When you play Texas holdem at the micro and low limits you
can be a long term winning player by always betting and raising
when you have a good hand, checking and folding with a poor
draw, and basically playing straight forward poker.
But when you advance to the middle limits you start finding a
better level of opponent. You still have to play solid poker,
but you have to start playing the other players at the same
If you aren’t able to recognize the abilities of your
opponents and adjust your play to give you the best chance to
win you’ll quickly find it much harder to make a profit at the
medium limits than at the lower limits.
The medium range of Texas holdem play starts at around $400
or $500 buy in for no limit and $10 / $20 for limit play. The
upper limits are sometimes difficult to define because they
blend into the high limits and change depending on where you’re
playing and the competition. For our purpose the medium limits
change over to high limits around $5,000 buy in no limit and $50
/ $100 or $100 / $200 limit.
At the end of the day the limit ranges don’t make much
difference when you reach a certain level. If you can beat the
medium limit Texas holdem games you have a good chance to
compete at the high levels if you have the proper bankroll and
can continue improving your game.
The truth is many players can learn how to play
well enough to beat the low limit games, but very few players
are able to consistently win at the medium limits and higher.
This isn’t meant to discourage you, but to give you incentive to
keep improving if you find you can hold your own at these
Once you’ve mastered the lower limits by playing ABC poker
and moved up to the medium limits you need to start adding new
tactics to your Texas holdem game. In this section you can learn
what some of these tactics are and how to use them to your
If you’ve spent much time playing at lower levels you’ve
probably already started developing your abilities to recognize
deception at the Texas holdem tables.
Some players have a tendency to bluff too often or give tells
that help you recognize the strength of their hand in certain
situations. When you learn these things it means more profit for
At the lower levels this usually means exactly what it seems
to mean. If a player always trembles when he has a monster hand
or always plays with his watch when he’s bluffing it probably
means exactly what it seems to mean.
But as your level of competition improves you can run into
players who develop false tells when they realize you’re a good
enough player to pick up on them.
The main way to combat falling for these types of deceptive
practices is by watching your opponents closely and not putting
too much stock in possible tells or tendencies until you’re sure
On the other hand you can develop some of your own deceptive
play to use against your opponents who can recognize tells.
It’s a fine line between being too obvious and not obvious
enough. To complicate things even more, you have to be able to
recognize when it’ll be the most profitable to use your
deception. Most players who start tracking your false tells will
be smart enough not to fall for the same thing again once you
give them a false tell and win a big pot from them.
So you have to build the false tells in situations that only
cost you a small amount and drop the hammer in a situation where
you can win a big pot.
Altering Your Play
It’s extremely important as you move to higher levels for you
to alter your play from time to time. When you play micro and
low levels the majority of your opponents don’t pay attention.
This is why it’s so profitable at those levels to play solid
straight forward poker.
But when you move up to the medium level of Texas holdem play
many of your opponents are good enough to pay attention. In
addition, you’ll frequently find opponents who’re good enough to
quickly pick up on your playing tendencies if you play too
Here’s an example of mechanical play.
If you only play pairs of queens or higher and nothing worse
than ace queen suited from early position it’s easy for a smart
opponent to take advantage of this knowledge and use it to
increase her chances of profiting in hands with you.
While playing a strict range of starting hands like this in
early position is profitable in most games, if an opponent knows
you never have a card lower than a queen in your hand from early
position it gives them a large advantage.
Any set they hit on a board that doesn’t include any cards
higher than a jack they know is good. They also know two pair is
good as long as the board doesn’t pair on a jack high board or
It’s still profitable to play a tight range of hands from
early position, but every once in a while you need to play a
hand that doesn’t fit so you don’t become too predictable.
The secret is finding a way to do this without costing much
in long term expectation.
Continuing with the example about playing from early
position, what hands could you play without giving up too much
expected value beyond the ones mentioned above?
Before answering, you need to realize that your ability to
read situations and adjust to changing circumstances after the
flop have a great deal to do with your long term expected value.
Suited aces with kickers of nine or higher may be added from
time to time as well as large suited connectors like king queen,
king jack, and queen jack. You can also occasionally play pocket
pairs as low as eights.
All of these hands can be trap hands when you hit a big hand,
but they can also trap you in losing situations if you aren’t
If you play a suited ace nine or ace jack and the flop comes
ace high, giving you top pair can you lay it down if an opponent
starts playing aggressively? If you can’t it’s going to cost you
a lot of money in the long run.
When you start adding a few hands like these to your early
position play you have to win enough when you hit a big hand to
make up for the majority of times when you have to fold these
hands on the flop or later.
But remember the reason you added these hands in the first
place is to avoid being too predictable.
The biggest mistake players make when they start trying to
alter their play is doing it too much. You shouldn’t add these
hands all of the time, just enough to throw off your opponents.
Make a mental list of extra hands to play and start playing 10%
of them. If this doesn’t seem to be enough increase the
percentage a little, but if you reach 20% or higher you’re
probably costing yourself money.
Consider your starting hand selection from each
position at the Texas holdem table and determine a few hands you
can add a small percentage of the time.
You can also become too predictable in the way you play
different parts of a hand. Do you always bet when you have the
best hand on the turn, flop, or river? Or do you check every
once in a while to give your opponent a chance to make a
Are you good enough to recognize your own playing tendencies
and change them up just enough to keep your better opponents
Start considering how you play in common situations
immediately and then decide on the best course of action to
alter these situations from time to time.
If you’ve reached this level of play you should understand
and be using pot odds in your play. But now you need to be using
them to not only make your playing decisions, but also use them
to make it incorrect for your opponents to call when they’re
drawing against you.
If you have a made hand and you think your opponent is
drawing to a flush you can determine how large to make your bet
in order for it to be incorrect to call. If your opponent calls
anyway it increases your long term profit on these plays.
If you bet $100 and the pot odds are correct for a player
drawing to a flush to call and if you bet $120 the odds aren’t
correct, every time you bet $120 or more and your opponent calls
you make money in the long run.
The same is true the other way. If you bet $80 in this
situation you’re giving them a better price to call, which costs
you money in the long run.
Bet sizing is an advanced concept and that’s why you don’t
see it discussed much. Until you reach a certain point in your
development you need to concentrate on improving the rest of
your game. But when your overall ability reaches a point where
you start using bet sizing it can improve your returns enough to
make the medium limits profitable.
Table selection is an important part of learning how to beat
the lower limits in Texas holdem and it’s still important at the
medium limits. But at this level you start seeing that player or
opponent selection is what you’re really doing.
It becomes more and more difficult to find tables filled with
players who’re significantly worse than you. So you have to
start looking for players with a few poor players and hopefully
only one or two who are better than you.
This is defiantly not the time to get cocky and / or
overestimate your playing ability. You have to recognize the
players who’re better than you so you can play at the same table
with them without losing too much money to them.
Start keeping track of all of your opponents who offer an
opportunity for profit and look for games where they normally
Limit vs No Limit
At the medium levels of Texas holdem you won’t find a big
difference in the skill level of the average player between the
limit and no limit tables.
Many of the top players are drawn to the no limit tables so
at times you can find softer limit games, but almost none of
them are extremely easy to beat. Most of the players have a
general idea of pot odds even if they don’t use them perfectly
and have a decent concept of position and proper play.
Most of your profits at the medium limits are achieved by
exploiting small advantages. The secret is recognizing possible
advantages and then figuring out the best way to take advantage
You’ll still be able to find players who play too many
starting hands, but instead of playing 40% to 50% of the hands
they might play 30%. This is still a large enough discrepancy to
take advantage of, but it’s not as profitable as you may be used
to at the lower limits.
Normal bankroll requirements range from 20 to 30 times the
normal buy in for no limit and 200 to 300 times the big blind
for limit Texas holdem play. And there’s nothing wrong with
these recommendations, but when you first move from the low
limits to the middle limits you should consider doubling these
recommendations until you prove to yourself you can win
It may seem like overkill to have a $50,000 bankroll to play
$1,000 buy in no limit ring games, but with the improved level
of competition you need to have a cushion if at all possible.
You also need to consider your overall profitability verses
If you’re playing $5 / $10 limit and winning two big blinds
per hour, you’re probably better off than playing $10 / $20
limit and winning one big blind per hour. You win an average of
$20 per hour in either game but your required bankroll is much
lower at the lower limit.
But on the other hand you’ll never be able to improve enough
to win two big blinds per hour at the higher limit if you never
Poker is one of the staples of many advantage gamblers
because it doesn’t have a house edge. You play against the other
players and pay a fee, usually in the form of a rake, so you
only have to be better than most of the other players to turn a
The top level advantage gamblers have a bankroll large enough
to let them fully exploit any profitable situation possible. If
they can get a 1% edge and place a $100,000 bet on it they want
to have enough where they can take the bet every time.
Realize that a 1% edge is only 50.5% to 49.5%, or less than
51 wins out of 100. In order to make a large wager at these odds
your bankroll has to be huge in order to ride out the down
What all this has to do with your Texas holdem bankroll is
you should be able to play at a few different limits so you can
play in the most profitable game without worrying about your
If you usually play $1,000 buy in no limit Texas holdem but
you see a table with two terrible players at the $2,000 buy in
limit it’s nice if your bankroll lets you sit down and play.
Is the Move up Worth It?
Have you ever considered if moving up in levels is worth it?
This may seem like a silly question, but when you consider
the additional requirements and dedication required to win at
higher levels you have to figure out if you’re willing to do
what it takes to continue being a winning player.
Every good Texas holdem poker player needs to find the place
where they can use their abilities to maximize their winning
while still being able to enjoy the game. If you’re a
professional player it’s more important to find profitable
situations than enjoying every game, but you still need to
achieve a level of satisfaction while playing that goes beyond
As a recreational player you need to strive to win, but you
need to enjoy the game. If you’re not having a good time you
could be spending the same time doing something you enjoy like
seeing a movie, taking someone you love out to eat, or fishing.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t know the answer to the opening
question of this section. But at least ask yourself if the move
up is worth it and spend some time thinking about it.
If you’ve worked your way through the lower levels and are
graduating to the medium limits, congratulations!
If you’re one of the few who can consistently win at this
level you can count yourself among a select class of Texas
holdem players. But of you haven’t quite cracked the long term
profitability level yet don’t give up.
When you’re able to incorporate the suggestions covered above
with solid play you give yourself the best chance to start
winning on a regular basis.
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