A decade ago, it was nearly impossible to find a cash game of no-limit hold 'em. A few games were being spread online, but the big news was the online site Party Poker opening two tables of $15-$30 and then two $30-$60 games. Such high stakes! The waiting list was a mile long, and the game was incredible.
Come 2005, it was all about the Paradise Poker $40-$80 game, and there was a $10,000 World Poker Tour championship in 2006 with 523 people playing limit hold 'em on a cruise ship. That was the last moment of glory for limit hold 'em.
But for places with state-mandated caps on betting such as Arizona, Colorado and Minnesota, limit remains king. This makes me happy as a player, since limit games are so much more fun. I get to play more hands, see more turns and rivers, and make more decisions. I get to raise like I have three arms and not worry about somebody shoving their pile on me. The game is fun. The game remains good for a long time. People don't go broke and thus keep coming back. Variance is much higher, but variance is exactly what losing players need to book winning sessions and thus exactly what professionals need to have a good game.
The key to limit games is putting a man to a decision for some of his chips. Little bets come before and after the flop. Big bets happen on the turn and the river. The winner of the most bets is the winner of the game. Bets not lost are the same as bets won, and the goal is to win one big bet every hour. One big bet equals two little bets.
I was playing $30-$60 limit hole 'em late one night on a full table. The competition liked to put money into the pot. I opened with 7h 7d and got five callers. Staring across the table at 10 eyeballs looking in various directions, my thought was: "Can I get a set one time?"
If I were to flop a set, should I try to check-raise the field? Betting this flop would be awfully strong. I wouldn't be betting an overpair into that many people -- but that's in no-limit. A flop bet or raise (or sometimes even a three-bet) doesn't mean anything in limit games, but a check-raise does. Let's see a flop.
Bam! The flop came 7c 4h 3h. I bet $30 into a $353 pot because that's the most I could bet. The player in the lojack seat called, the player in the cutoff raised, and everyone else folded. I made it $90. The lojack grumbled and called again. The cutoff also called.
The turn was the 9s. I bet, the lojack called, and the cutoff raised. I reraised, making it $180. The lojack finally folded, and the cutoff capped it at four bets. Uh-oh. Get that band off the field; the game's not over yet.
The river was the 2h. I checked. The villain instantly checked behind and then mucked his cards after I tabled my set. Phew! Strike up the band!
I'm still having a hard time figuring out his hand. He may have been spewing a bit. I was proud of remembering that the way to play a big hand in limit hold 'em is to put as much money into the pot as possible because that number isn't big compared with the size of the. If you're considering a check-raise, it's usually better to go for a bet/three-bet. Giving up a small bet or two early won't yield a big mistake from opponents in limit games because they can't make a big mistake. Make them make lots of little mistakes instead.
Bryan Devonshire is a professional poker player from Las Vegas. Known as "Devo" on the tournament circuit, he has amassed more than $2 million in career earnings.