This book by David Sklansky and Ed Miller is a reference about this complex game. I thought I knew the rules before I read this. Now, I know I had not clue what I was doing. Read it if you play poker. It is a demanding but rewarding.
Below is a a selection of my Kindle notes organized arount 10 rules. So 95% of the text is direct copy paste from the book. It is probably hard to get if you have not read the book. But it should be a good selection of punchline to refresh the content if you have.
Rule #1 – Manipulate the pot size
Good players keep the pot small when they are vulnerable, and they build it big when they have the edge. Fundamentally, that’s why they win. Everyone wins and loses pots. Good players win big pots and lose small ones.
If you consistently get it backwards, if you build big pots with bad hands, but keep the pot small with good ones, you’ll get crushed over the long haul. Obvious, right? Except many players frequently get it backwards. They slowplay and milk with their good hands and make too many big, daring bluffs.
Rule #2 –Adjust correctly to stack sizes
The single most important variable in any no limit decision is the size of the remaining stacks. The next most important variable is how loosely or tightly your opponents bet those chips. Every time you have a decision, you should ask yourself, “How much money, on average, can this hand make me?” The first piece of information you need to answer that question is how much money is available to win and how likely it is that you will win it. Then you need to decide what action to take to maximize what you will win. These implied odds ideas are at the root of that winning thought process.
Expectation is at the heart of every no limit decision. You shouldn’t bet a certain amount “because you want to make sure you get called,” or because “you’re trying to look weak.” You should bet that amount because it maximizes your expectation.
Stack sizes can change your decisions dramatically. The same hand, opening with pocket eights in middle position, should be played in three different ways with three different stack sizes. With a short stack in a tournament, maximizing your chance to steal the blinds and antes is the most important consideration, so you should raise all-in. With very large stacks, increasing your chance to win a huge pot if you flop a set is most important, so you should raise a modest amount. But with an in-between stack, about 70 times the big blind, the most important consideration is making sure you don’t get reraised off your medium pair. A poorly-conceived raise can be a gift to your unwitting opponent with a big pair. Raising puts him in the situation where his natural play works out perfectly for him. Don’t do that!
The best strategy with a short stack in cash games is a tight one. You can’t get away with playing for implied odds without money behind, so you have to avoid the small cards and play high percentage hands. With a short stack, you generally raise preflop with one of two outcomes in mind: 1. Stealing the blinds and antes 2. Finding someone willing to gamble with you for all your chips. If you have $50, then the only decision you make is whether to move all-in or fold before the flop.
Keep in mind that your better opponents will look at your remaining stack and try to estimate how much they can get out of you if they hit their draw. Then they will compare that amount to your bet and try to decide whether they can draw profitably or not. Ideally, you want to bet an amount that you know is too much for the likely draws to call, but that is small enough that it might tempt your opponents. When betting good hands with deep stacks, bet enough to make your opponents’ draws unprofitable, but not so much that they won’t often call.
Rule #3 – Play each hand to the best
Whether a hand is playable or not, and how you should play it if it is, depends strongly on numerous factors. Among these factors are the following: • The precise relationships between the size of your stack, the size of your opponents’ stacks, the size of the blinds, and the size of the ante • The starting standards of the players who have entered the pot, as well as those who haven’t yet acted • The postflop tendencies of your opponents, particularly their willingness to make bad folds in large pots or bad calls (or raises) in small ones • The predictability of your opponents’ play, both preflop and after the flop • Your image • The psychological impact previous hands may have had on you or any of the other players
No Limit Hand Values In deep stack no limit, preflop hands have value based mostly on how well they extract money after the flop from your opponents. They don’t have value based on how likely they are to win a showdown. That is, T♠9♠ is a far better no limit hand than K♣5♠, even though K♣5♠ wins a showdown more often when the hands are all-in and pitted against one another. Comparing hands based on how often they win a showdown or on their poker “hand rank” is worse than worthless.
Bread and Butter Hands. These are the hands that you should most like to see when you first look at your cards. They tend to perform well with deep stacks, and they’re usually worth playing. These hands include all pocket pairs, ace-king, suited aces (e.g., A♣6♣), and no gap suited connectors from king-queen suited (e.g., K♥Q♥) down to five-four suited (e.g., 5♠4♠).
Often Playable Hands. These hands are often worth playing, but usually not quite as good as the bread and butter hands. They include ace-queen, kingqueen, any two suited cards jack or higher (e.g., K♦J♦), and one gap suited connectors from queen-ten suited (e.g., Q♥T♥) down to five-trey suited (e.g., 5♣3♣) (four-trey suited also).
Sometimes Playable Hands. These hands are sometimes worth playing, particularly in late position or against bad players. They include any two offsuit cards ten or higher (e.g., K♦T♠), suited kings (e.g., K♠7♠), two gap suited connectors from queen-nine suited (e.g., Q♦9♦) down to five-deuce suited (e.g., 5♥2♥) (four-deuce suited and trey-deuce suited also), and no gap offsuit connectors ten-nine offsuit (e.g., T♦9♠) down to fivefour offsuit (e.g., 5♣4♥).
Rule #4 – Raise smartly before the flop
The six reasons to raise before the flop are: 1. For value 2. For isolation 3. To steal the blinds 4. As a semi-bluff 5. For deception 6. To manipulate the pot size.
Preflop raise sizing is important. Don’t listen to pundits that tell you to keep your raises a constant size. Don’t get lazy and just raise the “table standard.” Controlling your raise sizes intelligently will help you control your opponents, the pot sizes, and many other factors. Make smaller raises in early position, with “small pot” hands, and against players who call too much postflop. Make larger raises in late position, with “big pot” hands, and against players who fold too much postflop. Plenty of other factors are worth considering as well — how your opponents will read your raise size, whether you want your opponents to call or fold (though be careful with this one), and more. And always mix up your play enough to stay unreadable. Seemingly random raise sizes are just as unreadable as constant ones, but they allow you more freedom, control, and profit.
Don’t raise an amount that will leave you unsure of how to respond to a reraise.
If a raise is only two percent of your stack, you need not raise with all your strong hands, and you need not necessarily have a strong hand to raise. If a raise is twenty percent of your stack or more, you should typically raise with all your strong hands and rarely otherwise.
In general, you should semi-bluff with the best hands that you would not ordinarily have played.
You should prefer semi-bluffing with queen-eight suited over seven-deuce offsuit, because those times your semibluff gets called, your hand has more value. Moreover, you should prefer semi-bluffing with queen-eight suited over queen-jack suited because queen-jack suited is a profitable calling hand. To justify semi-bluffing with queen-jack suited, you must show not only that the bluff will be profitable, but also that it will be more profitable than merely calling, a tougher standard.
Rule #5 – Raise smartly after the flop
If your preflop raise is called behind you, check a lot of flops.
It is often right to check (and call with) a good hand on the river as long as you think that your opponent will more likely bet (usually a bluff) a worse hand than yours than call with one.
Check-raising is usually a powerful move. Betting out often gives away less information about the strength of your hand.
Generally speaking, if you will have to fold to a check-raise, the more value your hand has, the less likely you should be to semi-bluff with it. While this conclusion is highly counter intuitive, the explanation is not. The first EV equation (the one that calculates the value of bluffing) doesn’t depend on the value of your draw. The second one, however, does. The more valuable your draw, the higher the EV of checking. The higher the second equation goes, the less attractive bluffing becomes. Some ways your draw can have more value than usual: • The draw has lots of outs • The stacks are large • Your opponent is a “caller” • The draw is to the nuts.
Rule #6 – Leverage position
Position is such an important advantage that no one can win consistently playing a great majority of their hands from out of position. Being too willing to play out of position is a big mistake.
Being out of position, whether absolute or relative, hurts you in two major ways: it often forces you to commit to marginal hands without much information (or fold the best hand), and it sometimes prevents you from concealing the strength of your big hands.
Absolute position, playing from or near the button, is valuable. But so is relative position. Indeed, getting to watch all your opponents respond to a bet before you have to is often more valuable than having the button. Before you enter a pot, think about who the likely flop bettor will be. Think about your hand and what flops can come. Will the position of the likely bettor put you in a tough situation, or will it allow you to exploit your opponents? A little forethought about relative position will allow you to avoid potentially sticky situations while putting the squeeze on your unwitting opponents.
As a good player, you’ll bet, call, and raise more often when you have position. This statement is true both for absolute and for relative position. Playing hands out of position is riskier, and so fewer hands will be profitable. And when you do play a hand out of position, they will know that you have a stronger hand than average. Use the call bluff as a tool of oppression when you have the button.
If you are last to act and are worried about being check-raised as a bluff, you should check some decent hands you might otherwise bet for value against a more straightforward player. If you are first to act, you should tend to bet an amount large enough to discourage your opponent from bluff-raising you, but not so large that you lose too much when you are beaten.
Rule #7 – Take advantage of opponent habits
Don’t give action to tight and trapping players. Know who not to play big pots against.
When you raise for value (because you think your hand is the strongest), make bigger raises against straightforward players. Straightforward players tip you to their big hands earlier and more reliably. As a result, you can get away from bad situations more quickly and cheaply.
Make bigger raises against players who fold too much postflop. Some players, particularly many who play medium-sized games, are too timid. They fold too much. Or, more specifically, they call preflop raises liberally with marginal hands, but then fold to the big bets on later streets far too often. They know that big pots and big bets usually mean big hands, and, when they look down, they never seem to see a hand that’s big enough. These are some of the easiest no limit opponents to beat. Raise preflop when you have position. Your hand isn’t so important because they’ll so often be folding. Then, you essentially make big bets until they fold. Obviously, you shouldn’t just bluff off your stack to them every time they make a hand; you need to do some hand reading. Bluff when they are likely to be weak, and check it down when they seem stronger. But with position, aggression, and their folding tendencies on your side, you’ll end up with most of the pots.
Loose players, both passive and aggressive ones, are your ideal opponents, the ones you make your money from, and you should attack them. Don’t play overly defensively against them. Isolate them with raises before the flop. Play lots of hands (in position) against them. Bluff less often. Don’t bluff as often against opponents who call a lot.
Rule #8 – Read hands
“Given how I’ve played the hand so far, what might my opponent think I have?” Or, “Given what my opponent knows about how I think, what might he think that I think he has?” Or even, “Is he trying to deceive me, and if so, what does he want me to think he has? And, therefore, what sort of hand might he actually have?”
That’s why it’s so important to think about not only what your opponent might have, but also what your opponent might think you have, and how your opponent might interpret your bets.
Big bets and calls are telling. Small bets and calls aren’t nearly so. Thus, you sometimes have the opportunity to “pay” for information by making a somewhat larger bet than you otherwise might. If your opponents will call $15 with lots of hands, but $30 with only good ones, it often behooves you to bet $30. You don’t do it because the $30 bet makes you more profit; you do it because it helps you to save a large chunk of your stack when beaten.
If someone makes a big bet on the flop into multiple players, typically he will have a good, but not great, hand. This idea should be obvious if you think about it, but it’s still a powerful hand-reading trick. A big bet says three things, “I’m not particularly afraid of one or two players calling,” “I don’t want all of you to call,” and “I wouldn’t mind winning the pot right now.” Only a player with a good, but not great, hand would say all of these things.
If someone bets the flop and gets two or more calls, anyone who bets a significant amount on the turn should get respect. Betting the turn after the flop was bet and called in several places is a powerful move. Anyone who makes such a bet is essentially saying, “I’m prepared to play a large pot, and the threat of someone with a deep stack calling or raising doesn’t worry me.”
If someone bets into several players, and you have a hand that is somewhat likely to be best, but unlikely to improve, you often have to fold.
Rule #9 – Win the battle of mistakes
Whenever your opponents guess in critical situations, you’re looking good. Sometimes they’ll guess wrong, and you’ll be rewarded with their stack.
Good no limit players magnify their opponents’ weaknesses and make plays to which the expected response is a mistake. Good players also actively avoid falling into situations where they are likely to make a mistake. Bad no limit players make things easy on their opponents by making plays to which the expected response is also the correct response. Bad players also don’t plan ahead, and they wander into traps set by their opponents.
Manipulate your opponents in a way that gets them to play the way you want them to play. Put them on tilt. Put them at ease. Get them drunk. Make them feel sorry for you. Make them fear you. If you give your opponents enough opportunities to make mistakes, they’ll make some.
You can use your opponents’ pigeonholing tendencies against them. Encourage your opponents to stick a label. Making obvious errors to induce costly errors (either later on in that hand or in a future hand) is a valuable no limit tactic.
Bet more than your opponents can call profitably, but don’t bet so much that you blow your opponents off their hands. Bet an amount that entices them to make a bad call.
Rule #10 – Bluff from times to times to be unreadable
Most competent players will be familiar with the basic poker tells: “Weak means strong,” “Bluffers stay stiff and quiet,” “Nervous behavior often means a strong hand,” and more. 47 If you choose your spots wisely, you can make some extra money in no limit by faking one of these well-known tells to induce a mistake.
Occasionally pretend to think when you have an automatic play. (Don’t do it too often, though, or you’ll unnecessarily slow the game down.)
A bluff involves two components: having a hand (or range of hands) in mind that your opponent might have, and betting enough to get your opponent to fold those hands. You don’t bluff to get your opponent to fold. You bluff to get your opponent to fold if she has a specific hand (or a specific range of hands). So when sizing a bluff, first decide what hands you are targeting. Then size the bluff to get the job done.
When bluffing on the turn and river, maximize the size of your turn bluff while still leaving enough for a credible river bluff. The threat of a big bet is more powerful than the big bet itself. Bluffs are most effective when the threat of an even bigger and harder-to-call bet looms on the horizon.
Embrace it. Different hands in different situations call for differently-sized raises. If you are worried about giving away information, you need only to mix up your play occasionally.
Most of your actions should include an inherent randomness against perceptive opponents.
Don’t get trapped with a fourth street top pair in multiway checked pots.
Don’t call in protected pots without a very good hand.
Sometimes you should limp behind limpers with pocket aces.
Sometimes you can try for a deep check-raise with the nuts (or close to it).
Ace-king is a powerful “move-in” hand, and frequently moving in preflop is by far the best play with it.
It’s ok to limp in, planning to fold to a raise. It’s sometimes ok even when you think a raise is likely.
The button is the true bread and butter position in no limit. In many games you can play an extremely wide range of hands from the button, even for a raise. Reserve total trash for the button only.
When semi-bluffing before the flop, usually do it those times you have one of the best hands that you’d otherwise fold. However, when you are in the blinds in an unraised pot, you should usually do it when you have one of your worst hands.
With strong hands, generally raise either a small, pot-building amount or a large, hand-defining amount. Don’t raise an amount in the middle that both tells your opponent that you have a good hand and offers them the right implied odds to try to beat you.
Your implied odds with any draw will be better the less obvious the draw is.
Unusually small bets tend to be made either with a big hand (a suck-in bet) or with a bluff (a cheap stab at the pot). With one pair, your opponents will usually either check or bet a larger amount.
Know when a hand (even a good one) has more value as a bluff catcher.
When in doubt, bet more.