How to Beat Each Replay NL Hold'em Cash Game Level

I thought I’d start a thread sharing ideas for what might be the most effective ways to beat each level here at Replay. I’ll only look at cash games and no limit hold’em, on 9 max and 6 max tables, and will play at each level for a few hundred hands or so and try to summarize what I think are a few of the more important keys for winning on that level. Others ideas are welcome.


Beating Aquarium

On most tables there are 1 to 4 players that will go all in pre-flop with a pretty wide range of hands, with players that will call with strange hands also. If you find yourself on a table where this isn’t happening much, then the ideas below won’t be as pertinent, but should still be reasonably useful.

  • fold most of your hands – if it is more passive, without frequent raises pre-flop, it’s fine to limp with a wide range of hands, especially if all of people’s chips often go into the middle post flop, but if 75% percent of the time someone is going all in pre-flop, just fold everything but your best hands if you have even one of these players prone to do this left to act.
  • If 8 other players are at the table, you only have a 1 in 9 chance of having the best hand. If the first player folds in front of you, your chances have not quite improved to 1 in 8, as that player obviously didn’t think he was likely to have the best hand either. Similarly, with two folds in front of you, your chances are still worse than 1 in 7. If you’re stuck going all in pre-flop a lot, pick hands that are actually likely to be the best. At the bottom of this post, I’ll show a range that represents roughly the best 10% of hands, and then a 4% range that might be reasonable to go all in with most of the time.
  • If you do get post flop without stacks already being all in, you don’t need to bluff very often at all at this level (though a few bluffs that have a lot of ways of getting better is still ok).
  • All of your bets should probably be big (pot sized or larger).
  • When you face big bets from others, mostly fold, especially when there are other players left to act behind you. Facing big bets, you don’t need to call very often to show a profit.

Top 10% range (hands in blue)

Top 4% range (hands in blue):


Beating Duck Pond

Even though this was the same stakes as Aquarium, I found it played very differently. In particular, it was relatively rare to have players shoving pre-flop on the tables I played at. That said, most tables would see everyone going post flop every hand (though there was one table out of 6 I played on that was a notable exception).

  • Since raises pre-flop were rare, and 3 bets even more so, it was reasonable to limp with a wide range of coordinated hands just to see a flop. In multi-way pots it is important to remember that you need a much better hand to be likely to have the best hand, but with a good hand I’d mostly make pot sized bets, or larger if those would still often get called.
  • I’d make giant raises pre-flop with stronger hands, gradually sizing up until I found the point of elasticity (were I was usually getting at least some pre-flop folds most times I raised), and that would often be 10 or even 20 times (or more) the size of a normal raise, though smaller than an all in bet.
  • Be patient: you need a good hand to win against lots of players that will usually never surrender their equity (they don’t normally fold to bets). Also, even if you make a big raise with AA pre-flop, you’ll probably lose a lot of those hands. Heads up you might be a 4 to 1 favorite, but with 3 callers, depending on their exact ranges, that might often dip to below 60%, and so you’ll be losing almost half of the time. Further, since chips are usually not going all in pre-flop, your somewhat more likely to get all of the chips in on the times someone else actually has a stronger hand than you do (to the degree that opponents are capable of making post flop folds).


There are cash games?

The term “cash game” in this context refers to tables that are not part of any tournament: there is no payout separate from the chips you win in each hand, and the blinds are fixed on a given table.

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Beating Connemara Lake (5/10 9 max)

This level played for me like a cross between Aquarium and Duck Pond. There was more pre-flop all in bets than with Duck Pond, but not quite as much as Aquarium (I did have people go all in pre-flop with 54s, 84o and Q2o, among other surprising selections). Pre-flop I typically raised large (typically 3 to 5 times a normal raise size) with premium hands (99+, AQo+, ATs+, KQs), and if I got a good flop, I’d either go all in on the flop, or if stacks were deep enough, a pot sized bet on the flop and all in on the turn. I’d bluff occasionally, but my value to bluff ratio was quite high. I’d also just limp along with the rest when I had a somewhat reasonable hand, if there hadn’t been too much pre-flop aggression.

The main mistakes I was trying to capitalize on:

  • a lot of opponents seemed incapable of folding anything pre-flop, and so I wanted to charge them a lot for that tendency when I had a real hand
  • a lot of opponents seemed incapable of folding anything post-flop, and so if I had a hand quite likely to be ahead, I wanted to get all of the chips in the middle before the river, when they might actually fold after they’d bricked out and hadn’t even hit bottom pair yet…
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Thanks for the information, very usefull
i will follow you’r infos for shure
can i ask you à question ?

have à nice day
Jeamy from france

Sure, questions are welcome, though I will not have all of the answers. Others thoughts are welcome also, as especially when playing exploitatively there are usually a lot of wildly different approaches that can work quite well.

I was wondering - in your opinion - how realistic is this poker to real money poker – using the higher stakes games and tourneys as a reference - - taking into acct the crazy river and the fact that the chips are free - no real loss - I play with a lot of very good players - in my opinion - yourself included - and have seen some wild calls - just wondering if no cash value has a big impact on these games/calls. Thx

I think it certainly changes the mix of mistakes you tend to see, but in both environments, you’ll have players trying to win that are not on tilt, and their play then will be mostly defined based on their knowledge of the game. On the flip side, it is probably a lot easier for people to just be in the mood to do something strange when there is not real money at stake (or at least not as much, assuming that some percentage of the players on the site are buying their chips, and thus those chips have some real money value).

In cash games for real money, there is probably in general a greater tendency for the following two errors:

  • over folding
  • under bluffing

That said, in live cash games also you’ll find plenty of players that play differently. Here at Replay, moving back more in the direction of this thread, the mistakes most frequently made vary a lot as you move across different stakes:

  • low stakes
    • calling too much on every street
    • no appreciation for how multiple opponents changes the odds of being ahead
    • making giant bets with hands that are neither value nor bluffs
  • medium and high stakes: I haven’t played enough at these levels recently to really be confident how they are currently playing
  • elite stakes, lower two levels
    • open limping
    • overly tight open raising ranges
    • calling too wide pre-flop
    • insufficient 3 betting
    • making large bets with hands that are neither value nor bluffs
    • lack of balance between bluffs and value across different bet sizes and streets
    • not understanding how calling ranges differ when you are last to act versus when you still have players to act behind you
    • other errors related to multi-player pots
  • elite stakes highest levels: I’m really just starting to play at these levels, and can only say that there are big improvements in all of the areas above (3 betting and 4 betting rates increase greatly; cold calling ranges generally tend to become more reasonable; pre-flop opening ranges start to vary by seat and become more thought out; larger bets tend to reflect a greater deal of polarization; it becomes harder to make calling decisions as opponents in general are more balanced between bluffs and value)

At all of these levels it is probably easier to make hard calls; you just don’t lose as much when you’re wrong. But that doesn’t always equate to the quality of play being worse, and at times will have the opposite effect (if players are over folding in real money cash games).

*Edit: thought I should add that I think calling tendencies also vary a lot based on what people are used to seeing. I think our Donk tournaments play very differently than all of the cash games, especially as blinds start to climb (I’m still trying to figure out how to best adjust). I think players there are used to seeing a lot more bluffs and a lot more very thin value (or even just equity denial bets), and so in general adjust by calling wider, and I’ve had big bluffs called now on a few occasions with hands like bottom pair on a wet board, which I don’t think I see as much on the cash game tables.

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where are these game levels at? duck pond?

All of these are this site, no limit hold’em games. Duck Pond and Aquarium are both 1/2 (small blind of $1 and big blind of $2).

thank you very much for those interesting info, I still have a problem with calling pre flop specialy when i’m starting à tournement, afterwarts when my stack is growing I become a litlle more loose in chosing hands bud still bluffing needs to be worked on…
greetings from the south of France