Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.
You’ve probably spent many fitful nights pondering the theoretical difference between limit and no-limit poker. We all do that.
Well, the important differences aren’t obvious to everyone. Clearly, in limit poker, the size of each bet is established by rule. In no-limit, you must decide how much to wager. Fine. Finding the right no-limit bet size is both science and art form. The amount you can bet is limitless (today’s word) – up to the total amount of chips you own or the total amount that an opponent owns, whichever is smaller.
Sure, we all know that. But the repercussions of that truth leaves no-limit play largely misunderstood. So, let’s clear it up in today’s self-interview.
Question 1: How big is a no-limit poker game?
I once watched a young woman saunter up to her girlfriend who was playing in my $100/$200 limit seven-stud game. You might think those are meaningful betting limits, in which you easily can win or lose $10,000 or more in a sitting. But those limits weren’t so meaningful to this woman.
At least it didn’t seem so, because she informed her friend, in a hushed voice, “My husband decided to really gamble. He’s over there playing no-limit poker!”
I followed her nod to where “over there” was. And sure enough, her husband was sitting at a no-limit table – with $2 and $4 blinds.
No-limit isn’t a size of poker. It’s a style of poker. Maybe it sounds impressive to announce that your husband is playing “no-limit” to a field of $100/$200 limit players, but the reality is that there are big no-limit games and small ones, too.
The size of a no-limit game is dictated, in theory, by the amount of the blinds. All subsequent bets should be calculated in relation to whatever money is in the pot before the cards are dealt. Small blinds usually indicate a small game; big blinds, big game.
Question 2: It’s been argued that limit poker is actually more complicated and skillful than no-limit poker. Do you agree?
I’ve heard the argument. But there’s no doubt that no-limit poker is more complex and requires more skillful decisions. Part of the argument to the contrary is that you often move all-in or are facing an all-in bet from an opponent.
Action usually terminates at that point without a call. You jump to the next hand, without having to make more decisions. In limit poker, the smaller bets relative to the pot-size mean that you continue to play without folding as often, with bet-call-raise decisions quite common. Doesn’t that mean more skill?
Actually, no – it doesn’t. There are more decisions in limit poker, but they aren’t as meaningful. In no-limit, you don’t just need to decide whether to bet, raise, or call, you need to calculate how much. And that decision is what makes no-limit more complex and what adds extra skill to the mix.
I know this for a fact, because in the early 1980s, I programmed a computer to play world-class poker. It was called Orac (Caro spelled backwards) and it began its life by playing straight limit poker. Teaching it to do that was relatively simple. I programmed in guidance for which hands to play in which positions. I gave it a structured table for calling, betting, and raising requirements. If Orac didn’t encounter any of those requirements, it folded.
Then, I began to teach it no-limit play. And that turned out to be incredibly more complicated. Deciding how much to bet opened a whole new world of intrigue. So, when I state positively that no-limit is a more complex form of poker, I’m not just speculating.
Question 3: Is no-limit harder to play in practice?
Yes. It’s harder to play no-limit correctly in both theory and practice.
Question 4: Which type is more exciting – limit or no-limit.
Clearly limit. There are more hands per hour dealt. More bets. More showdowns. Even though there aren’t those “life and death” situations that occasional arise in no-limit poker – situations that shake your stacks and your sanity – there are enough serious pots to compensate.
Your stacks of chips rise and fall faster in limit games. No-limit is a waiting game, a game of patience. It can be incredibly suspenseful when you’re involved in a rare, major pot. But usually, it’s boring.
A decade ago, casinos couldn’t spread no-limit games. Nobody wanted to play. Why? It was because limit games offered more thrills for the dollars. But then TV poker came along and everyone wanted a piece of that action. Instant popularity. No-limit everywhere.
Question 5: Will limit games return?
Yes, of course. Limit poker is more appealing to most players by its nature. It may take years longer, but its popularity will return.
Question 6: Is there more luck in limit or no-limit poker?
There’s more short-term luck in no-limit, because tonight’s fate focuses on fewer key hands. But eventually skill predominates in either form of poker.
Since skillful no-limit players have extra edges against unsophisticated opponents, they’re more certain of winning more money. But it takes more time. Either game eventually assures that money flows from the weak players to the strong players. Nothing else is possible.
Question 7: Why do so few no-limit hands reach a showdown?
It’s because larger bets discourage calls.
If you know that opponents are trying for flushes in no-limit games, you can shut them out by betting large enough to make their pursuits unprofitable. In limit poker, you can’t do that. Those opponents will pay the fixed limit price and hope to connect.
There are more hands pursued in limit games. And more showdowns.
Question 8: Can you explain why you described no-limit wagering as an art form?
I said it was both science and art form. And that’s true of limit poker, too. But, in no-limit, you can manipulate an opponent into making a costlier mistake on a single decision.
It’s more than just the amount of a bet in no-limit poker. It’s what follows – the potential size of a raise and the size of all other bets that may follow on future betting rounds.
No-limit is about pricing your bet correctly to make sales when you hold winning hands. And it’s about buying at a discount when you hope to improve. Pricing a no-limit bet is a critical skill unknown to limit play. So, yes, it’s an art form.
Although there are an incredible number of factors to consider even in limit poker, the ingredients of a no-limit decision are limitless. — MC