Poker Coverage: Poker Tournaments Casino News Sports Betting Poker Strategy

Poker Strategy -- The Top Five No-Limit Hold'em Lessons

Ed Miller Breaks It Down To The Basics


Ed MillerIf I were teaching a new player to play no-limit hold’em, and my goal were to get this player up to a professional level of play, how would I do it? What would my lessons look like?

Let’s say I had only three months to do it. With most people, I will admit, it would be a tall order. The learning curve is steep these days, and I don’t think everyone could make it from zero to pro in that short a time.

I’d have to make compromises. I couldn’t try to cover every possible situation. I’d have to find the important bits and skip the rest.

I’d also have to tailor the lessons a bit to a specific type of game. The most important skills in some game types are not as important in others. With this in mind, here are what I think my top five lessons would be for a new player trying to beat the $2-$5 no-limit hold’em games in Las Vegas.

Lesson No. 1. Don’t limp into pots ever. And don’t call preflop three-bets unless you are trapping with an ultra-premium hand.

Limping into pots, calling the preflop raise, and then check/folding the flop when you miss is an enormous leak. It’s also one that nearly every player who hasn’t been specifically coached out of it exhibits.

In my opinion, most players would see an immediate improvement in their winrates if they simply refused to limp in with any hand, especially if they chose to instead fold most of these hands.

For most players, refusing ever to limp means playing much tighter, particularly from out of position. Until you’re already an established pro player, tighter is better.

Lesson No. 2. Don’t pay off big turn and river bets.

This lesson might be different in some types of games, but in the Las Vegas $2-$5 games, it’s easily a candidate for the single most important piece of advice. Do not pay anyone off. When someone makes a big turn or river bet or raise, your one pair hand (or whatever other hand you’re thinking about calling with) is a bluff-catcher. That means, in the great majority of cases, your opponent won’t be trying to make a value bet with a worse hand. Either you’re beat or your opponent is bluffing. And players in these $2-$5 games do not bluff often enough to make calling worthwhile.

So you don’t pay off. I know it can be frustrating to feel like you’re getting muscled out of a huge pot, but the fact is, most players in these games do very little muscling. They try to make hands, and then they bet the hands they make. A big bet usually means a big hand. You don’t need to call to find out for certain.

Lesson No. 3. Your opponents will limp into pots, call raises, and check/fold flops. Take advantage of this weakness by raising lots of hands with position, betting the flop, and often also betting the turn.

It’s a simple play, but it’s one that generates a very consistent profit in these games. Players play too loosely preflop, are too willing to call preflop raises after limping in, and are too willing to check/fold the flop or turn if they miss. With many players, you can ignore your cards and raise the limps, bet nearly all flops, and bet most turn cards as well.

Say two typical players limp in a $2-$5 game. You raise to $25 on the button. Both limpers call.

The flop comes 10Heart Suit 8Diamond Suit 2Diamond Suit. They check, and you bet $50. One player calls.

The turn is the 5Spade Suit. Your opponent checks, you bet $120, and he folds.

In this scenario, and in many like it, it doesn’t matter what you have. Your opponents are beating themselves by playing call/call/fold so often. All you have to do is put the bets out there and let your opponents run repeatedly into the brick wall.

Yes, there is some nuance to this, and some boards are better bets than others. But against many opponents at the $2-$5 level, most flops, turns, and even rivers are good bets. Keep betting until your opponents prove to you that they won’t beat themselves by folding too much.

Lesson No. 4. With value hands, don’t try to blow opponents out of pots. Instead, play most value hands with the goal of keeping a player in through the river.

Value hands — hands like top pair, two pair, or any other hand you think is a favorite to be best — lose their value when all your opponents fold. If you win without a showdown, you might as well have been holding 7-2. (See Lesson No. 3.) With your value hands, you generally want opponents to get to the river.

Most players like to see showdowns if they feel like they can see them without losing too much money. No one likes to fold and think, “What if I was good?” If your opponents get to the river, often it’s an easy sell to get them to call a final value bet (as long as you don’t make it too big).

Calling these value bets is one of the biggest mistakes that $2-$5 players make. (See Lesson No. 2.) Allow your opponents to make this mistake.

Most players try to end hands early when they feel like they have the best hand. “Don’t want to get drawn out on,” they think. But this is backward thinking. End hands early with strong bets when you have nothing but a weak draw. Allow hands to reach showdown when you actually have something to show down! (Makes sense when I put it that way, doesn’t it?)

If I have top pair, I’d much rather get called for $30, $50, and $80 on flop, turn, and river than get called for $30 and then blow my opponent out of the hand with a $100 bet on the turn. The chance to win $160 with the hand instead of $30 outweighs the risk that I’ll get outdrawn.

Lesson No. 5. Think every hand about what strategies your opponents are using and how they’re thinking, and (almost) ignore the two cards in your hand.

I’ll put it bluntly. Most $2-$5 players beat themselves. They tend to play strategies that are extremely transparent, overly simplistic, and inflexible. You can beat some of these players simply by betting every time it’s your action (See Lesson No. 3.) You can beat other of these players simply by waiting for hands that beat top pair/no kicker and then making value bets. (See Lesson No. 4.)

Your job as a poker player is to identify the strategy each opponent is using and deploy a counter strategy. In many cases, the two cards in your hand become irrelevant. My experience is that the players that are always thinking about their hands never figure it out. It’s the players who are thinking on the next level that do. ♠

Ed’s newest book, Playing The Player: Moving Beyond ABC Poker To Dominate Your Opponents, is on sale at Find Ed on Facebook at and on Twitter @EdMillerPoker.



over 9 years ago

don't like lesson 1. i think you need to mix it up by limping sometimes. if you raise every single hand you play people will pick up on this and start three betting, putting you in a tough spot if you raised with nothing. by limping this lets you see a cheap flop. also this only applies to early position. always open for a raise in late position.


5 years ago

I agree with you that it is good to mix it up. I like to play a tight game when out of position, but I love to make a small 3 or 4 bet in late position to try to narrow the field - many times I am able to take down the pot right then. Course if I have a monster hand I will change that strategy of play up a bit to build the pot. Mixing it up is worthy for people to understand as its importance is significant, you never want an opponent to be able to predict your game of play. I agree with you on #1. Cheers!


over 9 years ago

but by always raising they won't ever know the true strength of your hand so you will still have an edge on them if they 3 bet you. You can 4 bet, fold or even call in position to make them play a big pot from a bad spot. If you raise most of the time and then limp you are giving away some information about your hand strength and hurting your game overall. Also by raising you are forcing people to further identify their hand strength.


over 9 years ago

1) I think it depends on your session length and how familiar your opponents are with you. You will notice that he indicated 2-5 in Vegas, which would imply a very wide range of players at the table .. possibly 1 or 2 that might know you. And also requires you to play tighter .. something a lot of us dont want to do when we are playing on a limited 'time' budget.
2) If you insist on limping, I agree that you have to be willing to fold/not pay off the 'I have it' bets on Turn and River when you dont hit or the board is messy relative to your holding. Are you ever priced into a call at 1-2 or 2-5 when you know you are behind? Are we never to 'gamble'?
3) I generally have 2 raise sizes, one for early to middle and one for middle to late. And 'barreling' tends to work for a bit, but when you have to start showing down or folding as the session gets longer or players get more familiar with you then I feel this can start costing you chips ... thus item 5, play the player not your cards.
4) I try to value bet, but sometimes you just want to take it down on a messy board or you have an opponent who is wiling to call larger value bets consistantly ... thus item 5, play the player.
5) As I indiated earlier, the longer the session with similar players they will try to attack your robotic/repetitive style and I generally change my style a bit every 4 to 5 orbits just to keep people guessing.

I have one regular that I play with and he is a huge Turn and River over-bettor and generally he gets a decent stack early in his sessions, but eventually he gets chased down or trapped and ends up with 1 or 2 rebuys more than he books wins.

As a marginally successful part time 1-2/1-3/2-5 player I would modify the liat a bit:
1) LESS limping and flat calling raises (play tighter)
2) Lose the pride - stop the payoffs in marginal spots
3) Raise late and barrel with wide range .. take it down or 'flop the world'
4) Size value bets to opponent's willingness to continue the hand
5) Know your opponent - adjust accordingly

If you were to add one, I would say:

6) Don't change your play if you are up or down big .. just because you have a stack doesn't mean you need to use it. I see lots of players change their raise sizes if they are up or down to try and play larger pots to 'catch up' or 'ride the wave'.

All of these rules can counter each other opponent dependent, but I generally do way much better against unknown opponents and when I can sit down for a longer than normal session ... That is a recipe for Vegas poker, not your local card room. I play in 2 different rooms regularly and the robots don't survive very well but these general guide lines are easily forgotten ... Thanks for the list!!


over 9 years ago

Respect Ed as a player and writer, have couple of his books. I've played NLH successfully from small stakes up to $25-50NL.

Agree with alot of these points and agree with Lesson #1 for online and higher NL games.

That said, in $2-5 games & below, there is fair amount of limped pots. Speculative hands have great implied value vs plyrs who get married to weak flopped hands which limped behind (& wldve probably folded to a pre flop raise.) Guys at this level will still routinely stack off with 1pr/overpairs. Hate to raise ep with small pairs etc & then either have to fold to a big raise or have to see flop expensively.

If pot is bloated preflop, I want to be in position & have initiative. Out of position, I prefer to have smaller pots preflop so I have more room to work to play later streets. Plyrs at this level give away alot in their bet sizing. Even if I've airballed flop calling a raise with 89s, I still often glean alot from opponents to steal later.

To me, later streets is where the best players thrive. By the river, a good player has firm idea of whether he is value betting or bluffing AND sufficient read of opponents to know how they will respond.

Bottomline, if players employ a strict fit or fold style OOP then Lesson #1 applies more. If player has good postflop skills, there is alot value in keeping pot small OOP & outplaying opponents postflop


over 8 years ago

Best advice so far!! i followed every step to a tee. entered into this small $2500 guarantee and took it down!! Thanks for the tips they work!


over 8 years ago

I disagree entirely limping is a good thing especially if your hand is the kind that can crush ak qq or 1010. Your hand range regardless of position is q10 56s j9s pocket 22.. By raising with these hands you initiate aggression and pay more when you miss the flop entirely and further more with a hand like j9s it can be dangerous. Say you get a flop like q k 4 with 2 spades and your suited in spades. Great flop for you a flush draw and straight draw ak king just hit his top pair but because you raised you paid triple to see the flop and have to pay even more to see the the turn and river and ak could be suited to. Your vulnerable here and you may hit and win a big pot but if you limped you would win a decent pot or just lose a little when you miss. Rasing pre flop get's rid of draw and flush chasers when you have 99 or pocket kings but when you have a baby pair or a drawing hand by all means limp away.


over 8 years ago

I think raising from early position is a great thing with hands like a10s pocket 66 and above and even kj of-suit. I thin ed is a poker genius but we all have our own methods to the madness. Sometimes calling to see if a player has it is a good thing because it tells you info that you can use later on which will allow you to break even on your previous bet and eventually profit from your newly gained information. If it's no limit then I guess you could go broke probably a better idea to call in low limit just to see what's what.