Sunday, August 31, 2008

How to Play No Limit Hold Em

Texas Hold Em poker is probably the oldest variant of poker that is still commonly played. The two variations of Hold Em are Limit and No Limit. The difference between the two is obvious enough: one has built-in limits to the betting, and the other does not.
However, the difference between the two games is a lot more complex than this, and for reasons that someone new to poker might think.
For most of my card-playing life I plated mostly Draw poker, and a bit of Stud. Of the two, Hold Em is closer to Stud in that there are rounds of betting between the dealing out of new cards, but Hold Em is different in that there are community cards. My next post will deal with the actual rules of Hold Em, but in this post I want to highlight what makes No Limit so unique.
When I first started getting interested in Hold Em I thought that No Limit was a scary proposition. The idea of losing an unlimited amount of money was simply too risky, and not a lot of fun. But when I tried Limit Hold Em I found that the pace of play was far too slow, especially since in a full table a smart player is playing in a very small percentage of hands. In one variant I stood to lose my shirt, and the other I stood to lose my mind. So I dropped Poker altogether.
But I recently learned that No Limit is not as scary as it sounds. In fact, it is probably safer than Limit Hold Em (when playing for real money of course), as long as you are playing in something called a "Sit 'n Go" tournament. In these, a specified number of players buy a seat for a set amount. This amount can vary drastically, but I have played on sites that cost no more than 12 cents per tournament.
In the tournaments that I play in, ten people buy a seat each, and ten of twelve cents goes to the prize pool, and two cents goes to the site. Of the prize pool now amounting to 1 dollar, there will be payouts for the top three players.
Now each players is given a stack of 1500 chips, and play starts. There is no further buy-in of chips; you are limited to what you start with, and if you lose them all you are out of the tournament. And since there are two blind bets per hand (one small, one big) that increase over time, there is an incentive to bet to stay alive.
In the ten-person tournaments the top three survivors split the prize pool. Third place gets 20 cents, second gets 30 cents, and first place gets 50 cents. The prize proportions are the same for larger buy-ins, and larger tournaments pay out more people.
But the big thing is that your losses are limited to the buy-in, and are not directly based on your bets! I learned about this type of play at a site where I bought a poker guide on No Limit Hold Em. This guide is specifically aimed at teaching you how to finish in the money at Sit N Go tournaments. How effective was it? My very first tournament I finished in the money, in third place. I have been somewhat consistent in that I place in the money as often as not now, but in the beginning it was a bit slow. Also, I have not yet placed in first, which is a problem as it severely reduces the average payout. As a result, my winnings are still a bit behind my buy-ins, by a few cents, but I am catching up. Because of the site fee (20% of the stake amount, or 2 cents for every ten cents), you have to finish in the money 50 % of the time, or even more if your top finish is 3rd place.
The beauty of the Sit N Go tournament style of play is that I can play a lot of games and hands without fear of losing tons of money, while I get practice and get better at the game. And if you pay attention you can pick up things that will improve your play pretty quickly. I will be posting about those from time to time.
Anyway, if you are interested in playing Sit N Go tournaments, I heartily recommend Titan Poker; and if you really want to learn to win, check out this guide on Sit N Go tournament strategy.