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Home > Poker Strategy > No Limit Payoffs

Poker Strategy - Who Pays Off Who?

In sports second place wins you a medal or trophy. In no-limit hold'em, second place represents losing a large sum of money.

Many players who cross over from limit hold'em to no-limit hold'em have trouble understanding this vital concept. If you hold AK and flop top pair in limit hold'em, rarely will you fold your hand. After all, your hand will win most of the time, and you do not lose much if your hand places second. However, if you are not careful at no-limit hold'em, playing these kinds of hands can quickly cost you your entire stack.

There are six types of hands at no-limit:

       1. Hands that have no value. They cannot even beat a bluff.

Your Hand

      2. Hands that can beat a bluff. For example, middle pair.

Your Hand

      3. Top pair.

Your Hand

     4. Overpair.

Your Hand

     5. Strong hands (but not quite the nuts).

Your Hand

     6. Nuts or near-nuts.

Your Hand

Understanding these hand values means understanding how big of a pot each hand type can win. Hands of lesser value are generally only able to win smaller pots, because the hands they can beat will not call large bets. For example, suppose you hold AK and the board is AJ4. Someone with KJ is simply not going to pay you off that much in this kind of situation.

However, if you hold AK and the board is A9652, you will likely pay off someone who holds 87. Again, the stronger the hand, the more likely someone is going to pay you off.

Technically, any hand is capable of being a nut hand: 82 off suit is the nuts with an 88835 board. Nevertheless, certain starting hands lend themselves more to certain groupings.

High Pocket Pairs (AA, KK, etc.): These hands are typically over-pairs. If you are fortunate to hit a set with them, then it is unlikely that you will be paid off. Why? Imagine you hold AA with a board of A78. It is unlikely that someone else will have top pair because there is only one other ace in the deck. So you are left with relatively few strong hands that you can beat that are not draws to a hand that is stronger than yours.

Big Unpaired Cards (AK, AQ, etc.): These hands lend themselves to being top pair. It is possible to hit straights with these hands, too. However, most of the time you will form a hand, and it will be a top pair type of hand.

Small Pocket Pairs (33, 77, etc): They will generally form either category 2, 5, or 6 hands. For example, if you hold pocket sixes, chances are the flop will bring you a bunch of over-cards or it will give you a set. Thus, your hand will either be very sketchy, or extremely strong.

Suited Connectors (T9s, 64s): These hands tend to be grouping 1,2,5, or 6. What is nice about these hands is that you generally know your place in the pot because these hands are either very strong or really weak.

As the rank of a hand increases, the potential risks and rewards of that hand increases as well. Obviously, a trashy hand will not win a pot (except for a bluff), but it will not pay as much.

However, it gets tricky as you get into top pair and over-pair type hands. These hands really can not beat too many hands. Someone with middle pair will not call you down for big bets unless they really think you are bluffing. Nevertheless, people often pay off a lot with top pair hands to people who have stronger hands.

This is why top pair and over-pair hands tend to not be as good in no-limit as they are in limit. In fixed-limit, there are set bets that are very small in relation to the pot. Because they are so small, people with group 2 hands will pay off as it is worth risking a small amount of money if there is a decent chance the chap is bluffing. So there are a lot of hands that will pay top pair types off.

However, in no-limit, the bets tend to be large in relation to the pot. Thus, there are fewer hands that will pay off top pair because people will be risking much more money to call down with hands that really can only beat bluffs. The hands that pay off top pair are not worth no-limit type bets. On the other hand, for many people, top pair and over-pair are worth paying off other people with pot-sized bets.

This is not to say that top pair is a trash hand in no-limit. It certainly can win a fair share of pots. But, it generally is not able to win monster pots in relation to the blinds. This is why top pair tends to be better when a person has a short stack, than a large stack. The amount of a person's buy in holds a lot of significance in no-limit, which is why the next chapter is devoted to exploring this subject more in-depth.