Limit Versus No-limit

  There are some basic differences between what is correct in limit and no-limit play.

  Although the mechanics of limit and no-limit hold’em are the same – in that players receive two cards and use them in conjunction with the five board cards 0 that is where the similarities stop.  Some players are proficient at both forms of poker, but it is a mistake to assume that being a good limit hold’em player automatically makes you effective at no-limit.  Here, then, are a few fundamental differences in the two variations:

  • It is rarely, if ever, correct to limp in if no one has yet entered a pot in limit hold’em.  However, opening a pot by calling is a viable no-limit play employed by many of the top no-limit players.  There are a few reasons for this.

First, it is absolutely essential for a good no-limit player to mix up his play.  An occasional limp when first in helps keep your opponent off guard, particularly if you limp with a variety of hands (sometimes two aces, sometimes 7-8 suited).
Second, limit hold’em, if you limp in and are raised, the strongest action you can take when it gets back to you is to reraise one more un, a play that will succeed only in building a bigger pot that you must then play against the raiser while out of position (unless the raise came from one of the blinds).  However, in no-limit hold’em, you can limp in, get raised, and then have the option of reraising as much as you like.  This grants your hand considerably more leverage, as well as providing you with an opportunity to really trap your opponents when you are holding a monster hand such as aces or kings.

Another incentive to limp is that no-limit hold’em is a game of implied odds*.  As a result, there are many instances in which it is correct to try to see a flop cheaply with a weaker hand that has the potential to develop into a big hand.  An example would be a small pocket pair or a suited ace with a small kicker.  These types of hands can capture a big pot if they connect with the flop, but the amount these hands can win in limit hold’em is somewhat limited by the betting structure.

  • How draws are played is much different in no-limit versus limit hold’em.  Suppose four people have called before the flop, and you call on the button with A-T of spades.  In limit hold’em, if everybody checks to you, you can definitely bet this hand.  You might make your flush, catch an ace, or have everyone fold.

However, in no-limit, it is far more dangerous to make a bet with this draw.  The reason for this is that one of your opponents may make a large check-raise, forcing you either to fold your nut flush draw or make a marginal, oftentimes bad, call.  If you have a short stack, it is fine to bet some or all of your chips with your draw, as you don’t mind being committed to this hand.  You will either win the pot uncontested, get called and make your hand, or get called and miss.  Thus, there is considerable value in betting.  However, if you have lots of chips, but only make a fairly small bet on the flop, folding is likely to be the correct play if you get check-raised.  For this reason, it is usually best to take the free card when your stack is deep, but to bet the draw aggressively when short-stacked.  One point to add is that when you are on a short-stack, the chips in the middle mean more to your stack than if you have a big stack, so there is more incentive to try to win them right away.

* Implied odds:  The ratio of what you should win (including one likely to be bet in subsequent rounds) on a particular hand to what the current bet costs.

  • You can protect your hand more effectively in no-limit.  Since you can make any size bet you want in no-limit, your good hands are less likely to be outdrawn than in limit.  This is because you will be able to make large bets that make it difficult for your opponents to remain in the pot.
  • Early in no-limit tournaments, huge implied odds situations exist.  No-limit is a game of implied odds.  Top no-limit players don’t mind seeing a cheap flop with an inferior starting hand, in an attempt to catch a lucky flop and double up.  The key here is to recognize when your hand has improved enough to merit “going to war.”   There is a good reason why some hands are inferior – they wind up making the runner-up hand quite often.  However, as your hand-reading skills evolve, you too will be able to see some extra flops hoping to “get lucky.”  Typical hands that have good implied odds are small pairs (should you flop a set against an overpair, you will get paid off handsomely), or suited aces (with which you can make either aces up against a hand like A-K or A-Q, or preferably, a flush).  The key here is that a small initial investment can yield a big reward.  Although these types of hands can also win some nice pots in limit hold’em, they hold nowhere near the same value as in no-limit.