There’s No Limit Like No-Limit

diamond_whiteAustin Tacious opens for $10. Malcolm Tent makes it $50. Austin comes over the top in a hurry, all-in for $400.

Malcolm takes a long look at his fearless-looking opponent and asks, “Hey Austin, what are you so afraid of?” Then Malcolm flashes Qs Qh and folds. Austin shows Ad Ac and shakes his head in regret, like a stalking cat who pounced to soon and ended up chewing on a feather.

I saw that hand three years ago when I first started playing no-limit hold’em after heading west young man. I was instantly hooked. Since then I’ve survived many hours of no-limit play, always with a pen in my pocket and an eye on the outrageous. In these two true stories, the names have been changed to protect my car tires.

I’ll Show You

When a player stalls while facing a bet on the river, and the bettor says, “I’ll show you,” this typically means, “If you fold, I will show you my hand anyway.” Not this time.

Neil and Bob had never played together. Neil started the hand with $1400 and Bob had him covered. After the river card, the board was 10-9-7-K-2, in that order, with no possible flush. Neil turned top set with Ks Kh. Bob flopped a straight with 8d 6d.

Neil limped before the flop with his pocket kings. Neil bet the flop and Bob just called with his straight. Neil led again on the turn, and Bob again just called. There was now $800 in the pot. Neil fired out $1000 on the river, all-in. Bob went into a long tank. He was afraid of a bigger straight (queen-jack or jack-eight), but he could beat two-pair or a set. So Bob was taking his time with this tough choice.

Because of the play of the hand and Bob’s long delay on the river, Neil felt certain his three kings were good and that Bob would eventually fold. In good faith, Neil offered, “I’ll show you,” meaning, “If you fold, I’ll show you my hand.”

Bob immediately said, “Okay, show me.” Neil thought this meant Bob was folding, so Neil turned over his hand as promised. Thing is, Bob’s cards hadn’t budged. His hand was still live. Bob said, “I call.” Then he turned over his straight and took down the pot. It’s a cruel world, but fair.

You Can’t Quit

Howie Dune ran good for a month at $3-$6 limit hold’em. He decided to try no-limit for the first time. He bought in for $300 at a $2-$3-$5 blinds, $10 to open, no-limit game. One hour later he was up to $800. Howie was already eyeing the door, but loving the action.

The house collection was $6 per half-hour per player. This was Howie’s first time-collection game. Five minutes after a collection, Howie made set over set and doubled up. Wee! Up to $1600! Right away, three players bought enough chips to cover Howie’s. This coordinated reloading made Howie nervous. He stood and went for some empty racks.

One of the regulars said, “Hey! You can’t quit. You just paid time. You have to finish out the half hour.” He was kidding, of course, but Howie wasn’t sure. Howie scanned the other faces looking for a clue. No one flinched. So Howie sat back down.

You guessed it. Howie got J s Jh and raised. A big stack called. The flop came Jd 10d 2c. The big stack bet out. Howie raised. The big stack moved all-in with KdQd. Howie couldn’t wait to call. He couldn’t wait to tell his buddies how he ran $300 into $3000 at his first no-limit game. Man, this game is easy. Maybe I should tell my boss to shove it. Maybe I could play poker for a living. A moment later the KdQd got there with a black nine on the river. Howie was busted out by the same guy who had coerced Howie into staying. It’s a cruel world, but pretty much fair.

Which is better?

Because I play both games and I gab a lot, players sometimes ask me which is better, limit or no-limit. The answer is, it depends. It depends on what “better” means. That vague word is burdened by layers of subjectivity and opinion.

Is Mozart better than the Beatles? Is Tiger Woods better than Michael Jordan? Are airplanes better than bicycles? Well, it depends. Better at what?

If rent is due and my bankroll is crippled and I go to the casino for some desperate fundraising, limit hold’em is better because scared money gets swallowed up at no-limit. But if I’m all pumped up after a good run at limit and I want some fast thrills, thick tension, and a shot at some big scores, there’s no limit like no-limit.

The threadbare question is, “Which is a better test of skill, limit or no-limit?” That’s like asking, “Which is a better test of skill, basketball or golf?”

Skilled basketball players are fast and jumpy. Skilled golfers are methodical and calm. A good skill for one game can be a weakness in another. It’s the same with limit and no-limit. The games are that different.

Which game do I prefer to play? Whichever one I happen to be playing. But when it comes to amplified blunders and daring brilliance, when it comes to huge swings hinging on the most whimsical reads and feelings, and especially when it comes to poker stories, there’s no limit like no-limit.



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