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Playing Pot-Limit Tournaments
Rafe Furst
July 17, 2006

I had the good fortune of winning my first World Series of Poker bracelet earlier this month in a $1,500 buy-in Pot-Limit Hold 'em event. It was an incredible thrill. For this tip, I thought I'd share some points of strategy that are specific to Pot-Limit Hold 'em tournaments. If you're looking to play any Pot-Limit events, either at the WSOP or elsewhere, you'll want to keep these things in mind. Note that my advice is specific to tournaments. In Pot-Limit Hold 'em ring games, there are other adjustments you'll want to make, but there isn't enough room to cover them here.

There are two major differences between Pot-Limit and No-Limit Hold 'em tournaments. The first is that simply declaring "all-in" usually isn't an option. You can only bet the amount that's in the pot. (For an open-raise, the pot size is seven times the small blind.) In No-Limit tournaments, when a player is on a short stack, he will often move all-in. This puts pressure on the other players; in order to call, someone has to find a strong hand. However, in Pot-Limit tournaments, unless you're on an extremely short stack, after you open-raise, you'll still have chips in front of you. This gives other players a chance to re-raise and move you off your hand.

In Pot-Limit tournaments, I prefer to be the player re-raising the open-raise. Usually, this is enough to put anyone all-in, so it's the point where you can apply the maximum pressure to your opponents.

The second major difference between Pot-Limit and No-Limit Hold 'em tournaments is that, in Pot-Limit, there are never antes whereas, in No-Limit, antes are added to the pot pretty early on (Level 5 of the WSOP structure).

To understand why this is so important, consider the math. In Level 12 of the WSOP No-Limit Hold 'em structure, the blinds are $600 and $1,200 and the ante is $200, making a total pot of $3,800 prior to any action (assuming a 10-handed table). If a player can steal a pot by open-raising to three times the big blind, he'll be getting some nice value; the $3,600 bet can win him $3,800. Stealing blinds and antes is so important in No-Limit that a player like Phil Hellmuth, Jr. can attribute much of his success to his ability to steal pots once the antes kick in.

In Pot-Limit, however, when the blinds are $600 and $1,200, the same open-raise to $3,600 can claim only $1,800 in profit. The risk-reward ratio isn't nearly as favorable. For this reason, I believe it's proper to play tighter in Pot-Limit events than in No-Limit events. It also provides another reason why you want to be the player re-raising rather than open-raising. The pot that you'd win by open raising and stealing the blinds isn't nearly as valuable as the one you can pick up by re-raising the open-raise.

In the WSOP event that I won, a few of my opponents didn't adjust to the Pot-Limit structure especially well and opened too many pots. My strategy was to let my opponents have many of these small pots. I was waiting for occasions where I could come over the top of an open raise with a big re-raise. I had crafted such a tight image that when I did re-raise, my opponents had to give me credit for a pretty big hand. When I took down these pots, I gathered a significant number of chips. This worked especially well late in the tournament, when each decision could cost a player his tournament life.

So, if you're heading to the WSOP, your favorite card room or online in order to play a Pot-Limit event, remember to play tighter pre-flop and look for spots to re-raise - that's where the best opportunities lie.

Rafe Furst
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