Limit Hold'em Tournaments

David Sklansky

OK; so you just registered for a tournament on your favorite online room. In the first hand you get dealt pocket aces; there's a raise under the gun and it comes around to you.

Time for a reraise, you figure; let's jack it up to 6x the BB. Wait - you can only min-raise?! What is this??

Uh-oh... by mistake you signed up for a Limit tournament.

I'm sure we've all done this at one point. How do you react? Desperately: try and dump all your chips asap.

Just kidding (kind of). Not everyone joins Limit tournaments by accident. Some really do like to play them. Hard to believe, I know, but true.

Why? Well, it's simple: whereas some players are unable to last past the first few blind levels in a No-Limit tourney, in Limit, it's almost impossible not to make the first break!

All facetiousness aside, what follows is a look at the adjustments you have to make to play in a Limit tournament.

Andy Bloch
This shot of Andy Bloch was taken right after he found out that this was actually a WSOP Limit event.

Fundamental Concepts

The early stages of a Limit tournament play almost the same as that of a Limit Hold'em cash game.

As in No-Limit tournaments, you should be playing tight in the early stages. You don't want to give away chips needlessly.

In fact, you should be playing even tighter than you would in a regular Limit cash game. This is because, as in all tournaments, your chip stack is finite. That is, you cannot rebuy when your chips are all gone.

Your chips are your livelihood. Lose them and you're out. So you must protect these chips at all times.

You protect your chips by playing in position and by playing premium hands. Do not mess around with marginal hands out of position. It will only lead to you bleeding chips.

Avoid popular trap hands like K-J, A-T, Q-T, etc. Although they look nice, you run the risk with them of making a hand that's second-best at showdown. The chips you lose at that juncture may be the difference between cashing and bubbling.

Stealing Blinds: A Crucial Tactic

Just as they do in a No-Limit tournament, the blinds are going to be going up. They usually increase every 10-60 minutes, depending on the tournament.

As the blinds rise, players' stack-to-blinds ratios become worse. Some players tighten up, just trying to make it to the next level.

You should do the opposite. You should loosen up and attempt to steal pots off these tight players. You must not allow yourself to be blinded out.

As the blinds increase, you should begin to mix in blind steals from late position. Unfortunately, blind steals don't work the same way they do in regular tournaments. The big blind is far more likely to defend his blind against a single raise because of the odds he will be getting.

It's because of this that you'll have to play poker on the flop. Blind battles are often won by middle pair and up but sometimes as little as ace-high will take it. Blind battles are situationally dependent. You must look at your image, what you know about the other player and how he reacts to blind steal attempts, what your previous history is, etc., to gauge how strong your hand is.

Because stealing blinds is a part of everyone's tournament strategy, you will not only have to steal, you'll have to defend your blinds.

The best defense against steals is usually aggression rather than a more reactive strategy. By smooth-calling and hoping to hit the flop, you're going to be giving up too often when the flop doesn't cooperate. It's often better to play back by three-betting. Three-betting gives you the initiative in the hand. You can often win pots on the flop just by betting.

Phil Ivey
Limit, No-Limit, Pot-Limit... Ivey eats it all up.

An Example

Let's look at a blind-steal hand.

You're dealt K J in the big blind.

The blinds are $50/$100 and you have a stack of $2,500.

It's folded around to the button, who makes a raise.

The small blind folds and you three-bet. (Note: Generally this hand should be folded to a raise. But since this is a blind-steal situation, your hand beats his steal range.)

He smooth-calls and the flop comes:

Q 2 J

You bet $100 and he raises.

Now whatever you do, do not fold. If you have history in blind-battle pots, you can three-bet him. His hand range is still fairly wide. You can also call him and then check-call the next couple streets.

At showdown in such cases you'll often find yourself with the best hand. Hand strength has to be evaluated on a sliding scale; what may be a weak hand in a full-ring cash game against an EP raise is often a strong hand against a steal attempt with second pair, good kicker.

A Fine Balance

In fact, the above scenario underlines how important it is to think outside the box and see how hand values change.

If you don't adjust, you'll be bluffed out of many pots. However, if you adjust too much, you will be paying off with second best on the river too much. It's a slippery slope so always make sure you are paying attention to the table flow.

Limit tournaments can actually be kind of fun once you get into them. Just try not to overthink them. They are really the same concept as No-Limit tournaments. They play until there is one person remaining. You can apply everything you know about Limit Hold'em and everything you know about No-Limit tournaments.

You must be able to adapt to different blind levels and know when to steal and when to defend and when not to do these things. Your goal, just as in a No-Limit tournament, is to build your stack. You do this by value betting your good hands, folding your bad ones, getting your money in good and mixing in the right amount of steals.

If you can successfully juggle all these elements of strategy, you'll find yourself doing quite well in Limit tournaments.

More intermediate strategy articles from Dan Skolovy:

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Sam 2015-06-02 16:49:52

I hate no-limit for the same reason, the suck-outs. You hold pocket aces and someone tries to re-rise/bluff you with bottom pair, you call and get sucked out on the river and all your stack is gone. That is no-limit for you. You need to be extremely lucky in no-limit to win it all or even place in the money. I wish there where more Limit Tournaments. That is why I am giving up on poker.......

Dan 2012-09-03 14:32:48

I play Limit Poker on a semi-professional level. I used to play No Limit, but while I was ahead overall, it was an extreme rollercoaster ride. While still profitable (barely,) I decided to switch to Limit. The competition is weaker, and in my opinion, it's more of a skill game. In no limit, if I get sucked out on the river by a weaker player, I lose all my chips. In limit, if I get sucked out on the river, I only lose a few dollars. As long as I outplay my opponents and continue to put myself in advantageous situations, I will come out ahead.

In no limit, I never re-bought. This allowed me to come out ahead despite my winning percentage being just above 50%. In limit, I have an 81% winning percentage. I look it as the tortoise vs. the heir. Eventually, I hope poker players realize that the real skill is in limit poker. It might not be as 'cool' but you can make a living at it.

As far as your article goes, I would only defend my blind against a tight player. As long as he doesn't hit the flop hard, I will be able to get him off. While I'm ususally the most aggresive player at a limit table, I won't defend my blind against another aggressive player. This just becomes a pride game where the bets are made all the way to the river regardless of the situation. There is no skill in that. To me, blinds are forced fees for playing the game. I don't need to protect them because they're not bets I voluntailry made.

Just my $02.

Thomas 2010-02-02 20:36:17

How should you play short stacked in a limit holdem tournament

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