5 No Limit Hold'em Tips the Pros Don't Want You to Know

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

Becoming a winning poker player is not easy, but it’s not overly complicated either.

While some players would have you believe that you need to be either a math wizard or have some near-psychic abilities to achieve success in this game, the reality is much more prosaic.

All you have to do instead is follow a basic winning poker strategy and have the discipline to follow through with it, even when it’s not producing the results you may be hoping for.

This article will show you 5 pieces of advice to follow to achieve success in this game, especially when it seems that there’s some piece of the puzzle you may be missing.

The pros don’t want you to know that the “secrets” to winning poker are actually quite simple.

With that in mind, let’s get right into the tips.

1. Wait for a Big Hand and Get Paid

Contrary to popular belief, winning poker is not all about making huge, daring bluffs, hero calls with Ace-high hands, or reading into your opponent’s soul and calling out their exact hole cards.

While these make compelling movie scenes, the reality of winning poker is a lot more mundane.

Winning poker is about discipline and making logically sound decisions day in and day out.

And this includes folding. Lots and lots of folding.

The fact is, most of the money you’ll win throughout your poker career won’t come from outwitting and/or outplaying your opponents, but from you having a better hand than them and extracting maximum value from it.

In other words, most of your money you’ll earn from poker will come from your strong value hands.

A value hand is the one that can get action from a lot of weaker hands in your opponent’s range.

Betting for value is the opposite of betting as bluff, where you want your opponents to fold hands that are stronger than yours.

If you’re using a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4, you can see how much money you won or lost by checking your long term graph that shows your showdown and non-showdown winnings.

The majority of the money won will come from your showdown winnings by a huge margin.

Therefore, the key to long term success in this game is learning to value bet properly, i.e. extracting as much value as possible when you have the strongest hand, and losing a minimum amount when you don’t have the best hand.

This is discussed in much more detail in Crushing the Microstakes.

The bad news is, you won’t have the best hand most of the time. The very fact that you’re usually playing against a table full of other players makes this obvious.

Strong value hands don’t come around often in no-limit hold’em, so you need to be patient before you get it.

And once you do, you’ll need to make sure you get your money’s worth with it.

A lot of players make the mistake of slowplaying their big hands, hoping to trap their opponents.

Slowplaying is the act of playing your strong hands passively, i.e. checking and calling instead of betting or raising in order to conceal your hand strength.

This is usually a bad idea, because what ends up happening most of the time is you winning only a small pot at best, and letting your opponent outdraw you at worst.

Check out Nathan’s article on when slowplaying is actually the best play.

More often than not, though, it’s better to play your strong hands straightforwardly, i.e. betting and raising.

Let your opponents think you’re bluffing, and let them make the mistake of calling when they shouldn’t, instead of relying on them to bet when they shouldn’t.

Most players, especially at the lower stakes, tend to play passively, so relying on them to build up the pot for you is generally a bad idea.

The only exception to this rule is playing against maniacs who love to splash chips around left and right.

Check out my recent article on how to beat loose and aggressive (LAG) players.

Now for the bad news. While most of your money will come from your strong value hands, these strong hands don’t come around nearly as often as you might hope for.

So while waiting around for one, you’re going to have to fold a lot.

And by a lot, I mean roughly 80% of the time.

In no-limit hold’em, most hands miss most flops (2 out of 3 times, to be precise).

So you should only play hands that have a reasonable chance of connecting with the flop, and dump the rest.

It’s going to be way easier to make a strong value hand postflop with strong hands than with some random junk.

For example, a hand like JT has way more ways to connect with the flop than a hand like J4♠.

The former can make strong combinations like straights and flushes, while the latter will miss the flop completely a large majority of the time.

In other words, the former is far more versatile and playable than the latter.

Of course, any hand can theoretically smash the flop, but usually it won’t. So the more hands you play, the more often you miss, and the more money you lose.

I won’t get too deep into which hands you should actually play.

Check out Nathan's free poker cheat sheet to see EXACTLY which poker hands to play for more info on the topic.

Folding 80% of the time may seem boring, and fair enough. 

But as mentioned, winning poker is about discipline. And enduring a bit of boredom to win some money seems like a fair tradeoff.

Now, if you only want to have fun, you can play just about any hand that’s dealt to you. You just can’t expect to make any money that way.

Check out Nathan's recent video on the 5 underrated poker hands you should be playing more often.

2. Don't Play in Games Without Poker Fish

You don’t have to be the best poker player in the world to make money in this game. You just have to be the best poker player at your table.

This means you should only play in games you have a reasonable chance of beating over the long run.

And the single easiest way to do so is to find games with plenty of recreational players around.

A recreational poker player mainly plays for fun and takes the game far less seriously than a professional or a semi-professional poker player.

They would prefer to win, of course, but aren’t willing to put a lot of effort into improving their game.

In fact, a number of players don’t even see the point in doing so, because they believe poker is all about luck in the first place.

There’s nothing wrong with playing poker recreationally, of course. 

In fact, very few players are actually able to make a living playing poker, and it’s certainly not feasible for a large majority of people.

But again, you don’t need to be a full time poker pro to make some decent money in this game.

As long as you put some effort into improving your game, you’ll already be ahead of a large majority of players who don’t make any effort into improving their game whatsoever.

Then, you just have to find games with said players (aka the fish) and let your skill edge manifest over enough iterations.

Even the world class professionals don’t battle it out exclusively with other world class professionals.

They also choose games where they have an edge over their opponents. But since they’re the best in the world at what they do, they have an edge in virtually all games they choose to play.

But the point still stands. If you’re the sixth best poker player in the world, and you play exclusively against the top five players in the world, guess what? You’re still going to be a losing player.

At the end of the day, your success in this game is measured in the dollar amounts won or lost, not your overall skill or expertise.

That’s the harsh reality, but there’s a silver lining.

You don’t need to be exceptionally talented to achieve long term success, whether it be poker or any other endeavour. 

You just need to know the limits of your skills, and find games in which you have a significant skill edge.

In poker terms, this means choosing the appropriate stakes based on your skill edge, your risk tolerance, your bankroll, as well as the goals you’re trying to achieve in this game.

If your goal is just to have fun, then just play whatever you feel like would be the most fun to you.

But if your goal is to make money, you’ll need to put in a lot more effort.

This means leaving your ego at the door, and potentially dropping down in stakes if you’re not beating your current limit.

You don’t get any points by playing higher limits beyond your skill edge or beyond your bankroll. It’s better to be a winning player at the lower limit than a losing or breakeven player at the higher limit.

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3. Don’t Bluff Too Much

Bluffing is arguably the most exciting aspect of the game of poker. 

There’s nothing quite like the rush of pushing your opponent out of the hand while holding absolute air.

Knowing when and how to bluff successfully is the essential part of any advanced poker strategy, since you can't rely on strong value hands alone to be a long term winner.

Pulling off an occasional bluff can do wonders for your table image, as well as your bottom line, as it makes you more unpredictable and difficult to play against.

It also makes you more likely to extract value once you actually do wake up with a monster hand.

However, as useful as it may be to pull off a bluff here and there, you should only do so sparingly, and you should avoid doing it in certain situations altogether.

This is especially true if you’re playing lower stakes games, where players have a tendency to overcall.

To overcall means to call more often than would be considered optimal, i.e. in a way that leaves you vulnerable to getting exploited.

There’s way more to pulling off a successful bluff than just having an unreadable poker face and nerves of steel.

You need to take into account the previous action, the board texture, your opponent’s range, your perceived range, the previous history you have (if any) with your opponent and so on.

Finally, and most importantly, you need to make sure your opponent is actually capable of folding their hand.

This last part of the puzzle is exactly why you should be very selective with your bluffing attempts, especially when playing lower stakes.

The fact is, most players at the lower stakes have a tendency to overcall, meaning they like to chase all kinds of draws, putting money in the pot with weak to mediocre hands hoping to improve, or just because they are under the impression everyone is out to bluff them at all times.

They enjoy making all kinds of “hero calls” with Ace-high hands, chasing their backdoor flush draws and so on.

A backdoor flush draw is a draw where you need both turn AND river cards to complete your flush.

For example: 

You hold A5 and the flop is K6♠2♣. You need two hearts to complete your flush.

Since the goal of bluffing is getting your opponents to fold, it’s fairly obvious why you shouldn’t bluff players who like to call a lot.

What you want to do instead is to value bet them relentlessly, as was discussed earlier in the article.

Now, all of this is not to say that you shouldn’t bluff when playing at the lower stakes, period.

You just need to know which type of opponent your bluffs are likely to work on, as well as recognize situations in which bluffing may be profitable.

But if you’re up against a bunch of recreational players who can’t fold to save their life, refrain from bluffing them altogether.

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4. Use a Poker Hand Tracking Software to Give Yourself an Edge

Poker is a game of incomplete information, and the player with an informational advantage will come out on top more often than not. 

If you’re playing poker online, it’s useful to take notes on players when you notice a certain tell, betting pattern and so on.

However, due to the fast speed of online poker, it’s hard to keep track of all the information, especially if you’re playing multiple tables.

If you’re playing online poker, it may be useful to invest into a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4.

PokerTracker 4 automatically imports your hand history on your preferred poker site, and converts it into comprehensive stats in real time.

Not only can you keep track of your results this way, you can analyze your game and plug your leaks off the felt.

The software even shows you where your stats fall out of norm for most winning players with the feature called Leak Tracker.

This means you don’t have to guess where you’re bleeding money. Poker Tracker tells you EXACTLY what you need to work on, so guesswork is completely out of the equation.

You can also run filters for specific situations to analyze individual hands.

For example:

If you notice you’re not aggressive enough on the turn, you can run the filter for spots where you had the opportunity to c-bet the turn, but failed to do so.

The filters can be as broad or as specific as you want, based on your preferences.

Another useful feature is the heads-up display (or HUD for short).

HUD is a little pop-up display that shows up next to your opponent’s username on your preferred poker site, and shows you players stats like percentage of hands played, aggression factor, how often they 3-bet, how often they go to showdown and so on.

The HUD is fully customizable, so you can choose stats that are most relevant to you, or you can use the already built HUD profiles.

Check out the best free poker hud, and check out the list of the 15 best HUD stats all the pros use.

5. Don’t Read too Much into the Physical Poker Tells

The biggest difference between online and live poker is obviously the (in)ability to actually see your opponents. 

When you’re playing live poker, you can pick up on physical tells from your opponents, which arguably makes live poker easier than online poker, at least in that regard.

The downside, of course, is the fact that your opponents can also see you as well. This is a bummer if you can’t keep a poker face to save your life.

Either way, when you’re playing live, you shouldn’t read too much into the physical tells.

A poker tell is a certain behaviour, mannerism, facial expression etc. that gives off your opponent’s hand strength.

While it’s a cool idea that you can know someone is bluffing by the way they scratch their nose or lick their lips, it’s mostly fiction.

The reality is, physical tells are unreliable at best, and downright misleading at worst.

In order for a physical tell to be reliable, a player giving off a tell should

a) give it off unconsciously


b) give it off routinely.

Now, that’s not to say that physical tells are completely useless. But they’re not 100% reliable either, and relying on them alone is not enough to read someone’s hand.

Check out my recent article for reliable hand reading tips.

Another problem with physical tells is that it’s usually the weaker players that are the ones to have them.

More skilled players against which having a tell would be more useful will rarely have them, because they know how to conceal them better.

And against the weak players that do give off tells, you often don’t even need them since they also make large fundamental poker mistakes from the technical game perspective, anyway.

Also, no two players are alike, and the conventional tell wisdom is overly simplistic. People are complicated. Tells aren’t general, they are player specific.

People are attracted to the concept of tells because of their perceived simplicity. 

Like, if a person A does the action B, it means they are strong, and if they do the action C, it means they are weak.

But that’s not really how people work. It would be much easier if you could just pick up on a tell and print money forever.

But reading too much into physical tells veers a little too close to pseudoscience.

Again, none of this is to say that physical tell are useless, because a large majority of players do give off information unconsciously, because we’re not in total control of our body or physical reactions.

But the idea that you can somehow gleam useful information from it with a high degree of accuracy is dubious at best.

Physical tells can be useful, but as with anything else in poker, you need to take context into account.

Physical tells don’t happen in a vacuum. If you want to get useful information from physical tells, you need to have some sort of baseline to compare the behavior to.

For example, someone acts chatty and relaxed, so you assume they have a strong hand. But is that person chatty and relaxed in general? 

Are they like that because they’re running well so they’re feeling good? Or is it because they’ve had one drink too many?

Or are they deliberately acting like this to hide the fact they’re bluffing with absolute air?

You have no way of knowing by only taking the behaviour into account. You need to have something to compare it to.

This is the biggest problem with physical tells. They can mean one thing, or the opposite thing, or nothing at all.

Here’s another example: eye contact. A player holding eye contact is perceived to be strong, and the player that’s bluffing will avoid eye contact because they are weak.

However, a player that holds eye contact can do so to appear strong and intimidating, and a player with a monster hand can deliberately avoid eye contact to appear weak.

Then there’s the fact that some people just can’t hold eye contact for a millisecond with any person, any place, period. So what exactly can you learn from eye contact, or lack thereof?

There’s a ton of other examples, but they all boil down to the same problem. For every tell, there’s also a reverse tell.

So instead of trying to emulate Sherlock Holmes, it’s more useful to pay attention to other, more reliable tells, like betting patterns, for example.

Check out Nathan's video on obvious poker tells amateurs give off.

5 No Limit Hold'em Tips the Pros Don't Want You to Know - Summary

To sum up, here are 5 pieces of advice you may not hear from the pros, but will be instrumental in achieving long term success in your poker career:

1. Wait for a big hand and get paid.

The key to a winning poker strategy, particularly at the lower stakes, is all about discipline. Folding a large majority of your starting hands may be boring at times, but it’s the single best way to consistent profit at the poker tables.

Once you do manage to get a good hand, you should extract as much value with it as possible by value betting relentlessly. Don’t slowplay unless there’s a very good reason to do so.

2. Don’t play in games without poker fish.

Truly successful poker players know the limitations of their skill edge, and play exclusively in games they have a reasonable chance of beating over the long run.

Being a great poker player isn’t going to do you much good if you constantly play against players with the same or greater skill level than you.

3. Don’t bluff too much.

Bluffing is an essential part of any advanced poker strategy, but bluffing against the wrong type of opponents can often backfire.

The goal of bluffing is to get your opponents to fold, and if you’re up against a bunch of players that like to overcall, bluffing too much won’t be an effective strategy.

4. Use poker hand tracking software.

Poker is a game of incomplete information, and the player with the informational advantage will win more often than not.

If you’re playing poker online, consider investing into a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4.

You can use it to track your results, study your game and fix your leaks off the felt.

You can also use the HUD to keep track of your opponent’s stats and find leaks in their game, so you can adjust and exploit them accordingly.

5. Don’t read too much into physical tells.

Physical tells can be ambiguous at best, and outright misleading at worst. 

 While paying attention to physical tells is an important aspect of live poker, you shouldn’t rely solely on them for clues about your opponent’s game.

Instead, pay attention to betting patterns, number of hands your opponents play from certain table positions, their overall level of aggression, showdown hands etc.

Only by taking all the info into account can you derive meaningful conclusions about your opponent’s playstyle.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $1000+ per month in small stakes games, get a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

5 No Limit Hold'em Tips the Pros Don't Want You to Know