11-30-05, LearnTexasHoldem:

Doyle Brunson No Limit Holdem Tips: Trouble Hands

Question: I regularly play in 5/10 and 10/20 NL holdem online and I was making good money until i started reading more literature... I know that most of the literature teaches an ultratight approach that ultimately creates a "rock" image that makes no money whatsoever. But then there is supersystem which many regard as the book that supposedly breaks you out of this Rock mode and makes you into a looser, more aggressive, unpredictable, and most importantly, winning player. Doyle talks about how calling raises with hands like AJ, AQ, KJ, KQ, etc. are troublesome because of the win a small pot or lose a big one.

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So he recommends calling (or occassionally raising and calling a reraise) with speculative hands like 65s or 79s.

So here is the problem ive faced... Ive called with hands like AJ and learned my lesson, so I tried calling with hands that doyle suggests calling with because they are more "elusive." The problem is (or at least i think this is the problem) is that (Doyle was playing at tables where people were playing with stacks 200+ times the size of the big blind. However online at a 10/20 NL table, the max buy in is 75 big blinds, but the average stack is probably about 50 big blinds. So calling a 5x raise with 65s when all you can win is 45 more big blinds if everything goes really well just cannot make a profit in the long run. You call that raise 10 times and you are nearly broke if you still havent caught a good hand (which is most of the time), and even if you do catch a hand you arent guaranteed to make much money.

So my question is if calling a raise with AQ, AJ, KQ, KJ, etc. is bad and calling with 65s with ultimately leave you with felt because you arent getting anywhere near the correct odds to call due to the low max buyins online, then what are you supposed to call raises with?


This is a really good question, thanks.

His idea is basically that to beat no limit holdem, you need to give yourself some more opportunities to break a player. It is difficult to bust someone for a huge pot in a cash game if you have AA, unless they also have a huge hand like KK. Most of the time you won't make much with those hands. It is important to remember that everything is relative. Doyle Brunson isn't going to fold AJs in his big blind when someone raises from the button.

Likewise, Doyle wouldn't call a tight player's opening raise from early position if he held something like 97s in a tournament. If you follow stringent rules for poker, you won't be dynamic and adaptive enough to make much of a go at it. When looking at any poker strategy question, I try to get people to think about the "whys" and not so much rules: Why would you want to avoid AJ or KJ and why would you want to play those suited connectors? The danger with the AJ is that you'll run into a dominating hand a lose a lot. But is that enough to keep you from ever playing these hands? It shouldn't be. AJ is certainly better than A7, KQ or KJ.

The key to play these well is to be able to get a sense for what the opponents are raising with. It may be incorrect to call someone's preflop raise with AT if that was a really tight player, but AT may be a huge favorite over a maniac raising every other hand. Try to put other player's play into context. A raise doesn't always mean the same thing. You might want to play at only one table online so you can see more.

You need to watch for how often they are raising preflop and from what positions. Also watch carefully how they play post flop. Does the guy relentlessly bet postflop even if his AK missed? If so, you'll need to bare down more against him with your hands since his bet doesn't mean he has anything. Other guys may only bet once on the flop and then check the turn if they don't have anything. With that type of player, call their preflop bet, then see what they do on the turn. Not every pot has to be played to the river.

Next, no limit holdem is a game where it is very difficult to do well if you are the caller. Initiative, being the aggressor/preflop raiser, lends tremendous value since it forces the other guy to make a hand. I would do my best to avoid calling other player's raises if you can (generally speaking -- again, no set rules).

I would go out on a limb and say that 90% of your confrontations should be with you on the giving instead of receiving end; this includes the rest of the hand. If you were to look at your stats, I would guess that sessions you do best are those that you are the bettor on the river, and not the caller. You will lose if you call player's preflop too much with light hands. Do it occasionally, but not too much. I consider a small suited connector heads up against a preflop raiser to be a light hand. I wouldn't consider a small pocket pair against a preflop raiser to be a light hand. Notice that in both cases you have the same chance to "hit" the flop, yet the suited connector when it hits a flop has a draw and the pocket pair has a set, a made hand that will make you money since it is so hard to see.

If you do call with light hands sometimes, try to do it with position (or with multiple opponents). Position helps a ton against a preflop raiser. You can call the flop bet and then get a lot of information from him depending on what he does on the turn. Also, the more the person raises preflop, the more you need to tighten up. Don't try to take a really speculative hand against a preflop raiser if the price is too high. Play a small pot when you can.

Initiative is essential to no limit holdem and part of that means that there is a difference between a raising hand and a calling hand. For example, you may have A7 in the back and everyone folds to you. A7 should be a favorite over the blinds, so you may raise it here with success. On the other hand, if you had A7 in the same spot but someone else raised before you, I would let it go. Another example might be if you have a hand like J9s in late position.

Raising occasionally with this hand is fine, but to call a raise with it in the same spot wouldn't work well. The reason the hand isn't great is because you most likely won't flop anything and you'll just have to fold. With initiative though, the opponent assumes you have a good hand and will most likely muck on the when you bet. If he calls, then you can just check behind him on the turn and get a free card -- position again shows its advantage.

A hand like AJ, KQ, KJ aren't that great against another player's raise, but if no one has raised yet, this are probably the best cards out there. You would be missing out on money if you folded them in fear that someone may have a huge hand. Remember, at no point are you committed for your whole stack. Let's say you raise with the KQ and get reraised a large amount by another player, you can let it go.

Also, if you raise preflop with AJ, get called by a tight player and bet into a flop like A-K-K and get raised, you can play it from there. To play these hands well, again, you need to play more attention to other player's play. Maybe a guy will reraise with middle pocket pairs. In that case I may take a flop with a KQ even if I get reraised some (not my whole stack). If I hit, I'll play it from there. Again, I would look at his betting relative to what he has done before. Postflop play is really important for all these hands. Holdem is a postflop game, not a preflop game. You can play the 97s sometimes for profit, if you can play it well. You can certainly play KQ and AJ for profit if you don't get trapped when you're beat. Try to learn how to make lay downs but also call in tough spots.

Next, you mentioned that chip stack is a factor. That is true. If you have 44 and the raiser only has a little bit of chips left, you might as well put him all in (if you can get heads up). Likewise, trying to take a hand that is speculative and one that needs a big potential return to make it worthwhile isn't the right hand for someone without many chips.

But does this mean that a hand's value is only on the immediate mathematical impact? Not really. Deception is very important in no limit holdem. Part of a hand's value is the lasting impression it leaves in your opponent's minds. For example, 97s may not be statistically profitable against a preflop raiser, but if you beat a player with it just once, you may get much more action the rest of the game. No longer will your opponents be able to rule out what you have when you call behind them. A little of this goes a long way. You should have a good strong game, then also some mixing up hands to spice it up.

Last point, to beat bigger no limit holdem games, you need to be good at manipulating your opponents. Try to work on ways to get more value on your good hands. See if you can trick them more and play more deceptively. Overbet sometimes, underbet sometimes. Limp in sometimes with suited connectors (fold if you get raised). Other times limp in with big hands. And above all, do what has been working for you. Try to keep learning, but take everything with a grain of salt. If you already have a winning strategy, slowly add to it, but not at the cost of turning it into something you aren't comfortable with or can't see the light in; stick to what works.

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