Betting Structures in Poker

Mat Hare By Mat Hare, 3rd Jan 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Gambling>Poker>Poker Strategies

Make sure you understand the differences between fixed limit, pot limit and no limit games with this guide to betting structures in poker

Fixed Limit

The simplest betting structure is fixed limit (sometimes just called 'limit'). All bets and raises are of a fixed size. In the example hand above the game was $10/20 fixed limit hold'em. This means in the first two rounds of betting the bets and raises are in $10 increments while on the third and fourth round a $20 increment applies. So a player can initially bet $10, raise to $20, re-raise to $30 etc. but once the turn is dealt the first bet is $20, the first raise is to $40 and so on.

The betting structure also determines the size of the blinds with the big blind being equal to the first figure and the small blind approximately half the big blind. In the case of a $10/20 game the big blind is $10 and the small blind is $5. If the game is $5/10 the big blind will be $5 with a small blind of either $2 or $3 - a choice that will be made by the poker room running the game. Whichever they choose it will be fixed throughout the game.

No Limit

This is the betting structure you will see most often when watching televised poker. It's a structure that is not for the faint-hearted as players are able to bet any amount they like (subject to a table minimum), up to and including all the chips they have on the table at the time - hence the name no limit.

No limit games are usually identified by the price of the blinds rather than the betting limits so in a $1/$2 no limit poker game the small blind will be $1 and the big blind $2. All bets must be at least the size of the big blind and all raises must be at least the same the size of the previous raise (or bet). Bets on the third and fourth round are subject to the same minimum bet, i.e. the big blind; the betting limits do not increase as they do with fixed limit games.

As players are able to bet up to all their chips at once, no limit games tend to see much larger pots and crazier bluffing than other games.

Pot Limit

This is the most complicated of the betting structures but fortunately it is not that common these days. As with no limit, the amount a player may bet (or raise) is variable but as the name suggests it is limited by the size of the current pot. Players may bet anything from the table minimum to the size of the pot including the bettor's call. Raises must be at least the size of the previous bet/raise and can be up to the size of the pot, again including a call.

In a $10/20 pot limit game (with blinds of $10 and $20), the pot stands at $30 before the first player acts. Thus this player can bet anything from $20 (the big blind) to $50 (the $30 pot plus this player's $20 call). Suppose the first player bets the maximum of $50. The pot is then $80 so the next player can then raise a total of $130 (the $80 pot plus a call of $50) after calling the bet making a total bet of $180. You can see how quickly the betting can escalate when players are betting at or close to the pot limit!

Table Stakes

All modern poker games are played subject to table stakes. This means a player cannot lose more money on a hand than he has on the table at the start of that hand. Suppose were you to be sat at a no limit poker table in Las Vegas with $100 in front of you when in walks Bill Gates and sits next to you, plonking down a million dollars worth of chips. A scary thought, right enough, but you can relax in the knowledge that even if Bill Gates bets his million on the next hand against you the most you can lose is your $100. He can't bet you off the hand like that despite what you may have seen in old Western films. What happens instead is that $999,900 of Bill Gates' money is returned to him and you play the hand out as if you had both bet $100. If games weren't played to table stakes then the richest players could simply bet everyone off their hands and walk away with even more money.

Table stakes also prevents people from digging into their pockets, running to the ATM or borrowing off friends when they have a really good hand, so as well as limiting your losses the rule also limits your wins. This is good thing though as your wins are someone else's losses and how would you feel if your opponent was busy trying to remortgage his house to raise more cash to bet on his hand? If he's that confident he has to have you beaten, right? But you may think he's bluffing and be willing to lose a lot on this hand so you keep calling his raises. Only this time he isn't bluffing and now he owns your house/car/wife/whatever. So the table stakes rule is there for everyone's protection. Whatever you have on the table when the cards are dealt you can lose, but no more.


Fixed Limit, No Limit, Poker, Pot Limit

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author avatar Mat Hare
Semi-professional gambler and software developer

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