Stealing in No-Limit Holdem
- No-Limit Holdem: Table Dynamics (Part I)
- No-Limit Holdem: Table Dynamics (Part II)
- The Typical Low-limit Hold'em Game
Stealing well is critical to no-limit success. Yet most small stakes regulars focus mainly on making hands and give stealing relatively little thought. This undue emphasis on making hands condemns most small stakes regulars to only marginal success. They win lots of money in pots that go to showdown, but they lose nearly as much in pots that don't go to showdown, and their overall winrates hover near zero. If you suffer from this problem, we're going to fix it.
Stealing and making the best hand can overlap considerably. For example, say you have 9 8 and completely miss a flop of A J 4. You should immediately think. "Can I steal?" However, if your lone opponent has 7 6 you actually have the best hand.
Frequently everyone misses the flop or makes a weak hand, and it becomes a game of chicken: whoever blinks first, loses. Say you have that 9 8 and the flop comes A J 4. Now you have third pair. But unless your opponents check it through to the river and your weak hand holds up, you'll rarely win at showdown. You should prefer to take the pot down earlier. We think of such situations as stealing, even if your weak hand happens to be best.
Marginal hand situations often rely on stealing to be profitable. If you can't steal in these situations, either because you're out of position, you aren't comfortable stealing, or your opponents won't cooperate, you should normally play tightly preflop. For example, suppose you are in early position and one or two tough, aggressive opponents are likely to enter the pot behind you. You should fold speculative hands like 8 7 and A 7, because they depend heavily on stealing to be profitable.
Playing speculative hands in early position is a common and major leak. You should play very tightly in early position unless you can steal well, or it's a loose game where large preflop raises are uncommon. In a 10-handed game, that means folding everything under the gun except pairs, AK-AJ, and KQ. If you don't read hands well, you may be better off folding AJ and KQ, and even AQo. This may sound absurd if you're used to loose, easy games. However, in tougher games, playing speculative hands out of position is a disaster for players who don't steal a decent share of the missed pots.
When your steal equity is low, you should play much tighter preflop regardless of position. That rule isn't just for weak players. In tough games, for example, you will often find yourself playing against opponents who call on the button with a very broad range of hands and then use position to steal well postflop. If you run into one of these opponents and cannot hold your own. then you should play tightly preflop even from the cutoff in a 6-handed game.
The rule of thumb is simple:
Avoid playing speculative hands unless you expect to have significant steal equity.
Here is the more general case:
If you have low steal equity, you need high showdown equity to play. Otherwise you should fold.
Here is how that applies to early position play:
If you are out of position and cannot steal effectively, fold unless you have a pair, the likely best big card hand, or you expect to get paid enough when you hit to cover your preflop costs.
On the other hand, if you're good at stealing from out of position, many marginal hand situations become profitable.