Beginner Betting Secrets: No-Limit

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The most commonly played poker variation in the world is Texas Hold'em. Of all the people playing Hold'em, the majority of them are playing No-Limit.

No-Limit Hold'em has become so popular in fact that many beginners don't even realize there are any other betting structures.

Hold'em has become synonymous with poker, and No-Limit has become synonymous with Hold'em.

For these reasons and more, learning to play an airtight No-Limit game is crucial to your success on the felt.

Pot Control

The importance of pot control can't be stressed enough. Even though you're able to bet any amount, from the big blind to your entire stack, the size of the pot typically dictates the size of bets to be made during the hand.

In No-Limit, players commonly size their bets as a percentage of the current pot size. This means that the size of the bets you make will increase exponentially as the pot progresses to later streets.

Take a look at this chart and let the concepts behind it sink in:

Preflop Pot % of Pot Bet Flop $ | Bet $ Turn $ | Bet $ River $ | Bet $ Total $ Bet
$10 25% $10 | $3 $16 | $4 $24 | $6 $13
$10 50% $10 | $5 $20 | $10 $40 | $20 $35
$10 75% $10 | $8 $26 | $20 $66 | $50 $78
$10 100% $10 | $10 $30 | $30 $90 | $90 $130

Jonathan Plens
Checking is your greatest pot-control weapon.

All amounts resulting in a decimal place have been rounded up. In online poker you could bet the amount including cents; in live poker the smallest chip on this table will be $1.

Due to the exponential increase across multiple streets, the final betting amount of 50% is actually 73% less money than that of a 100% bet amount.

Many beginners will find this concept shocking. It's not that they don't have the ability to figure it out; it's that they simply haven't given the topic any thought.

Because of this dramatic increase, the amount of money you bet on the turn has a far greater impact on the final pot amount than most players tend to think.

Implied Odds

Being successful in No-Limit poker requires as much understanding of implied odds as of pot odds - or more.

Simply put, pot odds is the relationship between the amount of money in the pot and the amount of money it requires for you to continue on in the hand.

Implied odds is the relationship between the amount of money you have to pay to continue in the hand versus the amount of money you stand to make if successful.

In a Limit or Pot-Limit game, your implied odds are limited by the maximum bet amounts, while in No-Limit they're only constrained by the effective stacks in play. "Effective stack size" means the maximum amount of chips that can possibly be played in the hand.

For example:

If you have a stack of $500 but your opponent only has a stack of $200, neither you nor your opponent can bet any more than $200, making your effective stacks $200.

In No-Limit, if your hand has a large amount of equity (meaning it's a very strong hand, such as pocket aces), your goal is to maximize the pot, leaning on the hand's inherent equity to make you money.

A hand such as small suited one-gappers has considerably less equity, but has the ability to make an invisible large hand. These hands with little equity are rarely in a situation with very favorable pot odds.

Kelly Kim
Kelly Kim is all-in.

Because a hand like this will be hard to suss out when it hits a monster, it can be easy to coax other players into betting and calling large amounts of money against you. These implied odds turn hands that in a fixed-limit game would mostly be losers into glorious winners in a No-Limit game.

The All-In

The most obvious advantage of No-Limit over other forms of poker is that it allows you to move all-in. The fact that you can move all-in has two major implications for No-Limit play:

  1. Players can protect hands by betting more than the pot, absolutely eliminating any pot odds.
  2. Once a player is all-in, they are officially unbluffable.

The ability to become unbluffable allows players to eliminate positional advantage. It also forces the other players to make a difficult choice based purely on the merit of their hand. Once a player is all-in, only the best hand on the river will win - it's as simple as that.

Knowing when to move all-in and when not to merits an article unto itself. (Check out this one for tournament-specific advice.) It's extremely situational. When starting out, the best rule of thumb is to only ever move, or call, all-in when you are as sure as you can be that you have the absolute best hand.

With these ideas in tow, you're well on your way to learning how to play a strong No-Limit game. Given that it's one of the most popular games, with some of the heaviest action, knowing how to play No-Limit is a valuable advantage for any poker player or hopeful.

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