Playing High Limit Texas Holdem

Texas Holdem Strategy Guide to High Limit Play

So you think you have what it takes to be a winning Texas holdem player at the highest limits?

Only a select few can play Texas holdem at the highest limits and show a long term profit. Though you may have read estimates that winning players at these levels number in the hundreds, the truth is probably the number of consistent winners at these limits is in the low thousands.

This may seem like quite a few, but if you compare it to the millions of players in the world, it shows just how hard it is to hold your own at the top levels.

Depending on where you're playing, when you join the ranks of high limit Texas holdem players you may find that you're sitting at the same table as some of the poker pros you've seen on television.

Many of them play at the high limit tables at the biggest online poker rooms, though they don't always play under their real name. If you play in Las Vegas or other large gambling destinations and play at the top limits you'll play against other pros all of the time.

While this may seem like a neat thing to do, it's far from the most profitable way to play holdem. When you play against the best it makes it harder to show a consistent profit. True professional poker players seek out situations where they can make the most profit, not where they can find the best players.

Please Note
Defining the exact limits of high limit Texas holdem is somewhat difficult. The middle limits and upper limits often blend together and depend a great deal on where you're playing and who you're playing against. A rough guideline for high limit play is at or above $5,000 buy in no limit ring games and above $100 / $200 limit play.

Limit vs No Limit Play

The level of competition at the high levels of Texas holdem doesn't change much between limit and no limit play. Many of the same players easily switch from limit to no limit and back because they play in whatever the highest available game that's currently running is.

Of course you can specialize in one format or the other, but if you want to maximize your opportunities for high level profit you need to learn to play limit and no limit Texas holdem at the top levels as well as most other common forms of poker.

Limit play is generally played with raises before the flop and most pots are played two or three handed, at the most. If you're used to four or more players seeing most flops in a limit game you're going to need to adjust your thought process at the upper levels. Just about everyone at these levels understands pot odds so your profit at the limit tables comes from playing better starting hands than your opponents and learning how to recognize and exploit their playing tendencies.

The upper level no limit games also involve a lot of raising pre flop and usually are played with only two or three players per flop. But the play after the flop is almost a different game than you see at the lower and even some middle level tables. The layers of play and thinking can get so deep that weak players quickly wilt under the pressure.

Just about everyone at these levels is able to think about if a player is bluffing, or trying to represent a bluff, or making a small bet to make it seem like she's weak, or making a small bet to make it seem like she's weak but is really strong.

Working through all of these possibilities and landing on the correct choice more often than not is one of the main things that separate winning and losing players.

Strategy

The number one strategy at high level Texas holdem is you have to play the players and the situation as much or more than you play the cards. It's still important to play to the best of your ability and use every basic skill you've needed to advance too this level, but just playing good poker isn't enough.

You need to assume that every opponent is a really good poker player until they prove otherwise. Almost all of your opponents know how important position is, know how to use pot odds, understand expected value, and know what tells are.

Your long term profit at the high limits comes from exploiting small advantages, finding profitable opportunities including soft games, and your ability to play your opponents.

It's important that you learn as much about every single opponent as possible. Even learning personal things about them can lead directly to profit.

Example

If a player who usually plays in a game you play in is going through a messy divorce he may be more likely to go on tilt if he has a bad run or gets a bad beat. Though it may seem a bit unethical to use this information against a player, he shouldn't be playing if he's susceptible to tilt. And you'd better believe he'd use the same information against you if the tables were turned.

You shouldn't cheat, but just about anything short of cheating that you can use to get an edge you should be using. If you don't you'll never be a winning high limit Texas holdem player.

One of the most important things you can learn by playing the player is your opponent's playing tendencies.

Here's a list of things you need to try to learn about each opponent.

  • What hands do they play from early position?
  • What hands do they play from middle position?
  • What hands do they play from late position?
  • What hands do they play from the blinds?
  • Do they always make a continuation bet?
  • How often do they bluff on the river?
  • Can they adjust their play based on the game?
  • Do they have any tells?
  • Do they try to give false tells?
  • Can you use false tells against them?
  • Do they always bet when they hit a flush?
  • How often do they check raise?

You have to be able to adjust your play based on the competition. In order to do this you have to be able to recognize when you need to alter your play.

When the table is filled with overly tight players you can often loosen up a little and the reverse is also true. But adjusting your play goes beyond this.

You have to be prepared to adjust by the hand, player, and situation. You might need to play overly aggressive against certain players or in certain situations and need to play passively in some situations.

Psychology

Almost everything you do as a Texas holdem player at the high limits involves psychology. Only certain players are able to mentally handle the swings and dealing with pots that are big enough to buy new cars or houses at times.

What's the biggest pot you've ever won or lost?

Most players are never involved in a pot large enough to buy a car, much less one that's hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. We look at some of the things to do with large amounts of money in the bankroll section, but your bankroll is only a part of the psychology behind playing Texas holdem for large sums of money.

As a high limit poker player you may find situations where you're in a game with a pot worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or a million. Can you handle the pressure?

Many people have the idea that a million dollars is a lot of money and they could quit their job or retire if they had that much. While it depends somewhat on how much you need to live on, a million dollars isn't enough for most people to quit working and live the life they want to lead.

But it's still a great deal of money and you need to determine if you can separate the fact that it's a ton of money from the current situation and play poker without thinking about it.

Top Tip
You have to be able to forget about the amount of cash you're dealing with and stay focused on the game and treat the chips as only instruments to help you win and keep score. Even if you're actually playing with cash you have to be able to treat it as just pieces of paper instead of money.

You also need to be able to understand the thinking and thought process behind everything your opponents do at the table. Why did they make a huge bet on the river? Is it because they hit a big hand or is it because they missed and they want you to think they hit a big hand?

Why did they check the river after leading the betting on each earlier round? Did they miss a draw or are they trying to sucker you into making a bet so they can check raise you?

Always be asking questions about why your opponents do everything at the table. Only by continuously digging deeper and deeper will you have a chance to learn why your opponents act the way they do and learn how to make money from this information.

While you improve your ability to figure out why your opponents do certain things if you're able to keep an open mind you can learn a great deal about your play too. When you figure out a playing tendency an opponent has immediately consider if you have the same tendency. If you do, determine the best way to change it or alter it when you need to in order to improve your play.

Only by dedicating yourself to doing whatever it takes to keep improving can you hope to reach and stay at the top Texas holdem levels. Decide to be the best high limit player you can be and never give up.

Bankroll

The best high limit Texas holdem players tend to be closer to advantage gamblers than poker players. What this means is, the top players in the world tend to focus on the most profitable use of their time instead of a single game.

They'll play Texas holdem if it's the best opportunity at the time, but if they have the chance to hole card a weak blackjack dealer, edge sort a game of baccarat like Phil Ivey was in the news for doing, or see a soft high stakes Omaha game, they'll abandon a holdem game in a second. Many of these players also bet on sports frequently.

What all of this has to do with their bankroll is they need to maintain a high enough bankroll to take advantage of any profitable situation. This makes it hard to measure in the amount of buy ins or big blinds they need.

If you're more comfortable with a number you should have at least 30 times the buy in if you play no limit ring games and 300 times the big blind for limit play. You'll be much better off with at least 50 and 500 times.

When you play $10,000 buy in no limit you should have at least $300,000 and are better off with $500,000 or more. At the $250 / $500 limit level you need from $150,000 to $250,000 or more.

You might be surprised at the number of high limit poker players that have bankrolls of at least a million dollars. But if you start crunching the numbers you'll see that many of them would be underfunded for what they do on a regular basis to have a bankroll smaller than a million.

At the highest limits of Texas holdem you're often forced to take small edges and push them as much as possible. It's difficult to find many large edges at his level because most of your competitors are good players.

It's not uncommon for a group of four or five pros to be at a table with a couple players who aren't as good with the pros trying to carve out a small profit.

You have to look for games and opportunities that offer the highest possibility of return. This means you might have to either start a private game where you control who has access to the game, travel to private games run by wealthy individuals who aren't good players, or be willing to play in games that aren't your normal limits.

For all of this to offer the highest rate of return you can't run into a situation where your bankroll is a problem. If your bankroll doesn't let you exploit every edge possible you need a bigger bankroll.

It may seem like you need such a large bankroll that you might not need to play Texas holdem, and if that's what you're thinking you aren't far from the truth.

You can find many players that grind out a decent living at the middle limit Texas holdem tables, but when you reach the high limits many of the best players have enough money that they might not have to play.

If you think your bankroll is big enough for the high limits, you probably need at least twice as much as you have now.

If you had the opportunity to sit down at a million dollar minimum buy in no limit Texas holdem game with four other players who were all good, but not quite as good as you, can you play? You realize that sometimes you'll lose in a game filled with players close to your skill level, so how much do you need to sit down at this level?

How much pressure can you handle mentally when it comes to stakes this high? Most players can't honestly answer this question because they've never played with stakes approaching this level.

Let's say you can safely sit down at this level if you have 5 million or 10 million in total bankroll. Can you live with the results if you get all in with pocket aces and lose a million to a lucky flop to an opponent who completes a set? Can you buy back in for another million or will losing a million dollars leave you rocking in the corner sucking your thumb?

This is directly related to the psychology section, but these are the reasons your bankroll is so important.

Summary

Unlike any other level of Texas holdem play, you don't stand a chance of being a big winner by only playing great poker at the highest limits. You have to learn how to play the other players and quickly adjust your game to take advantage of situations.

In addition, you have to get by on smaller advantages and hit any advantage you find as fast and hard as possible. Learn to always be on the lookout for the best games and opportunities and never stop trying to improve. It's the only way to be a high limit player and not go broke.

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