Why the majority of players fail in NLHE

Ace Jack

Having discussed poker with an awful lot of people of all categories over the past ten years then I can only report what I have learned. This is that No-Limit Hold’em is a tough nut to crack for the majority of players that play the game. But why is that?

Well, I think there is really only one underlying reason and that has to do with the fact that you can actually win a very high percentage of the pots that you play but still be a net loser.

In games like Limit Hold’em, you would do very well for example if you won 75% of the pots that you contested. This is because there isn’t a great deal of discrepancy between the minimum and maximum possible pot sizes. So aggressive play will be rewarded in Limit more so than in No-Limit! In a $2-$4 Limit game the minimum pot size would be $3 if everybody folded around to the blinds and so be 0.75 big bets. However, it is quite rare to have a pot with more than 20 big bets in Limit.

In No-Limit Hold’em though you could lose everything that you have on the table and a bad run could see you losing hundreds upon hundreds of big blinds very quickly. This means one very unfortunate thing and it is that bad play, mistakes and indiscipline are punished much more severely in NLHE than any other form of poker. Let us look at an extreme example to highlight the point even though it is hypothetical in nature. Imagine if a player won 95 pots out of every 100 and each pot was on average $3 in size.

Their total gain would be $285 from these pots but now let us look at the pots that they lose and how big they are. If their mistakes are big when they happen and they lose $80 per lost pot then their loss is a total of $400 which leaves them behind by $115 despite winning a huge 95% of the pots that they played. So this rather extreme example highlights the underlying reason as to why players struggle with games like NLHE. I hear the problem all the time about paying off in big pots with second best hands.

This affects the bottom line massively and your won dollars at showdown statistics. Some of the most successful players that I have discussed poker strategy with and worked with have used exit strategies to get them out of situations. Some players feel that mechanical systems can only ever be weak but I disagree and especially within online poker.

The thing is that players that only ever play live will be so engrained in physical tells and the pursuit of such “information” that they often overlook the really important tells in a poker hand which are namely the betting sequences and bet sizing. These provide far more reliable data than physical tells ever will.