5 Ways to Play No Limit Texas Holdem Poker Like Doyle Brunson
Doyle Brunson (aka “Texas Dolly”) is arguably one of the greatest poker players of all time. His specialty is no limit Texas holdem. He’s won the Main Event at the World Series of Poker Twice. He’s also a member of the Poker Hall of Fame. He authored and edited both Super/System and Super/System 2.
But that’s only the beginning of his accomplishments. He’s also the first person to win over a million dollars playing poker tournaments. And besides his 2 Main Event bracelets, he has 8 additional WSOP bracelets.
Only Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, and Phil Ivey compare to the fame and skill of Doyle Brunson.
But here’s the thing about poker:
Anyone can play.
And if you’re dedicated enough, and if you have the right temperament, you can learn how to play no limit Texas holdem like Doyle Brunson.
Read Super/System and Super/System 2
Doyle Brunson didn’t write the entire book for Super/System or Super/System 2.
But he did write the sections about no limit Texas holdem in both books.
It’s impossible for a simple blogger like myself to encapsulate everything Doyle Brunson has to share about no limit Texas holdem strategy in a single blog post. You should read and study the insights he offers in his own words.
I suggest reading both books’ sections on no limit Texas holdem and taking notes in your own words. Multiple readings are a good idea.
Also, once you’ve read these strategies, put them into action at the table. But don’t do so in a passive way. Pay attention to what happens, and keep records of your play.
You should know your overall results for every session and for your entire poker careers. You should also be able to see what kinds of results you got when you brought your strategy more into line with Doyle Brunson’s.
The one thing I’ll never forget about reading Brunson’s advice on no limit holdem is his advice about aggression. He points out that he bets and raises a lot, and he does so for 2 reasons:
- He wants to steal lots of blinds.
- He wants to give other players action so that he’ll get action in return when he has a big hand.
The way he explains it, by aggressively going after blinds, he gets money into his stack that he can use to gamble on drawing hands. Since he’s stolen so many blinds, he basically gives himself a freeroll when he’s drawing to a big hand—those chips should have stayed in the stacks of the weaker players at the table.
Being aggressive in poker isn’t unusual advice, but Brunson’s perspective and advice on it is phrased uniquely enough that it’s well worth reading.
I’ll add one piece of advice from my own observations at the poker table:
I’ve seen loose aggressive players win a lot of money, and I’ve seen tight aggressive players win a lot of money, too.
I’ve never seen passive players make much money at the poker table.
What’s the difference between a loose and a tight player?
A loose player gets involved in lot of hands. A tight player doesn’t play many hands at all.
Both loose players and tight players can be aggressive. Aggression refers to how often you bet or raise versus how often you call or check.
You can play only premium hands, and if you’re consistently betting and raising with them, you’re being aggressive.
On the other hand, you might be willing to play almost anything, but if you’re willing to raise with those hands, you might profit dramatically from all the dead money at the table.
This is especially true if you’re at a table with a lot of tight and/or weak players.
But if you play passively, you’ll let players with bad starting hands draw to better hands. You’ll also get little money in the pot when you do have a stronger hand. And you’ll never be able to get dead money, because people only fold in the face of raises and bets.
If you want to play no limit Texas holdem like Doyle Brunson, you need to be willing to get aggressive and bet and raise more often.
It’s fair to characterize Brunson’s approach to the game as fearless. He’s loose-aggressive, not tight-aggressive. This doesn’t mean he plays junk cards. If Brunson’s in a hand, he usually has something.
But Doyle Brunson is more likely to bet and raise with a less-than-premium hand than many beginning players. This approach works for him for multiple reasons.
For one thing, Doyle Brunson is a famous Texas holdem player. Many players—even professional players—respect his bets and raises because of his reputation.
If you want to play more like Doyle Brunson, you’ll have to become willing to get some money into the pot with some drawing hands.
The first time I ever played live poker at an underground cardroom in Dallas, Texas, I saw a guy go all-in on the flop.
He got called, and when he flipped over his hand, he had 4 cards to a high flush.
The other player had top pair with a solid kicker.
The player who bet into the flush draw hit his draw and won the hand, and a lady at the table said, “Just like Doyle Brunson suggests.”
Here’s the thing:
The player with the flush draw was driving the action. He didn’t just call someone’s bet to stay in the hand. He tried to win the pot immediately by going all-in.
He wasn’t the favorite to win the hand, but when you combine the odds of his opponent folding with his odds of hitting his draw, it becomes clear that he made a profitable move.
Had he lost the hand, he might have faced a little bit of derision from his opponents.
But he would have also gotten plenty of calls when he got his next pair of aces in the hole.
Learn How to Play Pocket Aces
I have a playful running debate with a buddy of mine about how you should play pocket aces from early position in no limit Texas holdem.
The conventional wisdom is that you should always raise with this hand, regardless of your position.
But in Super/System, Brunson suggests that you limp in with those pocket aces from early position. Your hope is that someone acting after you has a pair of kings or queens and raises you.
Then you can put that other player all in when it comes back to you.
In fact, some aggressive players in late position will play hands like suited connectors and AK very aggressively. These players will have a hard time laying those hands down in the face of a re-raise, especially if their cards are high in rank.
I was playing no limit Texas holdem at an underground cardroom in McKinney, Texas about 10 years ago, and I got into this situation. I had AQ suited, and I was in late position. One of the players in front of me had limped in, so I put in a raise the size of the pot.
The limper before me re-raised me all-in, and I just couldn’t lay that AQ suited down.
That was a mistake, because he had pocket aces.
I was a huge underdog, and I lost my entire stack within minutes of sitting down. (It was the first hand I’d been dealt in fact.)
I sheepishly laughed and told everyone at the table I had to go to the ATM to get more money.
Then I drove home.
Learn to Read Other Players
Another key to why Doyle Brunson can play hands that other players should fold is because he’s an expert at reading other players. He suggests trying to guess which hole cards each of your opponents has. There’s almost a hint of belief in ESP in that section, which I suggest ignoring.
But when you can read other players’ tells, the game gets a lot more interesting.
Brunson doesn’t go into much detail about reading tells in his books.
But you can find multiple sources for information on how to improve that specific skillset.
The best book I’ve read about poker tells is Mike Caro’s book, Caro’s Book of Poker Tells. It was written years ago, but the psychology behind it remains as strong as ever. It’s charmingly illustrated, and the pictures are dated, but the advice is as sound today as it was when the book was written.
If you take nothing else away from Caro’s advice on poker tells, remember this:
A player acting strong usually has a weak hand.
A player acting weak usually has a strong hand.
This doesn’t hold true for every player in every situation, but Caro estimates that it’s true a large enough percentage of the time that you can use it as a rough guideline while you get to know the other player.
Joe Navarro has also written a couple of books about poker tells. Navarro has some expertise in spotting liars, too, as he’s a former FBI agent. He makes information about poker tells available in both a series of books and a series of YouTube videos.
But when it comes to reading other players, nothing succeeds like success. You absolutely must sit down at a table and get some experience before you’ll ever be good at reading other players.
Can I tell you how to become as great a no limit Texas holdem poker player as Doyle Brunson is in a 2000-word blog post?
Of course not.
The man has been playing for decades. Brunson’s poker career is comparable to the musical careers of legends like Willie Nelson and Frank Sinatra.
You can’t compete with that kind of experience and talent unless you’re willing to put in the time to get that experience. And you need to be born with talent—that’s not something I can grant you in a single blog post.
You can, though, absolutely improve your no limit Texas holdem skillset by examining and thinking about Brunson’s approach to the game. He’s shared a lot of his approach to the game in 2 books, Super/System and Super/System 2.
I’ve also read interviews with Brunson where he explains that he’s had to change his approach after everyone read his book, because that approach was no longer profitable.
And that’s as good a final tip for playing no limit Texas holdem poker as any:
You must be willing to adjust your approach based on conditions.
Being flexible and adjusting to the situations you find yourself in is probably the most important lesson you can learn from Doyle Brunson.