Pot Limit Texas Holdem Pointers and Strategy Tips

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The recreational poker community can generally be divided into two camps, those who play no limit Texas holdem and others who prefer pot limit Omaha.

But these branches on the poker variant family tree can be intertwined to create a hybrid of sorts – pot limit holdem.

Bridging the gap between limit holdem – in which players can bet and raise in predetermined increments – and the unlimited betting of no limit holdem, the pot limit variety offers the best of both worlds.

Because betting is limited to the current size of the pot, the maniacs out there can’t bully you off a promising hand preflop with a massive all-in overbet.

No limit holdem players, in both tournaments and cash games, are notorious for putting opponents to the test for their entire stack

The rare raising war aside, the stilted structure of pot limit holdem ensures that you’ll face preflop bets which are relatively small in comparison to your stack.

This protection helps slow the game down somewhat during the pre-flop stage, but pot limit holdem certainly isn’t your grandparent’s leisurely $3/$6 limit game. I’ll get into the mathematical mechanics of pot limit betting a little later in the page, but trust me when I tell that the pot can become bloated in a hurry. By and large, stacks are effectively at risk by the flop or turn when the betting has been “potted” more than once.

Although it’s definitely not the most popular game in this day and age – the World Series of Poker (WSOP) removed it from the schedule in 2016 due to declining attendance – pot limit holdem tables can still be found from time to time. And if you’re looking for the perfect middle ground for your next home game, something limit and no limit enthusiasts will feel comfortable playing, this is the variant for you.

On that note, I’m happy to pass along a few tips and tricks of the trade when it comes to pot limit holdem strategy. Surprisingly, the game’s truncated betting patterns create a slew of strategic considerations that separate it entirely from limit and no limit holdem. So keep reading to learn about the antique game of pot limit holdem, a perfect hybrid of its more popular cousins.

Rules of the Road

Before diving into the intricacies of pot limit holdem strategy, it’s important to gain a firm grasp of the rules and gameplay.

Thankfully, up until the betting begins, the pot limit game plays out identically to traditional Holdem. You’ll start with two hole cards dealt face down, the small and big blind sit to the direct left of the dealer button, and players can either fold, call the big blind, or raise.

From there, the dealer will spread three cards to the community board (the “flop”), followed by another round of betting. Single cards are dealt out on the “turn” and “river,” with a round of betting after each. Upon showdown, the best five-card poker hand takes down the pot.

Primer on Pot Limit Betting Before the Flop

As for the betting structure, here’s how things shake out during the pre-flop stage.

I’ll use a standard nine-handed cash game using a $5 small blind and a $10 big blind to illustrate how pot limit holdem betting takes place. Of course, you might prefer to play a smaller game like $1 / $2 or $2 / $5, but the $5 / $10 structure just makes the math easier – for you and me both.

You’re sitting under the gun, or next to act after the big blind, and at this point, the pot contains $15 ($5 small blind + $10 big blind).

You look down at Jack-Ten suited and decide to raise the straight magnet – but how much can you pump it up to here?

Well, the way I learned how to remember pot limit betting rules goes like this. Remember the old trope in poker games played on TV or the movies, where a player says “I’ll call that, and I’ll raise ya too?” Of course, that’s a string bet according to the rules of poker, as you can either call or raise – but not both.

The “call and raise” dynamic may not be legal, but it is a great way to keep track of pot limit holdem betting. In the example hand, the pot contains $15 and it’s on you to either fold, call the $10 big blind, or raise it up. To determine your maximum allowable raise, just imagine that you’re calling the $10 (or whatever the pending wager is at the time), and then add the pot up.

In this case, if you called the $10 big blind the total pot would climb to $25 – and that’s the number used for pot limit raising purposes.

Thus, with J-10 of hearts in the hole and betting chips at the ready, your maximum bet would be a raise to $35 total. If you’re a formula person, this is how the bets add up in the example hand:

$5 small + $10 big + $10 “call” = $25 pot -> Max raise is $25 ->$25 + $10 “call” = $35 total bet

Now, I should point out that you don’t have to raise to the full pot amount, that’s just the limit. So, using the same scenario, your available raises would range from $20 (double the $10 big blind) to $35 (the full pot) – and anywhere in between. In cash games, you’ll often see a hand like this play out with the initial raiser popping it to $26 or $31, rather than the $35 maximum.

Now then, we’ve covered the most difficult terrain by introducing pot limit concepts, so now it’s time to see how they play out in real time.

After bumping the betting up to $35 with your J-10 suited, the next four players decide to fold.

This brings the action to the “hijack” position or two seats to the right of the button. This player likes the look of her cards, so she looks to the dealer and announces “pot” to make the three-bet.

Note:

In the game of pot limit holdem, you’ll hear the word “pot” proclaimed more than any other verbal declaration. And fortunately for folks who don’t dig mental math, the dealer will always break the pot down and count it up for you, letting you know the exact amount you can raise too.

In our example hand, the total pot stands at $50 – ($5 small blind + $10 big blind + $35 opening raise = $50).

Using the “I’ll call and raise it” trick, we know that the hijack player intending to raise has to call your $35 raise first, bloating the pot to $85 – which is now the maximum allowable raise.

Thus, the dealer would let the player know that her total bet comes to $120 – ($35 “call” + $85 raise = $120). With her $120 raise forcing folds from the cutoff, the button, and the blinds, the action is now back on you.

If you wanted to reraise here, you’d run through the same calculations. A raise would require a call of $120 first, which adds to her $120 and the blinds ($15) to bring the total to $255. Combined with the $120 call, your pot-sized reraise would come to $375.

We’ll end the reraising tutorial there though, as you probably get the gist of things by now. Content to see a flop with your suited connector, you simply call your opponent’s three-bet to $120, creating a total pot of $255 heading to the flop – which rains down with a beautiful J-10-2 rainbow board.

Primer on Pot Limit Betting After the Flop

The tough stuff is out of the way, trust me.

Post-flop betting in pot limit holdem is a much simpler prospect because the pot amount is already defined and we don’t have blinds to worry about.

In the example hand, you’re first to act holding J-10 on a perfect flop reading J-10-2 rainbow, with $255 in the *pot.

Note:

Cash games played in casinos or online poker rooms will take their rake from the pot, so the actual amount in this example would be something like $253. But I’ll leave that aside to keep the math clear.

With the action on you, your betting options are easy to grasp – anything from the $10 big blind to the $255 size of the pot is in play.

And this is where pot limit holdem takes on a different dimension from its limit and no limit relatives. I’ll get into that in more detail down below in the strategy section but sufficed to say, knowing exactly how much your opponent can bet or raise provides a certain level of consistency when it comes to calculating pot odds.

You look good with top two pair on a jack-high board, so your fire out a bet of $200 to bring the pot to $455. The action moves to the hijack player, and she announces “raise” – but not “pot.”

Let’s see what her raising options are.

At the very least, she’d have to double your wager to make a minimum raise, so her range begins at a raise to $400. On the other side of the spectrum, after “calling” the $200 and swelling the pot to $655, her maximum allowable pot-sized raise would be to $855.

The hijack player goes for a flat $800 raise, enough to put you all in and at risk. You happily call with top two, which puts a frown on your opponent’s face as she tables pocket queens. The turn and river both blank out, and your J-10 suited delivers her premium pocket pair a bad beat.

As you can see, pot limit holdem can quickly produce huge pots, as the stakes seem to increase exponentially. In cash games where players are sitting on deep stacks, the action can go from mild-mannered before the flop to maniacal on further streets. And it only takes a pot-sized raise or two for entire stacks to pushed forward.

How Pot Limit Betting Impacts Holdem Pot Odds Strategy

I chose that fortunate ending to the example hand for good reason – pot limit holdem plays out much differently preflop.

In a typical no limit holdem cash game, your opening raise to $35 holding J-10 suited would make perfect sense – but the woman holding Q-Q would be free to choose any three-bet amount she liked. She certainly wouldn’t make it $120 total, or just $70 more to you, when a hefty reraise to $225 or so would most likely push you out of the hand.

In this way, pot limit holdem strategy prioritizes true pot odds rather than the implied odds that dominate no limit gameplay. Holding hands that have a lot of potential – suited connectors like your J-10 of hearts and low- to mid-range pocket pairs for set-mining purposes – is made much more valuable because you’ll generally be laid great odds by the pot.

In fact, those pot odds will always stand at an advantageous 2 to 1 when you face a pot-sized bet or raise in a heads-up hand.

This differs dramatically from limit holdem, in which the small maximum wager size inevitably creates massive pot odds

Say you’re four-handed on the flop in a $2 / $4 limit game, with $16 in the pot and the action on you. If you fire out the $4 bet, your next opponent is being laid pot odds of 5 to 1 ($4 call to win $20 in the pot). This structure makes playing many marginal hands profitable in limit holdem because you’re almost always getting the right price to proceed.

Conversely, you could bet $200 into the $16 pot while playing no limit holdem, which lays your opponents essentially even pot odds ($200 call to win $216 pot). In this case, players must prioritize their implied odds – or the additional money that might be won if you hit your hand or hold up – ahead of pot odds.

But given the same scenario at a pot limit holdem table, you can only bet $16 into the $16 pot, laying opponents exactly 2 to 1. And if your nemesis clicks it back with a pot-sized raise to $64 total ($16 in pot + your $16 bet + $16 “call” = $48 -> $48 + $16 “call” = $64 total raise)?

Well, you’d need to call $48 more to win the $96 total pot, which lays you 2 to 1 pot odds once again.

This knowledge that you’ll never be faced with heads-up pot odds better or worse than 2 to 1 is a game-changer, and you should take it to heart as the prime strategy variation between pot limit holdem and its sister variants.

The Crucial Concept of Pot Control

Aside from playing a wider range of low pocket pairs and suited connectors preflop, thanks to the advantageous pot odds, actual Holdem hands play out pretty similarly between pot limit and no limit.

In other words, if you’re loose-aggressive in no limit games, bombs away should work just fine while playing pot limit. In the same vein, tight-conservative players can still get away with picking their spots and springing traps.

Where the two games diverge significantly, however, is how you’ll be using bet sizing to deploy your preferred strategy

One spot I always think about when gearing up for a pot limit grind is flopping a monster while first to act. Most of the casual no limit enthusiasts out there will go for the check-raise, while more skilled players might lead out with a small bet to grow the pot. Either approach is fine, as all it takes is an all-in bet to get your stack in the middle.

But when the goal is getting it all in at the pot limit table, you’ll be put in some tough situations. Let’s say you’re heads up after flopping a flush, first to act with $10 in the pot.

Here, you could opt for the standard pot-sized bet of $10, this works to “handcuff” the action going forward. Pot limit players typically don’t like bloating the pot without the nuts, so your opponent will likely just call the aggressive bet, creating a total pot of $30 going forward.

So let’s try and get tricky with a smaller bet.

If you fire out a small bet of $5 instead, your opponent can still go with the flat call – but the pot stands at $20 going to the turn, which is near enough to $30 that it doesn’t really matter.

On the other hand, if they decide to go for a big pot-sized raise, they can bump it up to $25 total ($10 pot + your $5 bet + $5 “call” = $20 -> $20 + $5 “call” = $25 pot-sized raise).

Their raise inflates the pot to $40, and it’s $20 to you if you’d like to call. You’re not content to just call with a made hand though, so you go for the kill by announcing “pot” yourself. The total raise comes to $80 back on your opponent, meaning the smaller $5 bet opened the door to an $80 wager just for them to see the turn.

Important:

Knowing how to control the size of the pot to your advantage is a critical key to consistent success in pot limit holdem.

Pot control works both ways too, so when you’re still drawing to a hand while sitting in early position, your best play is almost always to check-call. Taking unnecessary stabs at the pot only opens a window of opportunity for your opponent to push you around with a pot-sized raise.

If you’re on something like an open-ended straight draw or a flush draw heading to the turn, with $25 in the pot, your pot control goal should be to see the turn for $25 – and nothing more. A passive, check-calling approach when first to act is the best play when holding a draw because you’ll be guaranteed to be getting no worse than 2 to 1 on your money.

If you’re in late position while drawing, and the action checks to you, checking back is the optimal move. And from the late position, while facing a bet, flat calling provides the best opportunity to complete your draw on the cheap.

A Note on Pot Limit Holdem Tournaments

Back in a bygone era in poker history, pot limit holdem tournaments were a fixture at the big series like the WSOP.

In fact, when Daniel “Kid Poker” Negreanu won the first of his six gold bracelets in 1998, he did so in a $2,000 buy-in pot limit holdem event. One year before that, Phil Hellmuth scored the sixth of his all-time leading 14 gold bracelets in $3,000 pot limit holdem.

Unfortunately, the variant has gone the way of the dodo at the WSOP, having been removed entirely from the schedule in 2016.

The series had introduced a prestigious $10,000 pot limit holdem World Championship event in 2008. That tournament attracted 352 entries, but attendance plummeted to 275 the following summer and fell every year after that. By the time only 160 players showed up to the 2014 edition, the $10,000 buy-in event was shelved for good.

The last WSOP event to feature pot limit holdem exclusively was held in 2015, and the 639 entries were an improvement over the year before, tournament organizers abandoned the game after that.

Note:

One reason for the demise of pot limit holdem tournaments is the lack of antes, which turns the game into a long, drawn-out affair

Most pros equated it to a cash game using tournament chips, as players were free to sit back and wait for monsters without the mounting pressure of antes.

With that said, you should focus your attention on the cash games – especially those found online – to get your pot limit holdem fix.

Conclusion

Sometimes the limit holdem tables like watching paint dry, while no limit games are an adrenaline pumping nail-biter when “all-in” is declared – which is why I love pot limit holdem. It’s the perfect balance between the two more popular variants, and as I hope you learned here, the strategic considerations give thinking poker players so much new material to ponder.

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