Moving to Big Bet Poker Games

© 2006 Randy Saylor

Some poker players are born to grind at fixed-limit games. Others are bored to tears by the small wins or infuriated by the swings of bad beats. Not everyone is cut out for big bet poker (pot-limit or no-limit games), but for those wired for these big bet games, they can be real profit centers. The term big bet does not mean that a player will always make big bets, rather, that the size of the bets increases rapidly in relation to the blinds.

Contrary to popular belief, big bet poker players generally don’t win many big pots. They pay blinds and win small pots regularly. This small up-and-down keeps them near even while they wait for the big hand or the big fish that brings their profits.

The decision to play pot-limit or no-limit is not a crucial one. Availability of games is a big factor in favor of no-limit since about three times as many games exist in no-limit. Other than that, the two games can be played somewhat similarly, since proper no-limit holdem usually bases bet sizes on the current size of the pot. Identifying and playing only at really good tables is key, and any big bet player should be flexible regarding game and limit (within their bankroll). Finding two fish at a $50 table when your normal game is $200 is worth the time.


Bankroll and Attitudes


Bankroll estimates for big bet poker range from 10 buy-ins on the risky side to 25 or more buy-ins on the conservative side. The maximum buy-in for these tables is usually 100 times the big blind. Unless you are playing a specific bankroll strategy, you should always be buying in for the table maximum to maximize the big pots when you do win them. Some specialized no-limit bankroll strategies advocate buying in for smaller amounts and playing very aggressively. These are not discussed here.

You must be willing to do two things absolutely: play aggressively and be honest with yourself. Play big hands aggressively, especially when draws are present. If you make good bets with made hands against draws and lose the hand, analyze the situation honestly: is the game still profitable? Did I play the hand correctly? Am I playing my best game? Am I not on tilt? If the answer to all four questions is yes, you can and should continue playing that table. Don’t abandon a situation with positive expectation just because of some bad luck.


Learning the Basics


If you are going to play big bet holdem, it is understood that you have a fix on the basics of limit holdem. Once you have that, start re-orienting your thinking about bet sizes. Bets made before the flop are generally described in multiples of the big blind. In a $1/2 blind game, an $8 bet preflop is a “raise to 4xBB.” Bets after the flop are described as fractions or multiples of the pot, such as a “half-pot bet” or a “pot-sized bet.”

Two basic moves are important to learn: the continuation bet and the semi-bluff. The continuation bet is a standard move made by the pre-flop raiser, whether they whiffed the flop or not. Being the pre-flop raiser puts you in control, and often the continuation bet of one-half the pot ends the hand. Since the chances are decent that the flop missed your opponent as well, this bet has a good risk-return ratio.

The semi-bluff is a bet made because it has two chances to win: 1) the bet may cause the other player(s) to fold, and 2) if called, the next card(s) may improve you to the best hand. Betting on flops that give you multiple draws is a good place for this. If you sit back and play passively on draws, you won’t get any action when they come through. Betting on the come builds the pot and increases the likelihood you’ll get calls when you complete your hand.


Understanding Pot Size Bets


Figuring out the range of acceptable bets at various stages of pot-limit games is difficult and confusing at times. No-limit bets are easy: you can bet anything between the big blind and the rest of your stack. Pot-limit bets range from the size of the big blind on up, but the lower limit depends on whether the previous move was a bet or a raise. If the player acting before you bets, you can call, raise the size of the bet, or make a full pot raise (explained below). If the player acting before you raised, you may call, raise the same amount as the previous raise, or make a full pot bet.

The maximum raise allowed is the size of the pot. When calculating pot-sized raises, you must remember that you are technically making a call (of the previous bet) and a raise (of the amount in the pot) all in one motion. If playing a live game, you must announce “raise” before acting, otherwise your actions will be construed as a string bet. Online poker sites make this easy by adjusting the slider to only allow legal bets.

In a $1/2 blind game, the first person to act preflop can call the $2 big blind, or raise to any amount between $4 and $7. The raise to $4 is the minimum raise, since the previous action was $2. The $7 amount is by considering the amount the bettor must first call, $2, which makes the pot $5, then the pot-sized raise of $5. Any amount between $4 and $7 is a legal raise (less would be allowed if the player is all-in).

Assume the player makes the maximum raise, to $7. There is now $10 in the pot. The next player to act can fold, call the $7 bet, or raise. The minimum raise is $7 (the size of the previous bet). The maximum raise is $24 (calling the previous $7 makes the pot $17, then a $17 raise totals $24). Another maximum raise behind this would be to $82. As you can see, pots can be built quickly in pot-limit poker. This game is not for the faint of heart.

One available poker game to help a player make the transition to big bet poker is the half-pot limit holdem found at UltimateBet. Another helpful game is the no-limit holdem (with caps) found at Full Tilt Poker. Although it is played as a regular no-limit cash game, there is a cap on the amount any player can lose in an individual hand.

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100% up to $600
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150% up to $750
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