Lo-Limit Hold'em

When you first start playing Texas Hold’em, you should consider playing in lo-limit games. This will not only give you a chance to develop a playing style, but will also allow you to try out different poker strategies relatively risk-free. At first, this might seem like a moot point because of all the free-game options you have online. But, if you’re serious about becoming a Hold’em wizard, you’ll also need to play in live games because they throw psychology and tells into the mix in ways a remote game just can’t. What’s more, playing in lo-limit, live games will help you build up your confidence when winning is less a matter of being a masterful poker player and more a matter of simply being there.

Where to Find 'Em

Good lo-limit tables can be a bit scarce in major gambling hotspots like Monte Carlo and Atlantic City. Normally, casinos in these places will start their lo-limit little blinds at about $15-25 (or €15-20 for Old World players), making a guilt-free night at the tables a little less guilt-free. You can, however, find truly lo-limit tables in off-the-strip Vegas casinos, and most state-run casinos in EU member states like Germany, Portugal and Italy boast very lo-limit tables because EU trade restrictions require less “profit-oriented” operations in order to maintain their monopolies.

Lo-Limit Strategy

Really, the best part about playing at a lo-limit, live game is that you normally only have to outwit a pack of poker tourists. These kinds of players are literally out to lose their shirts, and unlike you, dear reader, have no desire to put forth the effort needed to master the game. For instance, at most lo-limit Hold’em tables a majority of players won’t be paying attention to you or your cards. In fact, most will be paying attention to their own cards so exclusively, you’ll think they’re going to burn holes through them with their eyes. They’ll play their hand like they always play their hands (mindless of whether you’re in the pot), and all you have to do to take them for all they’re worth is play a tight, straightforward game.

There is one exception to this rule of simplicity, though, in that occasionally “slow play” can work as a good lo-limit deception device. Slow play, in a nut shell, is no more than taking your time between actions—really, hamming it up and making the other players think you’re worried. All you need to do to practice this skill is play a few penny-blind games with your grandma and kid sister and see how well you fool them. The players at a lo-limit table aren’t nearly as well versed in your ticks and tells, so once you’ve fooled your old nanna into thinking she has a better hand than you, you should have no problem fooling them. With one exception, always try to use this tactic after the Turn (or “Fourth Street”) because it’s more convincing for the other players to think you’ve gotten burned on the Flop and the Turn and are only holding out for the River. Also, you’ll be giving them a free card when you’re actually holding the good cards, and an opponent could reasonable assume that his three-of-a-kind twos are going to clean up—while you’ve secretly got three-of-a-kind aces stashed away. Let them raise and re-raise in this situation and only see their bets. Never, and we mean never, bet too aggressively when slow-playing or they’ll smell your dirty ticks instantly.

This isn’t to say, though, that you should bluff outright (at least, not in the traditional sense of "I've got worse cards than I'm letting on"). At a lo-limit table, bluffing is, in fact, only an exercise in futility because most of your opponents are simply out for bragging rights. Not playing with hundreds of thousands of dollars, they probably won’t be holding out for the long-game like you’d see in a WSOP match, and it’s just as likely they’ll pay to see your cards just as a practice in machismo. What you can do, however, is make the other players think you’re bluffing by playing extremely loose with a good hand. Simply wait till you’ve got something high, like four-of-a-kind kings or a royal flush and tempt them with a bit of tight, slow-play after the Flop. Then, after the Turn, do something crazy like going all-in. This method tends to work nicely at a lo-limit table because you won’t be scaring away many fish with a $2.00 push.

Finally, when playing lo-limit Texas Hold’em games, you should master the arts of choosing starting hands, employing pot odds and aggressively betting your winning hands. Developing these tools will have an immediate pay-off, but they will also serve you well when you move up to higher-level games.

-Jim Abrahamsson