Playing Pot-Limit Tournaments by Rafe Furst

I had the good fortune of winning my first World Series of Poker* bracelet earlier this month in a $1,500 buy-in Pot-Limit Hold ’em event. It was an incredible thrill. For this tip, I thought I’d share some points of strategy that are specific to Pot-Limit Hold ’em tournaments. If you’re looking to play any Pot-Limit events, either at the WSOP* or elsewhere, you’ll want to keep these things in mind. Note that my advice is specific to tournaments. In Pot-Limit Hold ’em ring games, there are other adjustments you’ll want to make, but there isn’t enough room to cover them here.

There are two major differences between Pot-Limit and No-Limit Hold ’em tournaments. The first is that simply declaring ";all-in"; usually isn’t an option. You can only bet the amount that’s in the pot. (For an open-raise, the pot size is seven times the small blind.) In No-Limit tournaments, when a player is on a short stack, he will often move all-in. This puts pressure on the other players; in order to call, someone has to find a strong hand. However, in Pot-Limit tournaments, unless you’re on an extremely short stack, after you open-raise, you’ll still have chips in front of you. This gives other players a chance to re-raise and move you off your hand.

In Pot-Limit tournaments, I prefer to be the player re-raising the open-raise. Usually, this is enough to put anyone all-in, so it’s the point where you can apply the maximum pressure to your opponents.

The second major difference between Pot-Limit and No-Limit Hold ’em tournaments is that, in Pot-Limit, there are never antes whereas, in No-Limit, antes are added to the pot pretty early on (Level 5 of the WSOP* structure).

To understand why this is so important, consider the math. In Level 12 of the WSOP* No-Limit Hold ’em structure, the blinds are $600 and $1,200 and the ante is $200, making a total pot of $3,800 prior to any action (assuming a 10-handed table). If a player can steal a pot by open-raising to three times the big blind, he’ll be getting some nice value; the $3,600 bet can win him $3,800. Stealing blinds and antes is so important in No-Limit that a player like Phil Hellmuth, Jr. can attribute much of his success to his ability to steal pots once the antes kick in.

In Pot-Limit, however, when the blinds are $600 and $1,200, the same open-raise to $3,600 can claim only $1,800 in profit. The risk-reward ratio isn’t nearly as favorable. For this reason, I believe it’s proper to play tighter in Pot-Limit events than in No-Limit events. It also provides another reason why you want to be the player re-raising rather than open-raising. The pot that you’d win by open raising and stealing the blinds isn’t nearly as valuable as the one you can pick up by re-raising the open-raise.

In the WSOP* event that I won, a few of my opponents didn’t adjust to the Pot-Limit structure especially well and opened too many pots. My strategy was to let my opponents have many of these small pots. I was waiting for occasions where I could come over the top of an open raise with a big re-raise. I had crafted such a tight image that when I did re-raise, my opponents had to give me credit for a pretty big hand. When I took down these pots, I gathered a significant number of chips. This worked especially well late in the tournament, when each decision could cost a player his tournament life.

So, if you’re heading to the WSOP*, your favorite card room or online in order to play a Pot-Limit event, remember to play tighter pre-flop and look for spots to re-raise – that’s where the best opportunities lie.


Rafe Furst

* World Series of Poker and WSOP are trademarks of Harrah’s License Company, LLC (‘Harrahs’). Harrah’s does not sponsor or endorse, and is not associated or affiliated with or its products, services, promotions or tournaments.