position is a pair of tens in the hole, as well as suited A-Q, A-J, and K-Q, and A-K offsuit.

The rest of the moves come with caveats. For example, pocket fours and lower should only play in late position if you are the first to bet. Keep in mind, though, that players must also get a feel for the table, opponents’ tendencies, and your own betting position.

Strategic table selection

In live cash games, you can sometimes choose your table and seat. This isn’t always possible, especially if the poker room is full or if there aren’t enough tables available. Some online poker sites still allow table selection. So, if you can make a choice, there are some strategies to consider.

By watching tables, you may notice the speed at which the table plays. You can watch the players and judge their levels of experience by their betting choices and even table talk. It is also a good idea to watch the pot to get an idea of how much players are wagering in an average hand.

So, if you want to play a lot of hands and find a table that plays in a timely manner, that may be a good choice. However, if you want a lower buy-in, you can choose a slower table and one that keeps the pots small.

Play the players

There is a technique that some poker instructors use when teaching new players. They cover your hole cards and make you play by only watching your opponents. You must read their faces and pay attention to all of their movements and then make your decisions.

The cards are important, especially for new poker players. But it is a key skill to learn to read other players at the table. 

You should watch everything from hand movements to eyes and face tells. A player who riffles poker chips well may have more experience than someone who fumbles with chips. Someone who takes longer to act when holding good hands enables you to determine their hand range before they bet a chip.

This is not as easy in online poker, but live poker presents many ways to find information and take advantage of your opponents when you see a weakness. 

Fold or raise

Folding is the easy part of a strategy, relatively speaking. When you calculate your pot odds and come up short, you should fold. When you fail to hit needed cards on the board, you can fold and move on to the next hand.

Raising is a different story. Many factors determine raises and raise amounts, such as position, hand strength, tells, and pot odds.

While there is an occasional case to be made for calling, the majority of poker lessons will teach you to fold or raise. The use of the call should be rare and only on occasions in which you are absorbing information or holding bad cards. Otherwise, your main choice should be whether to raise or fold when an opponent bets. Calling allows more people to play a hand without having to pay much to do so.

Respect large raises

Bet sizing is a very important part of strategy and gaining experience in poker. You should experiment with bet sizing in smaller games and when you have time to observe how players in different positions and with varying chip stacks respond to raises.

For the most part, large raises are something to be used sparingly. There is no reason to consistently create big pots. With that in mind, pay close attention when a player suddenly bets bigger than usual or raises an amount that is half or more the size of the pot.

Pot odds help with these decisions. By calculating pot odds, you will be able to better choose the amount of money to put into the pot versus how much you can win and how many outs you have. Larger raises, especially above the average bet size, should indicate strength or a calculated bluff.

In either case, tread lightly.

Avoid these common mistakes in no-limit Texas Hold'em

There are times when you want to play an opponent outside of what a strategy chart may dictate. There are occasions for said moves with specific information about an opponent.

However, it is important to keep in mind that poker is more beatable when you use strategy. It can be tempting to play more hands when the action is slow or to test an opponent’s dedication to a hand. But there is also a time to fold ‘em.

Winning the battle but losing the war

The concept of the long game is important in Hold’em. Since skill will prevail over time, patience is everything. Every hand doesn’t need to be the one in which you take your stand. That leans more toward gambling than selective poker.

Even if you are fairly certain you are winning in a particular hand but you have to be all-in to prove it, consider the long game. You should think about looking for a better spot and using strategy to go further, whether in a cash game or poker tournament.

Playing too many starting hands

Live poker can be boring, which makes it easy to play too many starting hands. It is usually not exciting to fold one hand after another as others play and win pots. However, you simply must pay attention to how often you get involved in hands that don’t make sense against the betting charts. 

You’re bored, tired, or you’re stuck. Whether you want to stay awake or just play more hands, choose to take a walk or blast music into your headphones. Keeping boredom at bay will enable you to focus on the important hands and bet responsibly.

Not raising pre-flop

Too many players limp into hands preflop just to see what cards may come on the board. This is acceptable on occasion, but it also allows players to see cheap flops and make a hand on the board for a minimum cost.

As with the rule that players should raise much more often than they call or limp, the same applies to preflop action. If you are in a position to control the betting, do so. This gives you the power and forces others to play against you, rather than you looking for spots to participate.

Control the hands with bets, especially preflop bets, to take charge and control the action. 

Overbetting and underbetting the pot

Pot control is a part of strategy. But betting an appropriate percentage of the pot is also important and should be done according to pot odds and poker equity. It helps adhere to your strategy but also lets players know that you want to control the betting.

It can be tempting to overbet as a bluff, and that can be done occasionally. However, your bets should be within a range — not underbetting or overbetting hands — that indicate you know what you’re doing. Proper bet sizing shows experience and a solid grip on poker strategy. 

Try to develop a plan for strategic overbetting or underbetting, but stick with the proper betting amounts to make the most of your game and money.

The takeaway

Poker may take a minute to learn and a lifetime to master, but everyone at every level can use strategy to increase their chances of winning.

Avoid common mistakes while implementing strategy gives you the upper hand. Better yet, using even the most basic strategy will likely set you apart from your opponents…in a good way.

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