Limit Hold Em Strategy 101

Published on April 07, 2005 at 21:00
Limit Hold Em Strategy 101

As you can tell, no limit Texas Holdem is taking the country by storm.  All you have to do is turn on your TV at just about anytime and there is some No-Limit show on the screen.  The World Series of Poker, Poker Superstars, Hollywood Hold Em, you name it, its all there for the world to see.  While this is the mainstream version that is all over the place there are other poker games out there.  In an attempt to diversify this column, I will focus more and more on some of the other games. Today, I will devote this column to the Limit version of the game.  

I believe that a solid no limit game is built upon the fundamentals learned while playing fixed limit Texas Holdem. Several concepts such as counting outs, calculating odds and playing solid starting hands are best learned playing limit poker, where the lack of the ability to bluff with a huge bet forces good players to play solid, fundamental poker.  Since betting structures are fixed, bluffing is not nearly as effective in Limit hold em than in No-Limit Hold Em.
Playing well pre-flop is the easiest skill for a beginning Texas Hold em player to learn, but it's quite often overlooked. For this reason, pre-flop play is ordinarily the biggest hole in most players' games. A solid limit poker player doesn't need to be a mathematical genius, but a basic understanding of the concept of Expected Value is crucial. Basically, every decision a player makes will, in the long run, make or lose money. A +EV (expected value) play will make money over the long haul.

There are several factors which fit into the Expected Value equation.  The expected value of starting hands varies based on conditions like position, number of opponents, whether the pot is raised and the quality of players, among other factors. Basically, the key in preflop play is to play hands which will be positive expected value and to maximize expected value either by raising or limping.

I have very strict  recommendations when it comes to starting hands. Most beginner and some advanced players for that matter, play far too many hands. If you become a serious player, you might want to purchase some type of Poker Tracker software and after thousands of hands you will see that those hands that I don't recommend playing are almost all money losers.

Starting hold em hands are generalizations. Smaller pocket pairs can be successful against either one opponent or numerous. With one opponent, you are usually a favorite against an unpaired hand, and with many opponents, flopping a set will often win you a monster pot.  Conversely, hands like suited connectors are more valuable against numerous opponents. You won't often hit your straight or flush, but several opponents will create the big pot you need when you do hit. As you play more poker and become experienced at Texas Holdem, you can make adjustments to the what starting hands you decide to play.

In an unraised pot, if you've hit top pair on the flop you should almost always bet or raise. If I hit top pair, there's a very good chance that even if someone else has top pair, I will have them outkicked.  Therefore, it is vital to punish players who've stayed in the pot with middle or bottom pair or top pair, weak kicker. Force them to pay heavily to improve. So often, the "bad beats" inflicted on us are partly our own doing. Make it a mathematical mistake for "fish" to hang around trying to draw out on you.

In a raised pot, the decision making process is a bit trickier. If you hit top pair, your approach will probably vary depending on the type of opponent who raised. At the very low levels, players often raise only with big pairs or ace-king. It may be a good idea to be a bit conservative. However, as you move to higher levels, the players are more aggressive, and you must punish them when you do hit the flop. They will often try to bet you off of hands with nothing, so punishing them with a check raise when you've hit top pair is recommended. You may occasionally run up against a bigger pocket pair, but you will more often punish them for drawing to their overcards or cause them to lay down their hand.

If you were the pre-flop raiser, play is straightforward if you've got top pair or an overpair. You should bet and/or raise until you encounter resistance. If you've raised with two big cards like AK and missed, your approach must depend on the number of opponents and the texture of the board. With three or more opponents, it may seem wimpy, but check/folding is often the proper course of action. With two or fewer, it's quite possible nobody has hit the flop, and a bet is usually the correct course of action. These are generalizations, and your play should depend greatly on the board and the likelihood that it's hit some of your opponents.

If you're on a draw, counting outs and calculating odds are a primary consideration. I will cover these in a future article.

The nature of turn betting in Texas Hold em, with the doubling of stakes, makes proper play extremely important. First of all, in a multi-way pot, a check-raise on the turn generally indicates that someone has a set or at least two pair. It's probably true that your top pair is behind in the hand. If you're facing a rock, it may be correct to throw away your hand. Heads up, however, or against tricky players, you must bite the bullet and call him down.

It is extremely important that you stay aggressive on the turn. You've hit the flop with your solid starting hand and have bet or raised the flop. In Texas Hold em, if you're a timid type, almost any card can be scary. You must bet unless it's extremely obvious that you're behind or beaten. Too many beginning players lose out on big bets due to timidity. A winning poker player has a strong arm on the turn. If you're heads-up, if a card hasn't hit your opponent it looks just as scary to him as it does to you. The proper play here is to bet.

You've reached the river. I focused an entire past article on betting the river for value. It is unlikely at this point that your opponent will fold if he's got something. If you've bet your unimproved AK to this point and gotten called, you will probably not bet out anyone who has you beat. It's probably correct to check and call against a single opponent and perhaps check/fold against multiple opponents.

If you do have a marginal holding, your betting should be guided by the question: "Is there anything I can beat which he would call my bet with?" If he will only call with hands that beat you, then betting is a no-win proposition. Often times in these situations a check will induce a bluff bet from an aggressive poker player which will cause you to pick up another big bet.

If you have a strong holding, bet it. Remember, a bet risks a raise and eliminates the chance your opponent will make a bluff bet, so you must be fairly confident that you've got a winner. Of course, one other time when a bet may be advisable is a busted draw. If you've been betting your draw the whole way, bet the river. In limit hold em, with the large pot your bluff only need succeed a small percentage of the time on the river to be a success.

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