An Introduction to Limit Hold’em

By Tim Ryerson | September 14, 2010

The bulk of the poker lessons here on focus to no-limit hold’em. No-limit hold’em is arguably the current most popular poker game. There was a time, especially in the states, when hold’em seized the reins of popularity from stud and draw and limit hold’em was the only format spread. This was primarily for two reasons. First, there just wasn’t a demand for no-limit and secondly, the casinos and cardrooms didn’t want their patrons to be fleeced by the better players. As Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston is fond of stating, “You can sheer a sheep again and again but only slaughter it once”. Spreading limit hold’em assured the cardrooms that they weren’t sending their golden sheep to slaughter. Then the popularity of poker exploded and was being televised nonstop and the televised version was no-limit hold’em.

Now the demand soared but the savvy managers of the cardrooms figured out how to accommodate the demand for no-limit without hurting or slaughtering their golden sheep or, more accurately, their golden donkeys. They put a cap on the buy-in at various stakes. In the old days of no-limit, a high roller could sit down at a table that had an average stack of $500 and start with $10,000. It’s tough to beat a bully that has that kind of firepower at his disposal. Now with the capped buy-ins, you can buy-in for less but no one can buy-in for more if you buy the maximum. The playing field was leveled and everyone seemed happy.

The reason I’ve spent some time discussing no-limit when this lesson is focused to limit is because most players learn and play one or the other game almost exclusively and when they decide to try the other format they experience problems. Why would that happen? Because although the format – flop, turn and river are the same they are very, very different games. With the bulk of the Pokerology course being no-limit hold’em lessons, we’ll assume that the reader is very familiar with the game of hold’em and concepts such as pot odds, implied odds and pricing your draws.

Let’s begin with an exploration of the differences between the two types of hold’em. In its most rudimentary form the main difference between the two is that implied odds drive no-limit and in limit making or saving an extra big bet is what separates good players from their mediocre brethren. One might make the analogy of the first game being similar to a roller coaster and the second a carrousel. While some enjoy the thrill of speed, others prefer the comfort of the merry-go-round. For those who have never really embraced limit play and look down upon it, I can assure you that there are many pros that make six figure incomes playing limit hold’em without the roller coaster thrashing to their bankrolls that can accompany no-limit play.

Major Differences Between Limit and No-Limit Hold’em

Starting Hands

While many unsuited big card starting hands are regularly and correctly played in limit, those same hands can get a player into a heap of trouble in no-limit. Hands such as AQ or KQ can even be played aggressively in limit. They can be a disaster in the making in no-limit, especially if the stacks are deep.

Ability/Inability to Manipulate Pot Odds

This difference is obvious but worth noting. Many poker players who play both games will, on occasion, complain at the tables while playing limit that they cannot protect their hands due to the structured betting. Of course these same players, when turning over a losing hand, do not praise the game for allowing them not to have lost their entire stack. There still are times when a bet and/or a raise can impact the odds offered opponents in limit and accomplished players are always aware of this dynamic.

The Odds

Certainly the knowledge and proper use of odds has a place in both limit and no-limit play. Due to the heightened emphasis on implied odds, no-limit players can many times continue a hand with the worst of it and ultimately prevail and profit handsomely. In limit play, pot odds take on a much more critical role and relying too heavily on implied odds to justify chasing a draw becomes a major downfall of certain players. Limit is a more mechanical and structured game and adhering to the odds is a must to succeed.


Players need to understand that while one can bet as much as he likes in no-limit, the size of his bets give away information to his opponents as to the strength of his holding. It is for this reason many no-limit players like to keep their bet sizing constant, to avoid giving too much information away. Of course when they play like this – they are playing like limit players. Ironic, don’t you think?

Protecting Your Hand

Basically in no-limit, one attempts to manipulate the pot odds to make it ‘incorrect’ for opponents to proceed with draws. Limit players need to focus to the times when being aggressive in an attempt to ‘thin the field’ will work and when knowing all reasonable hands will call your bet anyway. Then your bet/raise will only build a pot that will make it correct for opponents to play. In limit play pot odds are critical, as implied odds do not take on the emphasis they do in no-limit. Players that fail to make adjustments based upon both the odds they are receiving as well as the odds their opponents are being offered by the pot will not fare well in limit play.


While many believe that bluffing in limit play is a fool’s errand, there is no question that a well timed bluff can work. While bluffs have a much better chance of success in no-limit play, you need to understand that the cost of failure in no-limit can be much higher. Over the years limit gurus, such as David Sklansky, have advocated that in limit play losing a bet on the end is okay but losing the pot is a disaster. This dictum has led a legion of players to lose a lot of bets on the end and has lost favor in the current limit thinking. Today’s accomplished limit players are not as quick to pay off on the river fearing being bluffed out. This, of course, would indicate that there may well be more opportunities for river bluffs in today’s limit hold’em. Just know your players, understand the image you have been projecting, assess the board and put yourself in their shoes to evaluate if your bluff is believable.

Stack Size

The size of your stack and also your opponents’ has a much greater importance in no-limit versus limit play. Playing with or against a deep stack in no-limit can make significant differences to your strategy. The threat that is evident by the amount of money behind a bet is much larger in no-limit. However it still exists in limit play. In addition, the amount of money a player has on the table also helps create an intimidating presence which can help create positive results in either form of the game. 

The Goal

There should be consensus that the single most popular goal of playing poker is to accumulate more chips than you started with. However, in no-limit players are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to double up or take an opponent’s entire stack. In limit play, the accepted guideline for middle limits is to earn one big bet an hour over time. Individual sessions can spike wildly in either direction but a winning player, whether a dedicated amateur or professional, who keeps accurate records will be able to chart this one big bet an hour earn rate.  

The above list of differences between the two forms of hold’em should give the reader a feel for what to pay attention to when moving from one form to the other. While the games look very much the same on the surface they are very different. In the next lesson we will explore skills that are necessary to excel in limit hold’em.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.