Betting: Just the Lowdown

A bet is when a player makes a wager on a Poker hand. In Hold’em, there are four betting rounds (times when players make betting action around the table). These rounds always come after players see the cards: after the hole cards are dealt, after the flop, after the turn, and after the river.

When it’s a player’s turn to act (meaning it’s his turn to bet), the player has a few choices. If no bets have previously been made in the round, he may:

Check: That is, choose not to bet at the moment but still be in the hand. Bet: Make a bet on the hand.

If someone has already made a bet when it’s a player’s turn to act in a round, the player may:

Fold: Muck his hand and lose any chance at winning the pot.
Call: Match the bet that has been made previously. He still has full rights

to winning the pot.

Raise: Match the bet that was made previously and then add more (being careful not to string raise — see the “Poker Etiquette” section of this chapter for more). Everyone left at the table must call the size of this raise, or they can fold.

A betting round ends when all players have put the same amount of money into the pot (with the exception of all-in) and all players have had an opportunity to act.

The amount and the style in which you can bet in Hold’em are determined before the game has started. The betting types are known as Spread-Limit, Limit, Pot-Limit, and No-Limit.

Spread-Limit Hold’em

In Spread-Limit games, you’re allowed to bet any amount, within a given range, during a betting round. So in a $1 to $5 game you’re allowed to bet $1, $2, $3, $4, or $5.

About the only place you find Spread-Limit Hold’em is playing at other people’s kitchen-table home games. Professional card houses dealing a Spread-Limit game are very rare, indeed, tending to happen only in places sitting in Poker backwaters.

Typically in Spread-Limit, your raise must be at least equal in size to the bet in front of you. If someone bets $3 in a $1 to $5 game, and you want to raise, you can raise by $3, $4, or $5 only. Don’t be afraid to ask the dealer what the betting rules are if you come across a Spread-Limit game.

Usually, the minimum buy-in (the amount you need to start playing the game) in a Spread-Limit game is ten times the lowest betting amount — so $10 in a $1 to $5 game. There is no maximum.

Limit Hold’em

When you run into a Hold’em ring game (that is, a game where people are playing for money on the table, as opposed to a tournament with a prize structure) in a professional cardroom, the most common game you’ll find (especially in the lower betting ranges) is the form known as Limit. In Limit, assuming you don’t check, you must bet exactly the amounts prescribed by the game in each round — no more and no less.

Limit is always described by two numbers: The biggest is twice the size of the smallest — for example, $10/$20 (said, “ten-twenty” with the $ ignored). The smaller of the two numbers is the exact amount players must bet (or raise) after seeing their hole cards and the flop. This means the smaller number is also the size of the big blind (because that is the forced first bet in Hold’em) and the small blind is half that amount ($5 in a $10/$20 Limit game). The larger number is what must be bet (or raised) on the turn and the river.

In casinos and cardrooms, Limit games typically start at $2/$4 and run up into the hundreds of dollars. Limit typically has a minimum buy-in of ten times the smaller bet size. So a $2/$4 game requires a buy-in of at least $20. There is no maximum.

Limit tends to be the hardest variation of Poker to bluff (bet as though you have a good hand when you actually don’t in an effort to get others to fold) because the bet sizes are regulated.

Pot-Limit Hold’em

Pot-Limit is the rarest form of Hold’em played today. We’re listing it just to be complete, but don’t sweat the details — you’ll probably play a lot of Hold’em before you run across a Pot-Limit game.

Like Limit, Pot-Limit is always listed as two dollar figures, say $1/$2. You’re typically allowed to buy in for a minimum of ten times the smaller dollar figure with no maximum.

In Pot-Limit, the amount you’re allowed to bet is the same as it would be in Limit, but the amount you’re allowed to raise is equal to the size of the pot. For example, say you’re playing in a $1/$2 Pot-Limit game and you’re under the gun. The blinds in front of you are $1 and $2. If you want to play in the hand, your minimum call is $2, just as if it had been a Limit game.

If you want to raise, the pot is calculated as though you already had called. You’re allowed to raise anywhere between the amount of the bet to call and the size of the pot. In the $1/$2 game we’ve been talking about here, if you’re under the gun, you could raise anything from $2 up to $5 (the pot being the two blinds [$1 + $2], plus the theoretical “call” you would have made of the big blind [$2]: $2 + $2 + $1 = $5). Additional raises are handled similarly

As you can see, it gets pricey fast (and with all this calculation, it’s no wonder people never play it).

No-Limit Hold’em

It the olden days, say 30 years ago, No-Limit was a rarely played version of Hold’em — mostly, if not exclusively, attended by the extremely well heeled and the terminally vicious. Learning was an exercise in how far you were willing to drain your checking account.

Today, thanks to televised Poker broadcasting, running the gamut from the World Poker Tour to Stars You Never Really Liked Play Poker!, No-Limit is probably the best-known version of the game.

No-Limit Hold’em is a vicious and diabolical game, where the rules are only slightly more complicated than “you can bet any amount at any time.”

The most common way to see a ring game No-Limit table described is something like “$1/$2.” When you do, these are the amounts of the blinds and the lower limits of the betting. The upper limit that can be bet on any given hand is however much any player has sitting on a table.

Buy-in is typically limited to a minimum of ten times the lower dollar figure and 100 times the upper dollar figure, so for a $1/$2 No-Limit game, your buy-in could be anything between $10 and $200. (The other way you’ll sometimes see No-Limit described is by the maximum buy-in, say “$200.” If you see a single number describing a No-Limit game, this is the maximum buy-in for that game — ask the dealer what the blinds are.)

As a general rule, you want to have something very close to the upper limit of the buy-in when you sit down at a table so you’re not immediately intimidated (or just flat cleaned out) in a hand by someone with a considerably larger stack.

When you sit at a No-Limit table, you’re not allowed to remove chips from the table (that is to, say, pocket some of your winnings) until you leave the game altogether. When you do leave a game, you’re typically not allowed to reenter for a specified time limit (usually 30 minutes or more).

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, No-Limit is an extremely dangerous form of the game. Just like doing trapeze without a net, the lack of limits on the betting doesn’t make the tricks any more difficult — it just makes the penalties more severe. Starting out your Hold’em career with something like a No-Limit ring game is a very good way to watch your wallet walk south.

If you’re interested in learning No-Limit, you should play Limit first until you’re comfortable, and then move along to small buy-in tournaments.

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