In hold'em, it is not difficult to make strong hands. Every player gets strong flops every now and again. The real trick, of course, is making money when you have the strong hands. In limit poker, you will invariably get paid off more often than not when you hold the best hand, even though a bit of 'manipulation' is required here and there. But in no limit, it isn't that simple because you can bet any amount between one chip and your entire stack; and it's difficult to know how much to bet to ensure that you make a tidy sum from a good hand.
When you flop a strong hand in no limit, there are generally five options available to you. I wish to discuss them, including the pros and cons of each approach, in some detail. However, I want to use one specific example as the basis for this discussion. The example is as follows: you have As-10s and your opponent has A-J. There was no raise preflop and the flop is A-10-7.
APPROACH ONE – THE SLOWPLAY
Initially, many players jump to the conclusion that this is a good spot to slowplay your hand: check the flop in the hope that someone will either come out betting behind you or come out betting on the turn.
However, I regard this more as a case of wishful thinking in no limit. While you may catch out the odd amateur with this ploy, most players with some experience will see right through it. More to the point, even if they do come out betting, they probably won't bet much – leaving themselves room to retract if you start raising. For example, if you have 6000 in chips and your opponent has 5000 in chips, most opponents will probably make a bet of around 800-1000 (or less). If they had a hand like A-8 in the above situation, they probably wouldn't bet more than 400 or 500. If you then raise to 2500, your opponent will probably give it up, even though they will often mull over the decision for some time. The fact that you initially checked your hand on the flop gives him all the more reason to suspect that he's beat because it suddenly becomes apparent that you were slowplaying. This is not the desired result, of course, because you are trying to make good money with your good hands.
There are also two other problems: First, if your players observe that you occasionally slowplay a monster in no limit, they will be reluctant to bet into when you check, but will probably call when you attempt the occasional steal. Second, you may be behind! I have seen two players attempt to outdo each other on the slowplay: both check all the way, then on the river, one bets, the other raises all in and the initial bettor calls; and one ends up walking home broke! However, if you fire in a bet on the flop and someone raises, at least you have the option of re-evaluating the situation.
All this says nothing of the fact that slowplaying is dangerous. If you have A-10 on a flop of A-10-7 and you check, you may end up giving an opponent with K-Q, J-9 or 7-6 a free chance to hit the front when they wouldn't have even called a 300 bet on the flop. Admittedly, this problem is present irrespective of whether you are playing no limit, pot limit or limit. But in no limit, it can be fatal because your whole stack is in jeopardy.
So in the final analysis, it would appear that slowplaying is not the correct option in this situation. In fact, I only slowplay in no-limit when I am sure that none of my opponents have a hand worth calling with. For example, if I have QQ and the flop is Q-7-2 rainbow, I will almost always check here for two reasons. First, it's highly unlikely that an opponent has also flopped a hand. Second, the turn card will not complete any draws to beat me. Moreover, if I check this kind of flop and then make a modest bet on the turn, most players will think that I am attempting a steal rather than slowplaying.
So unless the flop could not have helped anyone else, it would appear that slowplaying here is the least favourable option, despite your initial impressions.
APPROACH TWO – SMALL BET
I must confess that I am a fan of the small bet in no limit when the situation is right. It generally sends out the wrong information about the strength of your hand. Imagine that you're sitting in a tournament, you have around 6000 in chips, the flop is A-10-7 and an opponent bets 300. This probably indicates to you that your opponent has a hand like 10-9 or A-3. In other words, a hand that they can easily throw away if an opponent raises.
If your opponent has a hand like A-J, you have given him the wrong impression about the strength of your hand, which increases the chances of him making a mistake – by coming over the top with a large or all-in bet. Even if he calls you on the flop, you opponent will be very suspicious if you come out with a large bet on the turn because it looks like you are on a steal. That is, it looks like you are thinking "I'll try to steal with a small bet on the flop…… damn that didn't work…… ok, I'll now try a large bet and see if that works!" As a result, he may be more inclined to call.
However, there are two major downsides. First, you are not betting enough to push legitimate draws out of the pot (for example, 9-8) or even the occasional gutshot draw. A player with this sort of hand knows that calling a small bet on the flop is wise because they may end up capturing your whole stack if they catch, but sustain minimal loss if they miss. Second, some players will read you perfectly: they will view the small bet as a tester to see if anyone else is interested in the pot; and once you've isolated them, you move in for the kill on the turn. As a result, they will fold the turn and you will only walk away with a small call that you picked up on the flop.
But all in all, a small bet can be effective in this spot and should certainly come under consideration as you may catch him out, especially if he has the guts to push all-in with a hand like A-J after you make a small bet, even though he could easily be behind.
APPROACH THREE: MEDIUM SIZE BET
This approach is one of those "it depends on your opponent" moves. If you have 6000 in chips, the blinds are 50-100 and you bet 1200 with A-10 in this spot, your opponents' response will be dictated by the type of player they are. If your opponent is good, but loose and aggressive, a medium size bet is perfect because he will probably move all-in over the top of you, on the assumption that you would have moved all straight away if you had A-K or a hand that you are prepared to move all in with. I have caught out many aggressive players using this strategy.
Alternatively, if you are up against a seemingly inexperienced or timid player, a medium bet is also good because they will probably do the worst possible thing: call. Then on the turn, you can push your entire stack in with a 50%-70% chance that they call you.
But if your opponent is a 'rock' or even a smart but careful player, forget this move. They are waiting for the nuts and they simply will not commit more than 10%-15% of their stack without a very strong hand.
The downside of this move, of course, is that you are effectively giving your hand or, at the very least, indicating that you have some sort of hand. Most reasonably experienced opponents with a relatively solid approach to the game may quickly put you on AK or AQ (or better) with a bet that size and may not call, even if A-J. Very cunning players will think that you're hoping an opponent will raise you, after which, you'll move all in.
The upside, however, is that a medium size bet will probably kick out all the legitimate drawing hands and therefore, this play can be effective when you are up against a set loose players who chase too many draws.
APPROACH FOUR: LARGE BET
To many people's surprise, the large bet is the trickiest way to play your hand and can often result in you doubling up when you think that your opponent has a hand. It depends on your table image. If you are perceived to be a "player", then this will work because it appears that you are attempting to steal with a bet that no one can call and obviously, if you had a good hand, you would wanted callers and therefore, you wouldn't bet so much. In a round about way, it's a bit like reverse psychology – you are betting your hand according to its strength, but your opponents know that you are the type of player who wouldn't give your hand away so easily…. therefore, the conclude they you are on a draw or bluff….. therefore, they either call or move all-in. But the big key is this: you must have a read on your opponent that indicates that he has a good hand.
Recently, I was in a tournament where I flopped top two pair, I had around 2700 in chips and my opponent had around 2000. On the flop, he looked down at his chips (note – a tell indicating that he is strong) and then checked. I bet 1000 straight up and my opponent knew that I occasionally attempted to steal pots when everyone checked in front of me, so he jumped to the conclusion that he had me beat with top pair and a reasonable kicker. As a result, he moved all in and I called in a flash. Afterwards, he remarked (with great sportsmanship) "nice bet… you bet so much that I thought you couldn't have a hand, let alone, a big hand." So in a nutshell, this can be a good way of getting your opponent to commit all their chips with a hand that they would be hesitant to call a slowplay or check-raise with.
Therefore, it's fair to say that this is a good bet if your opponent has a strong hand and would usually expect you to slowplay a hand this strong. But I'll reiterate again - this move is only effective if your opponent has a reasonable hand (such as A-J on a flop of A-10-7). If your opponent(s) does not have a hand, this is a sure fire way to force them to fold, even if they strongly suspect that you are probably bluffing. So it would largely depend on your read and your table image. I certainly would not try such a move if it was the first hand I'd bet in two hours.
APPROACH FIVE: MOVE ALL-IN
While the large bet can be useful, moving all in straight up can be pushing things a bit too far (if you'll forgive the pun). Throwing your chips all in usually indicates to your opponents that you are no afraid of a call. So unless you are sure that your opponent has AK in the abovementioned example, moving all in with usually force everyone to fold. This is why Doyle Brunson has so much "luck" when he pushes all in with a draw – he knows his opponents will fold everything but extremely good hands, even if they think he has exactly what he does have.
When you make a large bet, but do not commit your whole stack, your opponent can often take that to mean that you have left yourself enough poker room to pull out of the hand (fold) if they play back at you. Moving all in virtually removes that element of doubt from their mind, which is why I've had more success capturing an opponent's entire stack with a large bet rather than an outright "all in."