Opinion varies on the merits of limit versus no-limit hold 'em, particularly concerning which variant beginners should learn first.

Beginners Edit

The following arguments are often cited as reasons why beginners should learn limit hold 'em first:

  • It's easier to control the downside in limit play. However, it should be noted that NL is usually considered to have less variance than limit. Experienced NL players tend to be more wary and cautious since any move could jeopardize their entire stack. For inexperienced players, NL can be very expensive.
  • NL punishes chasers more than limit. Since beginners often like to chase draws, and since they are more often getting the odds to draw in limit, it's a safer game. In NL, your opponent can manipulate the pot odds you are getting to make it incorrect for you to draw. A knowledgable NL opponent can punish you for drawing more easily than a limit opponent.
  • NL is a game of implied odds. Limit is a game of pot odds. Pot odds are often much easier to compute at the table since knowing implied odds requires the ability to read hands well and read the other players well. Beginners are doing good to figure if they have the proper pot odds to take a card off.
  • Cards are more rarely shown down than in limit, which makes it harder to learn to play the game.
  • Since you can lose your whole stack in one hand, you are not guaranteed a lot of play for your money. This may be uncomfortable for beginners, and does not bode well for the future of NLHE. Taking a shot at higher stakes games where one is outplayed can be expensive.
  • There are more books on how to play limit than NLHE cash games.
  • Going on tilt can be extraordinarily expensive.
  • PokerTracker statistics are designed for limit players. They do not capture enough information about a player's NLHE style.
  • NLHE tables tend to be slightly slower than limit tables, and many online players find it harder to play multiple tables without substantially decreasing their win rates.

However, other people insist that beginners should learn whichever variant they most desire to master. In particular they cite the following advantages of learning NL for those who wish to master that variant:

  • Simply stated, small stakes NL has an immense amount of dead money at stake. Bad players are coming in by the truckload to all forms of hold 'em, but many bad players want to play something similar to what they see on TV. Because of the popularity of the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour, this generally means no-limit hold 'em. Admittedly, this same line of reasoning should lead to more dead money in tournaments than in ring games, but there are still plenty of people willing to give away money in ring games -- as long as it's no-limit hold 'em. The TV cache of NL versus limit is apparently stronger than the TV cache of tournaments versus ring games, and brick-and-mortar tournaments can be expensive to buy into.

Ed Miller writes

Clearly online games have gotten tougher over the last couple of years, especially the limit games. Guys that made $100k or more playing limit in 2004 can’t come anywhere near that number now. Virtually all the guys I know who played limit online for a living have now moved to no limit games, even though they play limit better.[1]
  • Although the games have substantial similarities, they differ enough that learning one variant is not the most efficient way of learning another variant. Learning limit in order to specialize in NL is rather like learning Spanish in order to master Portuguese, or learning C programming to master C++. Therefore, if you know you want to master NL for the reasons cited below, you should put your time into learning the game that you most want to master.
  • Beginners at NL, especially those playing short stacks, must learn to play extremely tight. In particular they must avoid hands that are easily dominated. These characteristics are true of limit hold 'em also, but the cost of ignoring this advice is less so it's easier to let bad habits grow.
  • Because of the decreased variance, a beginner can tell much faster if they're a winning NL player.

Specialization as an experienced player Edit

Reasons to specialize in Limit:

  • In the US, limit hold 'em is far more common than no-limit, in brick-and-mortar casinos. It's possible that no casino near a given player's home even offers no-limit, but essentially all casinos offer limit. Accordingly, specializing in limit allows a player to specialize in a ubiquitous game that can be (and is) played absolutely anywhere. While on vacation or visiting friends, you can visit an unknown casino or card club and always find a game. In Europe, the reverse is true.
  • Due to its commonality, limit is available in many different amounts, suitable for any bankroll.
  • No-limit specialists seem to find limit much more frustrating and confounding than limit players do no-limit. To do reasonably well at no-limit as a limit specialist, you simply need to tighten up enormously. But it's hard for no-limit players to adjust to the more open nature of limit. This can be an advantage for a limit specialist who more deeply understands the value of draws.
  • Because limit has higher variability, poorer players tend to play it more often - because they feel that they can win more often (which they can). This yields a much larger pool of potential fish.

Reasons to specialize in No-limit:

  • The poker boom has increased participation in all forms of the game, but its impact has been most dramatic on NLHE. You may have to face a long wait to get in a casino game, but you'll never have to worry about getting enough demand to keep a game full.
  • Consequently, bad players are constantly finding their way into the lower limit games, both at casinos and online.
  • NLHE is very much a game of psychology and getting a "read" on opponents. Some people have a natural intuition for this (for example, Phil Hellmuth claims this ability). They tend to do very well at no-limit play.
  • If you prefer tournaments, roughly 90% of the action available to you will be in NLHE.
  • Good players have a large advantage over bad players relative to the swings. This means a smaller bankroll is needed to generate the same win rate, downswings are shorter, and players get more rapid feedback on whether they are winning or not than in limit.

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