Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.
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 www.poker1.com and www.doylesroom.com, 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.
The size of wagers at a poker game aren’t just governed by the rules; they’re also governed by common sense.
There are two main styles of wagering at poker: limit and no-limit. In a limit game, the amount of money you can bet at any moment is determined in advance. In rare instances, you might be required to bet within a range. In a smaller home game, it could be from $1 to $10. But, more usually, the bet is always a single fixed amount, like $1,000 in a larger game. Normally, that amount will double to make all bets and raises exactly $2,000 on the later rounds of betting, such as on the fourth and fifth community cards (known as the turn and river) in hold ’em.
When you play in a limit game, the pot tends to build one wager at a time until it is quite substantial in terms of what it costs to bet, call, or raise later in the hand. For instance, in a $1,000 limit game with doubled bets on the final wagering rounds, it would be common to find yourself deciding whether to make a final $2,000 call with $16,000 in the pot. In these cases, professional players talk about “pot odds.” This means you weigh the cost of your call against the total you could win. In this case, it’s 8-to-1 ($16,000 to $2,000). That means if you called similar pots nine times and won only once, you’d break even, losing $16,000 over eight tries and winning $16,000 once.
Similarly inexpensive calling opportunities seldom happen in no-limit games. You will seldom see such a tiny assault on a $16,000 pot. More reasonably, you’d face a bet of $10,000 to $100,000. The larger the wager, the less appetizing the call. That’s why I’ve always preferred no-limit. You can raise a man practically out of his skin and see him turn white.
But people make a wrong assumption about no-limit poker. The think that “limit” means comfortable and “no-limit” means uncomfortable. It’s easy to understand that the size of a $1,000 limit game 100 times as large as a $10 limit game, But the same idea governs a no-limit game. It doesn’t matter whether you put $1 million on the table, if the starting mandatory blind bets are only $1 and $2, it means the game is small (only $3 in the pot to start) and everyday logic should determine that most wagering should be in relation to those blinds. Pots of $20 to $100 should be quite usual. The larger those starting blinds, the larger the no-limit game.
Years ago I wrote about seeing a kid with only $1,000 to his name decline to sit in a small no-limit game, opting instead for a $30/$60 limit table. He was unlucky and got broke 20 minutes later.
On his humiliating walk through the cardroom toward the exit, his girlfriend tugged on his sleeve and asked why he hadn’t chosen the other table.
He responded, “That’s no-limit. I couldn’t afford it.”
You simply can’t play poker for profit with a misconception like that. You need to understand that it’s how much exists in the pot before the action begins that determines the size of a game. And before you take a seat, look at the price tag. — DB