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by Bart Hanson |  Published: Jan 22, 2014


Dec 10th — If you constantly top up in capped games you will always look like a big winner even if you are losing in that session

Capped no-limit strategy is a very straightforward topic. Most of the time if you play extremely tight in a full-table format, bet thinly for value, know how to bet/fold, and do not tilt, you can be a winner in the game. The simple fact of the matter is, and I have examined this before, you really cannot call more than four times [the big blind] preflop raises with implied-odds types of hands (like suited connectors) when playing an effective stack of eighty big blinds or fewer (the average stack in these games).

But there are also other live intangibles that will take your game to the next level and maybe increase your win rate by as much as 50 percent. The great casino players do these things, and online guys struggle with them. The biggest and most important of these is the proper exploitation of image.

Image, in a live format, is definitely a short-term function of winning and losing, not looseness or tightness. The simple fact of the matter is that people will stay away from you when they deem you to be “running hot” and will go after you when they think that you are unlucky. It is tough to make a hand in hold’em, so when you have a good image your continuation bets get through more often and you are able to bluff in more situations. Unfortunately, when you are losing, people never believe that you have anything. The proper adjustment that you must make is to play very tight and to go for straight value.

The interesting thing that most people do not consider is that if you have a bad image, you are actually able to make thinner value bets because people will call you with a wider range. If you have a godlike aura, on the other hand, sometimes you need to pull back the reins on your very thin-value bets, because people tend to stay out of your way and you run the risk of value owning (value betting a worse hand) yourself.

But, if we had a choice, we would still always want to have a good image. And in capped games, one of the ways that we can artificially appear to be winning is by always topping up our stack. I use this technique constantly in the $5-$10 blinds, $500-to-$1,500 buy-in game at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles. Whenever my stack goes below $1,400 I always start adding one-hundred dollar chips to replenish my stack to $1,500. I intentionally keep loose chips in my pocket for this purpose. Not only do I always have the max buy-in, so I am as deep as possible especially when I can be against recreational players, but it always looks like I am at least even or winning. In fact I could have $4,000 in front of me and easily be down for the day. I remember a few years ago I had two hands in the same orbit where I was at the losing end of set over set. I was immediately $3,000 in the hole. I lost a few more small pots and suddenly I was stuck $4,000 in the first hour but still always had $1,500 in front of me. Things eventually turned around that session, and about six hours in I had built my stack up to $5,000. A buddy of mine (another winning professional) came by my table and mentioned that I must have been having a big day. He did not know that I was actually down $500 for the session. And my friend was a professional! He knew how these things worked. Imagine what the recreational players thought of me that day.

When you play in the same player pool over a long period of time, this constant topping off also helps your long term image. When people always see you with a lot of chips, they just always assume that win big all of the time. And even though that is not true, it really helps your image on those days when it would otherwise be obvious that you are losing.

Dec 15th — In Stud eight-or-better, if you look like you are going low and run into two pair, most of the time you should bet seventh versus a high card third street open.

Stud high-low is one of my favorite poker games because because it gets players to tilt, and tilt badly. If you are a huge mental-game fish, I would highly suggest not playing the game, as in no other form of poker does the structure require you to draw and basically stay in until the end — no matter how extreme the action — when you catch certain cards. For example, if you start with (ASpade Suit 2Spade Suit) 4Spade Suit, and then catch a 5Spade Suit on fourth street, you are staying until the end no matter how many bets you face or how much money is shoveled into the pot. You can imagine how crazy people get when they call an additional ten big bets on fourth, fifth and sixth streets, only to be dealt the KDiamond Suit, QClub Suit and 9Heart Suit. I have literally seen people crunch and break the river card on multiple occasions.

But besides the ability to keep it cool in hands after these types of situations occur, similar to no limit, great players have higher win rates because of thin-value betting, specifically on seventh street. Stud high-low hands play out even more straightforwardly than stud high only hands, because with high opening hands, it is rarely correct to semibluff. A lot of the time, you will end up chopping the pot, and if your opponent catches a good card by fifth street, you rarely have any fold equity no matter how strong your high board looks (because your opponent is going for low). This means that when a player raises with a king up with several other low cards behind him on third street there is a very good chance that he has split kings or a buried high pair. In stud high, a player could be raising with a hand like KHeart Suit 9Heart Suit 3Heart Suit if the king is the highest card on the board. That dynamic does not exist in stud high-low. So most of the time a high hand actually has what they are representing.

What this means is that if you start low, a high hand will often call you on the river, if he makes it that far, in order to try and chop the pot. This makes it an almost mandatory bet for us with two small pair on seventh if the high player does not have an open pair.

Let us take a look at an example to make it more clear. We are the bring-in (low card) with the 2Club Suit and it gets folded around to a player with the QSpade Suit up, who raises with several low cards behind him. The player is solid so there is about a 99 percent chance that he has a high pair. It gets folded to us and we call with (6Diamond Suit 5Club Suit) 2Club Suit. This is a fairly strong starting hand in stud high-low, but is a dog to split queens right now, so we just call. On fourth street we catch the 5Diamond Suit to pair up and our opponent catches a 10Club Suit. He checks (high acts first), which is almost always correct against our 2-5 board, we bet and he calls. On fifth street we catch the 8Heart Suit, and he catches the 6Club Suit. He checks, we bet and he calls. On sixth street, he catches the 9Spade Suit, and we brick with the JDiamond Suit. He checks to us again, and this time we decide to check it back, knowing that we are a slight dog to a pair of queens. On seventh street, our opponent checks to us (again the right play as we could raise him at the end with any low or high hand that looks likely to beat him, and he would be forced to pay off) and we look down to see the 2Heart Suit. We have backed into two small pair with fives-up. Our opponent is not showing a pair on his board, and is very likely to have split queens. He will also pay us off with a pair of queens because it is so likely that we have a low and he wants to chop the pot.

This value bet with two-small pair is where the men are separated from the boys in stud high-low. Yes, we could end up value owning ourselves and lose to queens-up, but a bet here on the river is correct if we think when called we are good more than fifty percent of the time. For the reasons stated above, our opponent is almost always calling us with just a pair of queens, so this would be a profitable bet. ♠

Follow Bart for daily strategy tips on twitter @barthanson. Check out his podcast “The Seat Open Podcast” on and his video training site specifically for live No Limit players ­— He also hosts Live at the Bike every Tuesday and Friday at 10:30 pm ET at