How to Win a Big Pot at No-Limit

Dear reader: I wrote this right after it happened, around 2001.


True story. I slumbered into the casino at 6:00 AM with $2,400. An hour of $3-6 limit-hold’em and a quart of coffee later, I was all the way up to $2420. The big no-limit game was starting so I locked up my favorite one-seat in what Eldon has coined, “The Breakfast Club.”

Usually the game revs up slowly, with the starting line-up tossing chips around like manhole covers. Not today. Not with Andre here early. He pounds on rocks until they shatter. He picks at locks until they crack. Andre has never played in a tight game.

Andre bought in for $5000 and that prompted a few others to do the same, so I said what the heck and emptied my relatively shallow pockets onto the table, all $2400. I won a couple small pots and was up to $2800 when Andre put a live straddle out (again), making it $80 to open.

Three players with big stacks limped in. I was happy to follow the gimpy pack with K(d) 7(d) in the cutoff seat. The button called and the blinds folded.

The action came back to Andre. He raised $300 into the $500 pot. Andre occasionally builds big multiway pots from an early position straddle and then grips a stack of $100 chips, ready to pounce after the flop. Plenty of times I’ve seen him bet and take it.

Everyone called the $300 raise. I called too. Can you spell r-a-t-i-o-n-a-l-i-z-a-t-i-o-n? Here it comes.

Normally the options when facing a bet are raise, call, or fold. But not always. Like if I’ve got a good win and a big stack going and I’m afraid to blow back and I pick up ace-king and make a modest move on the pot and a guy comes over the top all-in for only twice what I bet. My choices are no longer call or fold. I must call or quit, because if I don’t call, I’m obviously done playing anyway.

I hadn’t even had a chance to tango yet that morning when the king-seven-of-diamonds hand started brewing, so no way was I going to quit already, not with Andre (my habibi) in the same zip code. This meant that, according to my twisted “call or quit” reasoning, I had to call the $300 raise. Besides, I was suited.

The pot was at $2300 before the flop and I had $2400 left. The flop came K-Q-5, rainbow. Andre instantly bet $2,000. The next three players folded and it was my turn.

Have you ever noticed these two distinct mental states? Looking for reasons to stay in, and looking for reasons to get out. At that moment I was immersed in the first. And I found them.

I was thinking that getting 2-to-1 with top pair against Andre was a good spot to get my money in. I mean, who knows? Andre could have anything, right? Yeah, sure, whatever. The truth was that I still had some momentum going from the “play or quit” jive. Plus, my buddy Rob had just invited me and a guest to stay at his condo on the Big Island. What a time we’d have, if I could just snag one big pot . . .

Several reasons to fold still filtered through the fog. Would Andre really bet a spunky $2,000 into those big stacks with a hand that I could beat? Plus, my entire bankroll for the day was on the table. If I went all-in and lost, I’d only have one out left: out the door. And I had just ordered a fruit plate.

Fuggit. Carpe diem and all that, and all-in I went.

The comforting thing about betting or raising all-in at no-limit is that it ends the thinking portion of the hand. It’s like, hey, this hand is out of my hands now, so y’know what? I don’t care anymore because I’m fearless by default. I’m done!

The button mucked and Andre called the additional $400.

I said, “Top pair.”

Andre turned over pocket fives. Bottom set. Oops.

Now I started caring again. And I sure was done all right. Done over and done busted, looked like, anticipating bitter fruit. The turn came a king. My hand was still face down but everyone knew that I had picked up some outs. The river, redemption, a glorious seven. Andre was cool and gracious as always.

Two hours later I was at the cage with my racked stack intact.

Two weeks later I was in Hawaii giving thanks to Pele.

Walt Z’s timeless advice was proven true yet again. “The surest way to win a big pot at no-limit is to spot ’em the nuts and suck out.”



2018 Coaching Update: I’m doing video coaching now on whatever ails you — from betting problems and tilt issues to bad quitting and no patience. For more details and to schedule a call, click here.