Basic Limit Hold'em Strategy

Limit Hold'em is a game of edges.  You can’t de-stack people like you can in no limit, but that’s OK because in limit Hold'em, your opponents will often have no idea how much of an edge you have on them.  The limited betting amounts are deceptively small but they add up to significant profits over the long term.

A common complaint heard from new players is that in low limit games, it’s impossible to bet enough to knock your opponents out of the pot and they always just end up drawing out on you.  It is true that in low limit games you will lose many pots to draws, but if you are charging your opponents by betting and raising, you will profit over the long run.  Remember, any time an opponent chases against the odds, you are profiting. 

You always have to look to the long term in limit Hold'em.  It’s a game of swings in the short run and steady profits (hopefully) in the long run.  In pursuance of that long term profit, this strategy guide is going to briefly cover five topics:

1. Bankroll
2. Starting Hands
3. Position
4. Playing Tight-Aggressive
5. Pot Odds

Bankroll

Because of the swings you will encounter in limit Hold'em, it is critical that you strictly adhere to certain bankroll guidelines.  The bankroll is the poker player’s lifeblood, but it is probably the most abused, mistreated thing in the poker world.  It does not matter how good you are; you will experience major downswings as a result of simple variance.

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The necessary bankroll size can vary based upon your goals and poker skill.  Professional players need much larger bankrolls than casual players and no bankroll is big enough for big time losing players.

The casual limit Hold'em player should have a minimum bankroll of at least 300 big bets for the limit they play at.  As you move up in stakes and become more serious about the game, you’ll want to increase your bankroll up to about 600 big bets.  Professional players may want to keep an even larger bankroll.

Stakes 300BB 600BB
.10/.25 $75 $150
.25/.50 $150 $300
.50/1.00 $300 $600
1/2 $600 $1,200
2/4 $1,200 $2,400
3/6 $1,800 $3,600
5/10 $3,000 $6,000
10/20 $6,000 $12,000
20/40 $12,000 $24,000
30/60 $18,000 $36,000


Starting Hands

When choosing your starting hands, there are several factors to consider.  First of all, you need to be able to judge what constitutes a quality starting hand.  Big pairs and high card hands like AK and AQ are the most desirable, with other hands becoming playable in late position and as more players enter the pot.

In early position, you will want to play extremely tight, mostly sticking to the big pairs AA-TT and AK/AQ.  Feel free to mix it up occasionally, but the risk of additional raises behind you and playing the entire hand from out of position make it difficult to play many hands profitably from early position.

In late position, you can loosen up a little bit with the starting hands.  If several people have entered the pot, you can enter with speculative hands like suited connectors and small pairs.  You can also come in with a raise with hands like KQ, AJ and 99.  If nobody has entered the pot, you can steal with a wide variety of hands, depending on how hard the players in the blind positions defend their blinds.

Position

This goes along with the previous section – you want to play extra tight from early position and you can loosen up in late position.  When you play a hand from early position, you are going to have to act first for the rest of the hand.  This means your opponent will get to see your actions on every street before he has to choose his action.  The information advantage he has over you is significant to say the least.

When you have the advantage of position, you get all the benefits.  With position you can put extra pressure on your opponents, play your draws easier and take free cards at will.  These advantages make it easier to play those weaker hands that I suggested you fold from early position.

Playing Tight-Aggressive

Playing tight-aggressive means being tight when selecting your starting hands but being aggressive with the hands you do play.  Being aggressive means you make many bets and raises but not many calls.

Not all calls are bad, but the general idea is that if your hand is strong you should raise and if it’s not strong enough to raise, you should fold it.  Mediocre hands that aren’t strong enough to raise are actually just unprofitable hands so they should be dumped.

Pot Odds

Pot odds are how we determine the profitability of a call in limit Hold'em.  If the pot is $10 and an opponent bets $2, it will cost you $2 to potentially win $12.  The pot odds are 12:2 or more simply 6:1.

The odds of every draw can be similarly expressed and then compared to the pot odds to determine the profitability of a call.  For example, the odds of a flush draw turning into a made flush are 4:1.

If you had a flush draw in the above example, the pot odds of 6:1 are greater than the 4:1 flush draw so it is a good investment to call the bet.

If that opponent had instead bet $4 into that $10 pot, the pot odds would be 14:4, which reduces to 7:2 or 3.5:1.  Since 3.5:1 is worse than 4:1, it’s a bad call.  The money you win when the draw hits will not be enough to make up for all the money you spend chasing and missing.

In limit, you will often have sufficient pot odds to chase draws, so you want to know the odds of your draws.  Some of the more common drawing odds are:

You Hold You Hope to Make Odds On Next card
Flush Draw Flush 4:1
Straight Draw Straight 5:1
Two Pair Full House 11:1
Inside Straight Draw Straight 11:1

Next: Playing the Flop