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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

No-Limit Poker Raises the Stakes

11 October 2008

Until the World Poker Tour tournaments burst onto the TV scene in the early 2000s, the most popular kind of poker was two-tier "limit-betting" stakes. A low stakes Texas Hold'em game, for example, might have had $3/$6 limits, where all bets and raises in the early part of the hand were $3, and all the later bets were $6. You could either check, or bet the prescribed bet. That was it. In a higher stakes $30/$60 limit game, all early and late bets would've been $30 and $60, respectively.

These days, though, no-limit Hold'em has pretty much taken over the scene in public card rooms. No-limit means you can take a look at your cards and bet any part of your chip stack at any time – all of it if you so choose! That's where the popularized "all-in" phrase came from. No-limit poker changes the complexion of the game entirely.

There's no doubt that poker is a game of skill, and its skill is made up of two basic elements. The first is the knowledge and use of poker odds. The second is the psychology of reading your opponents and anticipating their reactions.

In limit-bet poker, card odds play the larger part of the two. In no-limit, psychology is the chief factor. Also in no-limit poker, mistakes can be much more punitive. You can lose all your chips on one misread of your opponent's hand, or on one bad beat. Indeed, no-limit poker is not a game for recreational gamblers who just want to sit down and play a little cards. It's much more intense than that.

Still and all, it's the initial blinds in no-limit Hold'em that set the stage for how high the bets are likely to be. A game with a $2 small blind and a $5 big blind puts $7 into the initial pot before anybody makes the first bet. Although that first bet could be anything, it would make no sense to bet, say, $300 into a $7 pot. About the only player who would ever call you is the guy who has pocket Aces. Yet, all you stood to gain was $7.

If you have a pretty good hand, it would be typical to bet maybe one-to-two times the pot, or $7 to $15. If you get a couple of callers, after the flop comes down the good hand might again bet one or two times the pot, this time around $50. If there's still one caller, when the "turn" card (fourth card) comes, there might be $150 in the pot. Here, it might make sense for the player who figures he's got the lead hand to bet a couple hundred to stop his opponent from seeing the "river" (last card).

So you can see how the bets can get up there real fast in no-limit Hold'em. If this were a limit Hold'em game with the same $2 and $5 blinds, all subsequent bets would be $5 on the early rounds and $10 on the late rounds. It would cost you about $30 to see a hand all the way through from start to finish, and nobody could ever bet your whole stack of chips.

What is it then that makes no-limit poker so popular today? I think it's the macho adrenaline rush a player gets when he pushes his whole stack into the pot and says, "I'm all in!" It's the thrill of the all-or-nothing position he's deemed advantageous to put himself in. It's trusting his analytical instincts and living on the edge with them.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I suppose time will tell. Right now, there are so many new poker players who have been drawn to no-limit that it's probably a "softer spot" than plain limit poker. But I suspect that a few years from now, the cream will have risen to the top, and no-limit will be a tough game with tough players and serious financial consequences. As for me, I still prefer the fixed-limit style of poker. But then, I'm a dinosaur.

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey