Poker Basics

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The Betting Limits

The first thing to consider about the betting limits is whether you can afford them. Even if you think you have much the best of it, you should not play in a game whose limits are so high in relation to your bankroll that you cannot play your hands correctly because you don't want to risk going broke. At the same time, when you think you have the best of it, you should play at the highest limits you can afford whenever possible.

The excellent nonprofessional player Jay Heimowitz, from Monticello, New York, tells the story of how he started playing in a 25-50-cent poker games in the early 1960s. "I noticed I was winning about $20 a week, and that $20 a week was the difference between my wife Carol and I going out to dinner," Heimowitz says. "Then I got the brainstorm that if I played in a $1 limit games, maybe I'd win $40 a week, and we could go out to dinner twice." Today Heimowitz, a successful Budweiser beer distributor, plays no-limit hold 'em for tens of thousands of dollars against the very best hold 'em players in the world, but the point of his story is that, everything else being equal, when you have the best of it, the higher you play, the more you will average winning.

Assuming you are playing at a limit that suits you, the important question is the ratio of bet sizes from early rounds to late rounds. If the betting limits increase drastically from the early rounds to the later rounds, you must play quite a bit differently than if the limits remain fairly steady. In mathematical terms, the greater the escalation of the limits, the higher your implied odds on early rounds. Thus, you tend to play looser early in games where you may win bigger bets later. When we say looser, we mean you take chances with hands that have some chance of improving to big hands. You do not play mediocre hands that can only improve to fairly good hands. In other words, if you cannot be reasonably sure that a hand will be the best hand, even if it improves, that hand is not playable. However, a hand like a high inside straight draw, which you would not play if the bets remained fairly steady, may be worth playing if you figure to win a big bet later on when you hit.

Of course, the games with the greatest escalation in limits from early to late rounds are pot-limit and no-limit. No-limit poker does not technically have an escalating limit since anyone may bet any amount right from the start, but usually the bets become increasingly larger as the hand progresses. Thus, as we saw in page Seven, in pot-limit and no-limit games implied odds - not the odds a player is getting from the pot -- often become the primary consideration in betting or calling a bet.

When a game has fairly steady betting limits - most commonly limits like $2-$4, $5-$10, $10-$20, which increase only two fold from the first round to the last - you must start off with a good hand and throw away hands that require you to get lucky. You have to pay too high a price to stay in, in proportion to what you might win the few times you hit. It is especially important to get rid of such hands in games where there is a great deal of raising on the first round. Frequently you find people putting in two and three raises before the flop in limit hold 'em games. In games like these, it is important to play high pairs and high cards and to stay away from hands like For those starting hands to be played profitably you need a game with low early betting and high later betting. That is, you need a game where it doesn't cost you much to draw to a big hand that can make you a lot of money in the later betting rounds.

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Evaluating The Poker Games