How to win Limit Hold’em

Limit Hold’em is less popular that it’s brasher No Limit cousin, but it offers plenty of opportunities

It’s important to play aggressively when the possibility of the short-stack begins to loom

If you are taking up the challenge of H.O.R.S.E., then limit hold’em will be the first test of your poker skills. As in all tournaments, you need to start out with a keen eye for the tendencies of your opponents whilst the stakes are still low. Remember, other players will be observing you, so be very aware of the table image you project.

There are generally two approaches at this stage. Firstly, you can either play a conservative game in the hope that your opponents notice and respect your bets more when the stakes rise. Secondly, you may want to mix it up whilst the blinds are still low and hope to create a wild image to bully or get paid off with later.

It’s also important to establish in the first round that you aren’t going to back off a marginal hand easily. When you find yourself being attacked by other aggressive opponents, don’t give up too easily. You could call them down with only second or third pair, which could easily be the best hand in limit hold’em.

The first thing to notice about a limit hold’em tournament is it’s extremely difficult to grow your stack at a comparable pace to that of the rising blinds – unlike in no-limit where you may double up on the first hand. As the stakes rise you will see the average stackto- blinds ratio plummet dramatically, creating a bottleneck where players are forced to make a move to survive.

However, there are a few things you can do to help anticipate the crunch. In the early rounds of a limit hold’em tournament you should be prepared to play more hands than is normal in a nolimit tournament. However, you should always make sure you are getting the odds to chase your flush and straight draws. It’s important to be aware other players will be doing the same so don’t relinquish top pair or an overpair unless the board looks very scary. And you should try to price players out of their draw if the opportunity arises.

It’s also important to play more aggressively when the possibility of ending up as a short-stack looms. You need to look for tight and conservative players, or at least those that have been forced into this style who may allow their blinds to be stolen. Of course, no matter how well things go, at some stage you are likely to find yourself under pressure and it’s important to have a measure of where that point is. For example, in an average tight aggressive game – unless fireworks explode in any one hand – you will generally require only three to five big bets to play a hand all the way to the river. Therefore, if you have a stack of 20 big bets or greater, you can afford to lose at least a couple of hands before coming under any pressure.

Stuck in the middle

Things become more delicate, however, when you have a moderately short-stack of five to ten big bets. At this stage you need to pay particular attention to when you enter a pot and try not to play awkward hands like small pairs or small Aces – which could prove costly. Think about the ‘opportunity cost’ of playing a marginal hand at any given point, and whether by doing so you risk missing out on the chance of a much more profitable situation later.

Whereas in no-limit this translates into waiting for a big hand to go all-in with, in limit hold’em it relates more to playing hands that have a chance of catching a favourable flop. For example, with your stack in single digits, K-J becomes a much more playable hand in late position than something like 7-7. In either instance it’s unlikely you will win uncontested (the big blind rarely folds in limit hold’em), but with the former you will have a clearer idea of when you are winning most of the time after the flop.

As the mid-game progresses and the money positions come into view, not only will the stack sizes of the remaining players become increasingly divergent but so too will their motivation. You’ll find the shorter-stacked players simply hoping to hang on until the final table. These players will need to play conservatively with a stack of five-to-ten big bets, and the luck factor dictates that all but the strongest hands should still be folded pre-flop.

You can really start to push your opponents around if you build up a big stack. In limit, they can’t push back by going all-in and even the strongest of hands pre-flop can easily be outdrawn. You only have to risk two small bets to win one and a half, and even if you are called. you’ll still have the opportunity to win four and a half with your one continuation bet on the flop. Given the attractive nature of these odds and the structure of limit hold’em, it should be clear even to rookies that this is a good point to start getting rich off the tight, medium and shorter stacks.

If you do make the final table, you are still only halfway to the finishing line. Your immediate strategy – as always – will be dictated by the size of your stack. But remember: the more players you lose, the more hands you’ll need to start playing and the more aggressively you need to play them. When down to headsup you should play almost every hand, as there’s nothing left to think about other than getting all the chips in and winning.

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