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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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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