Implied Pot Odds
In limit games, the bets are fixed and the implied pot odds are quite near the current pot odds. In no-limit poker it's much more difficult to estimate the final size of the pot. For example, you have a flush draw against one opponent, there is $10 in the pot on the flop and your opponent bets $10. The current pot odds are 1:2 and the winning odds, somewhat rounded, are 1:4.
According to the current odds, you have to fold. Everything depends on the presumptions you make concerning the betting from now on. If you assume your opponent is going to fold in case a third suited card comes out, the implied pot odds are the same as the current odds and the draw is not profitable. However, if you can assume your opponent will call $20 both on turn and river, the pot will increase by $40, the implied odds are 1:6 and you can play your draw.
Protecting Your Hand
In loose limit games, draws used to get correct pot odds and nothing can be done about it. In no-limit games you can protect your pair, two pair or trips by determining the size of your bet and in that way defining the odds you’ll give to the draws.
Suppose you have A-K in the pocket and the flop is K-9-2. For simplicity, there is only one opponent and you know he has a flush draw. Thus you have to protect your pair with a proper bet. According to the common understanding, you should try to win the pot immediately by betting so much that your opponent has to fold. The idea is wrong for two reasons.
In poker, as in other games, the goal is to implement optimal playing strategy. Because some of the cards are not exposed, the information is not complete. The decisions are based on assumptions, they are not exact, and as a result, the strategy will not be the optimal one. In practice, the goal is to follow as optimal a strategy as possible against players whose decisions are more inexact. Further extended, you have to provide your opponents tempting opportunities to deviate from their optimal strategy.
Let's suppose in the example above, that there is $15 in the pot and the winning odds are 1:4. If you bet $5, the draw gets pot odds of 1:4. It will win $20 once and lose 4x$5=$20. In the long run, the result will be absolutely nothing. Therefore, you have to bet more and offer the draw inferior odds. For example, if you bet $7, the draw gets pot odds of 1:3 winning once $22 and losing 4x$7=$28. In the long run, the draw is going to lose $1.20 per game. Consequently, your pair is going to win 4x$22=$88 and lose once $7 making $16.20 per game. If you bet so much that the draw will fold, you are going to make only $15 per game. In all, the optimal bet is as high as your opponent is willing to call (except in tournaments, where you can be better off winning the pot immediately).
In practice you can never be perfectly sure about your opponent’s hand. In the example above he could have a set instead of the flush draw. If you bet too much, your opponent is going to fold his draw but raise with a set. In other words, if you bet too much, you are going to win less and lose more.
Generally, it's quite difficult to define the optimal size of your bet, because it depends on the assumptions your opponent will make. If you bet $10 on the flop in the case above and your opponent assumes you are going to call $10 both on the turn and the river, even if his draw is completed, the implied pot odds are 1:4.5 and playing the draw is profitable. Therefore, you should never give your opponents only marginally inferior odds. In this case, something like 2/3 or 3/4 of the pot, or $10, may be a quite optimal bet.
In no-limit games, the pots are so big that the result of the whole playing session may depend on one single hand. In loose fixed-limit games, a tight, solid strategy is good enough. In no-limit games you have to be able to read your opponents and take advantage of sophisticated tactical moves.
For instance, bluffing is seldom successful in fixed-limit games, because there are usually several players in the pot and calling is going to cost only one single bet. In no-limit poker,
bluffing and semi-bluffing are essential strategic tools. When bluffing, you have to make a reasonable bet, but not too heavy, because the threat of getting trapped is always lying in wait. Betting the size of the pot is usually frightening enough.
Slowplaying is also more important in no-limit poker. In fixed-limit games, you can win only a couple of extra bets by slowplaying and risking your strong hand. In no-limit games the bets are much bigger and slowplaying can – if you get somebody betting or bluffing with a second-best hand – be a very profitable move.
Check-raising can also be very profitable in some situations. Suppose you have A-9 in the pocket and the board is 9-4-3. You are going to protect your vulnerable highest pair betting 3/4 of the size of the pot. If the next card is an A and you are not afraid of draws, you may now check, waiting for someone to bet – either with a pair of aces or as a naked bluff – and go for a reraise.
Mistakes Are Costly
In passive fixed-limit games, you may play a marginal hand to the showdown, costing only 6 small bets. Expensive, but still tolerable. In aggressive no-limit games, one hand can cost you your whole stack.
For example, such starting hands as AJs, ATs, KQs, KJs and QJs are worth a raise in an unraised pot. If an A, K or Q comes on the flop, the Q, J or T is generally strong enough as a kicker. On the other hand, if the pot is raised from early position, you have to play these starting hands more as drawing hands. An early position raiser usually has AK or AQ, less often a high pair. In this case the Q, J or T may not hold up as a kicker. In no-limit games, playing the highest pair to the river and losing because of a lower kicker can become very expensive.
The Importance of Position
In fixed low-limit games, there is usually just one raise. You can stand calling one more bet. In no-limit games, the raises are bigger, usually three bets. You have to fold draws and small pocket pairs and, if you've already called one bet, your bet is lost. Therefore, in no-limit games, starting hands like this are playable only in late position.
Suited connectors need at least four opponents in an unraised pot to be played profitably. The main goal is to flop a draw. A completed playable hand – flush, straight, two pair or trips – is flopped only 1:17. Suited connectors (7-8) flop a flush draw or an open-end straight draw 1:5. One-gap suited connectors (6-8) do it 1:6. Notice also, that in no-limit games it is more difficult to get correct pot odds for a draw on the flop, even if four opponents have been in the pot before the flop.
In early position, you can play only the very best starting hands, like AA, KK, QQ and AK, possibly even JJ and AQ, because these hands have to hold against a possible reraise. It's very important to raise with these starting hands.
First, e.g. a pair of aces wins heads-up 4:1, against two opponents about 2:1, againsts four players about 1:1, and against the whole table less than 1:2. The correct strategy is to raise and get it heads-up. Because of the raise, the pot will be of the same size but the winning odds are considerably higher. The optimal raise before the flop may be about four bets. It’ll kick out the draws but allows usually someone to call.
Second, if you have raised, you are able to read your opponents more accurately. If the flop comes with 4-7-8 and the pot was raised before the flop, you know the board is safe. In an unraised multiway pot, this kind of flop could have given somebody a straight or a straight draw, two pair or a set. With an overpair, it is extremely important to read your opponents accurately, because it is difficult to fold, even if the board is threatening, you have to bet aggressively and can get trapped.
The only exceptions are AA and KK that you can slowplay if there is a very aggressive player behind you. You hope he will raise first and you can reply with a reraise. In a multiway pot you can double his raise, heads-up you can wager more, maybe as much as there is in the pot.
Money makes the world go round, but in some situations a small stack can be advantageous. With a monster hand, it is naturally important to make use of its whole potential and to be able to bet as much as the opponents can stand. On the other hand, if you feel unsure how to play after the flop, a small stack is a way to limit the costs of your mistakes. Especially with draws, it's advantageous to be of modest means.
Let's suppose you have 6-7 in the big blind, the flop is A-2-9, and there is $35 and two opponents in the pot. One of them bets $35, probably with a pair of aces. The other one folds. If you now have in front of you only something like $20, you can throw them to the pot, because you are getting two more cards with them, the winning odds are 1:2 and the pot odds nearly 1:3.
Generally, a beginner may reserve his stack bearing the risk of losses in mind. An experienced player should think more about the opportunities to profit from a big stack by taking advantage of the sophisticated tactical moves no-limit poker frequently offers.