The most common form of Texas holdem uses a two-tiered betting structure. This means the big bet is twice the amount of the small bet. For instance, in a standard $10-20 holdem game, the small bet is fixed at $10 and occurs on the first two betting rounds -- pre-flop and post-flop. The big bet is fixed at $20 and occurs on the last two betting rounds -- the "turn" and the "river." Most poker books and articles on strategy focus discussion on a standard two-tiered betting structure since it's the most popular variation of holdem played today. Unfortunately this means there is less reliable information about other forms of holdem, where the betting structures are modified. This article intends to give readers insight into how to adjust one's play based on the various betting structures of holdem.
First, let's define the various betting
structures of Texas holdem:
Modified Limit Holdem -- Also known as "fixed limit holdem" this variation is usually played for small stakes. The maximum bet is capped by a certain dollar amount, usually mandated by local law. For example, in the state of Colorado the maximum bet allowed at a poker table is $5. This means the betting structure for most legal holdem games is $1-5 or $5-5. In Florida, state law prohibits the size of the pot reaching in excess of $10. Therefore, no bet can be larger than the allowable dollar amount needed to reach that figure.
Progressive Limit Holdem
-- Progressive betting structures use a
pattern such as $5-10-15, or $10-20-30, and
so forth. In some cardrooms, the betting
structure uses a four-tiered system, such as
$5-10-15-20. The most common progressive
structure is $1-4-8-8 holdem (also
$2-4-8-8). The primary difference in this
variation from the standard structure is
that the turn and river bets increase
dramatically over the size of the first bet.
Also, in some low-limit holdem games, the
amount of the first raise is not a fixed
amount. A player is allowed to raise be
anywhere from $1 up to $4 (for a total of
$5) on the first round.
Standard Limit Holdem -- The is the most popular form of holdem played today. Standard limit holdem uses a two-tiered betting structure. The round of betting goes as follows -- $10-10-20-20. Most holdem literature is geared towards this structure.
Spread Limit Holdem -- Spread limit games are much more common in seven card stud, than holdem. However, I have seen spread limit holdem played in the Chicago area. Spread limit means the amount of the bet is not fixed. Players are allowed to bet any amount between the minimum and maximum at any time. For example, in a $2-10 spread limit game, player may bet anywhere from $2 up to $10. I've seen $1-20 holdem games as well, which means the bet is from $2 up to $20 at any time.
Pot-Limit Holdem -- This structure allows the maximum bet up to the amount that is currently in the pot. One key strategic component of this variation of holdem is to consider the size of the blinds. However, don't be fooled by pot-limit games with small blinds (sometimes as low as $2-5). The betting may escalate very quickly and create pots of several thousand dollars. In general, the lower the size of the blinds, the more players you are likely to see before the flop -- which has major strategic consequences about which hands to play and how to play them.
Modified Pot Limit Holdem -- Same structure as pot-limit holdem, but there is a cap on the maximum allowable bet. This is instituted to "protect" players from being hurt too badly in a single hand and is more common in private games than public cardrooms. I've played many sessions of modified pot-limit poker with a $200 cap. This means that no bet may exceed $200. However, I've also seen $100 caps and $50 caps for games with novice pot-limit players. Critics rightly point out this is not really "pot-limit," since strong hands cannot be protected. In fact, it calls for a different set of strategies than regular pot limit (which is the reason for this column). But modified pot-limit is popular in some areas, so it deserves mentioning.
No-Limit Holdem -- Means you can bet any amount of chips that are in front of you at any time. This is the game that determines poker's world championship. As in pot-limit, the size of the blinds is important. What even more important is knowing your opponents. (Note: I have never seen nor heard of modified no-limit).
The three most popular forms of holdem are standard limit holdem -- followed by pot-limit and no-limit holdem (which are most commonly played in tournaments). However, other forms of holdem are now gaining in popularity. The fastest growing variation is progressive limit holdem, which is now spread in some casinos in Atlantic City and the Midwest. Also, the three-tiered betting structure ($1-4-8-8) is quite common in Las Vegas. I expect this form of holdem to become even more popular as more players realize that increasing the size of the bets on later rounds is to the advantage of the most skillful players.
What interesting about these various forms of holdem is some hands go up in value, while others go down in value. Most poker books base strategic advice on standard limit games only and are thus quite one-dimensional (one reason why "starting hand requirements" are largely a waste of time). Playing certain a hand from a certain position may be correct in standard limit holdem, but would be very wrong in other forms of holdem such as spread limit or fixed-limit games. Here's a brief look at what types of hands are preferable in certain variations and how to adjust one's strategy based on the betting structure:
Modified Limit Holdem -- This is the very worst structure for serious holdem players. Since the size of the maximum bet is limited to the size of a small bet (as in Colorado) this eliminates the most advanced poker strategies, such as bluffing and buying free cards. At the showdown everyone flips over their cards and the best hand wins. It's not uncommon to see four or five callers on the river in these types of games. The reason? Bad players are not punished for making loose calls on later streets. Since the big bet and small bet are the same, the pot frequently offers correct odds on the most outrageous draws. Unless you are playing strictly for recreation, these games should be avoided in most cases. If you do decide to play this game, you can usually play more hands than in a standard game, and you often have the correct odds to draw to many hands.
Progressive Limit Holdem -- This is the best limit structure for the skillful player. Skilled players punish weaker players on later expensive streets. In other words, superior post-flop skill makes things much more expensive for weaker players than in standard games. The higher bet size on the end also allows for more bluffing opportunities, which means players who read opponents well have a big advantage. This is a good structure for aggressive players. It is a bad structure for passive players. For this reason, I believe more good holdem players will be pushing for this form of holdem in the future (Note: It has already been instituted at the Tropicana in Atlantic City and has replaced standard holdem in the top section.). Big pairs and big suited connectors are stronger in progressive limit holdem than standard limit holdem. Small suited connectors and drawing hands go way down in value.
Standard Limit Holdem -- Not much more is to be said that hasn't already been written about this variation. This game is popular and will continue to be so for many years, since it is simple to understand. One major key to winning is understanding correct pot odds. Strategy is heavily dependent on the type of game you are in -- which may be tight or loose. Critics say this form of poker is too confining to skillful players (I agree). For example, most Europeans -- who are accustomed to pot limit poker -- won't sit in these games. However, for players who are learning holdem and want a simple, easy-to-understand betting structure, this is the best game to play.
Spread Limit Holdem -- This structure relies more on knowing one's opponents and understanding how much to bet at certain times. "Milking" opponents with proper bet sizes is a powerful skill. Also, these games are easier to scout, since you can look for games where players don't know the proper amount to bet. The most common example you will see is when weaker players telegraph the strength of their hand by the amount of the bet they make. This is never seen in standard games because the betting amounts are fixed. For this reason, on most streets it advisable to always bet the maximum chips -- except perhaps on the first round of betting. For more strategy considerations, see writings on low-limit 7-card stud which discuss the proper betting amount for third street play.
Pot-Limit Holdem -- Whereas limit holdem is a game of understanding starting hands, position, pot odds, and affords one the protection of not getting hurt too badly on any single hand, pot-limit (and no-limit) holdem are a completely difference game. They are so different, that they really are not the same poker game. This is the game where cards are not as important as a deep understanding and skill in knowing your opponents -- and human nature.
Modified Pot Limit Holdem -- This is a great break-in game for limit holdem players who want to learn "big-bet" poker, but who may be too intimidated to actually sit down in a game. The modified structure means there is a cap on betting. Therefore, no player will lose more than a given amount in a single hand (but, it can still be very expensive). In a sense, this is a cross between progressive limit poker and pot-limit poker. The major strategic consideration is that the maximum bet is fixed, so bluffing is not as powerful and callers may be justified in calling with weaker hands on later streets than in a normal pot-limit game without the cap.
No-Limit Holdem -- This is the game where you avoid drawing hands. Big pairs are at a premium. Limit versus no-limit holdem might as well be night and day. They are two very different styles of poker. What most interesting, is that few players master them both.
As you can see, Texas holdem is becoming increasingly more diverse. The game has evolved to the point where there are multiple strategies and many variations. The correct strategy is largely dependent on the betting variation. In holdem, contrary to what some poker books suggest, one size does not fit all.