The Difference Between Limit and No Limit Hold’em
by Loki Luchs of Predictem.com
Texas Hold’em is the most predominant form of poker today. What many people don’t understand is that the game can be played many different ways. It can be played as a cash game or as a tournament; there’s no limit, pot limit and (fixed) limit. In most countries, you have the option of playing online or live. For those that play live games, you might be playing in a casino or in a home game. To the untrained eye, these are minor differences that shouldn’t affect a person’s overall strategy. This is one of the biggest misconceptions that a novice has. Each variation of the game has a separate set of basic strategies that are unique. This is why there are some professional cash game players that never do well in tournaments. Some online players who make millions a year would be broke if they only played live. One of the most common examples of this is that some professionals play only limit poker because their abilities don’t match well with no-limit strategy.
There are several major differences between the strategies for these games. In limit hold’em, the appropriate play comes from understanding the mathematical principles for the game. For most hands, there is a correct and incorrect play. A firm understanding of pot odds and risk/reward (expected value) will make a player a little money at a time, but will almost certainly make them a winner over the long run.
In no limit, there is more gray area on what a “correct” play could be… the game is more based on understanding how your opponent will react to each hand. On any given play, depending on the opponents, different strategies and moves will net you the maximum amount of money. Let’s say, for instance that you flopped a boat. How would you choose to act?
1. Do you bet? (If so, what percentage of the pot?)
2. Do you check-raise?
3. Do you check-call?
4. Do you check and wait for a later street to bet?
5. Do you raise the person in front of you?
6. Do you slow play the person in front of you with a flat call?
7. Do you do something completely different?
The answer, depending on your opponents, could be any of the above. In fact, a good player will consider making different decision in the same situation, AGAINST THE SAME PLAYER so that they don’t become predictable to their opponents. Understanding how your opponent will react is a critical part of maximizing your wins in no limit.
Another major difference between limit and no limit is the idea of “implied odds.” While limit decisions are based (mostly) on the concept of the risk of a single bet to the return size of the pot (pot odds), implied odds are what you risk on a single action against what you MIGHT be able to make on a hand.
In limit, you know exactly how much you (and your opponent) are going to bet on each street. In no limit, this usually isn't the case. A good player has to be able to recognize whether a draw will have a large return or no return at all. For instance, if you call a $20 bet on the turn and hit your flush card on the river, are you going to be able to get your opponent to invest a huge amount of chips? If you stand to take your opponent’s entire stack, it might be worth chasing a low percentage draw! If your opponent is the type of player that will fold a good hand to any flush card, then you may want to bet the river anytime that a flush is possible (even though you DON’T have it)!
Oppositely, some opponents may be too dense to ever believe that you have made a flush. They may be so new to the game that they don't even recognize that three flush cards on the board is dangerous! Unlike limit, where these types of flaws will cost a player one or two big bets at a time, in no limit a player can lose their entire stack all at once. Therefore, if a player will call with a mediocre hand, wait for a big hand to break them. If a player will fold a medium hand to any aggression, be sure to bet into that opponent when they check. If you understand that they have these weaknesses, you hurt only yourself by not exploiting them.
In short, limit is a game about showdowns. Your strategy should be based on slow, decisive moves that have ANY positive long-term expectations. If the hand is played over and over, will you make money in the long run? No limit is a game where a good portion of money is made by never showing down. By knowing your opponent’s weaknesses in different situations, you can casually manipulate them without them ever knowing it.
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