Brunson: No-Limit Confusion

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.

Doyle Brunson index.

Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.

Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books  are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through and, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on  those collaborative teachings.

Doyle Brunson

The difference between limit and no-limit poker can be as broad as a Texas pasture stretching from here to the horizon.

Rochester Ricky didn’t understand that difference. He was from New York and talked his way into our game in Fort Worth in the late sixties. He strutted in proud – some local champ from far away – and sauntered away quite sadly. He’d chosen a tough game. Besides me, there was Amarillo Slim, Puggy Pearson, Johnny Moss, and Sailor Roberts. All would turn out to be world champions in the future.

Slim kept chatting at him, seeming friendly, but really trying to unravel the mystery of this stranger. Usually, the more you can get a man to talk, the more he’s likely to give you the keys to his destruction. And Slim was the best at extracting such information. Rochester Ricky revealed that he was quite a local star and was proud of the fact that he had brought $10,000 to our table. In fact, he’d slapped it down in front of us as if expecting surprise. Mostly, we stifled yawns. We’d seen that kind of money often.

No-limit hold ’em

What we discovered was that he played a wide variety of poker games, but he always used language like, “I bet the $50 limit” or “He called my $100 and raised, so I reraised once more, making it $300.” Well, it was powerfully clear that he wasn’t accustomed to no-limit poker. So, that’s what we dealt from then on – no-limit Texas hold ’em. And Ricky just couldn’t handle it.

Once he called a $400 bet that Slim had aimed at a $400 pot and announced that he didn’t expect to win, but it was worth the 2-to-1 odds ($800 to $400). What he failed to realize was that, although what he said had merit, you don’t figure it the same way in no-limit games. You have to suspect that the bettor has a stronger hand than he would in a limit game. The difference is that in limit games, you can wager with the luxury of knowing the worst that can happen is that you can face a raise the same size as what you wagered. Considering the size of the pot, that’s often an easy call.

In no-limit, you suddenly can get raised a fortune, and you’ve got to take that into consideration when you wager. So, you need a stronger hand to call in no-limit, because the bettor is representing a stronger hand himself. Ricky didn’t grasp this.


Also, he didn’t understand the art of bluffing in no-limit. I’ve known some successful players in limit poker who almost never bluff. But, you can’t succeed in no-limit poker like that. Bluffing is a primary element of no-limit. You’ve got to do it, and Ricky didn’t do it. He didn’t know how.

To adapt to no-limit:

1. You need stronger hands to bet.

2. You need stronger hands to call — or to raise with an advantage.

3. You need to bluff more often and more wisely.

Rochester Ricky left the game with words I still remember: “Don’t bother looking me up if you come to Rochester. I’ll never play hold ’em against Texans again as long as I live.” For his sake, I hope he stuck to that promise. — DB

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  1. I’ve played poker with Doyle and with Slim prior to his passing. What I did know sitting down to their game was I needed to play within myself and not be intimidated. Picked off a bluff from Slim and felt like a hero. Lost a big pot to Doyle and felt like an idiot. Ended up cashing for more than I’d bought in for and to this day I feel like it was the best poker game I ever played in. Not just because I played well, but because I got poker lessons from the very best and they were free.

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