Poker Betting Rules | How to Bet In Poker
All poker games revolve around betting, and it's important to understand how betting rules work before getting into the game, no matter what poker variation you're playing.
Many poker variations use the same betting structure and table positions. Texas Hold'em, Pot-Limit Omaha, and many limit poker games all use a system involving the small blind, big blind, and dealer button, with all other table positions relative to those three spots.
The small blind is always seated to the left of the dealer button, and the big blind to the left of the small blind.
In games that use a blinds system, the first round of betting usually starts with the player to the left of the big blind. After that player acts, the action moves clockwise around the table, until all players have the chance to act.
Some games use a system of antes (a forced bet put in by every player at the table) and a bring-in. The bring-in system usually designates the player with the weakest face up card as the first player to act. After that, the action moves clockwise around the table.
Virtually all poker games allow the active player to choose from four different betting actions when they're the bettor:
- Call (matching the amount of the previous bet or raise).
- Raise (increase the amount of the current open bet or raise, which any subsequent players must at least match to stay in. Raising when a player in front of you has already raised is known as a re-raise).
- Fold (pushing their cards into the middle and surrendering any chance to win the hand).
- Check (pass the action to the next player without betting anything. Checking can only be used when there's no open bet or raise in front of you.
Blinds and Antes
Just about all poker games use some kind of forced bet, which automatically puts money in the main pot before each hand. Texas Hold'em, Pot-Limit Omaha, and many other poker variations use a small blind and big blind as the forced bets.
Let's say you're playing online poker and see a cash game listed as a $1/$2 NLHE game. The $1/$2 listing means the game uses $1 as the small blind amount and $2 as the amount of the big blind.
In most poker games, the minimum bet allowed at any given time is equivalent to the amount of the big blind.
Antes are sometimes included in games that use blinds, but some games are ante-only. Antes generally function as small forced bets that go in from every player, or sometimes only the big blind player.
For more on how forced bets work, click on the "Game Structure" tab above.
Buy-ins and Poker Chips
In poker cash games, players buy-in with cash and get an equivalent amount of poker chips to use as currency in the poker game. Cash game chips do carry cash value inside a casino.
Tournament chips, on the other hand, have no cash value. A tournament buy-in allots a pre-determined amount of tournament chips, and the tournament ends when one player collects all of the chips in play.
Hole Cards and Community Cards
The world's most popular poker games task players with making the best five-card poker hand using a combination of hole cards and community cards.
Hole cards stay concealed throughout the hand, only visible to the player holding them. Community cards are dealt to the board face up and can be used by all players.
The only time hole cards are exposed is at showdown, when players turn their cards face up to determine which player has the best hand.
Main Pot and Side Pots
Blinds and antes go into the main pot before a hand begins. Every time an active player bets, those chips go in the middle and increase the size of the pot.
The main pot can only increase if participating players still have more chips they can put in the pot. When three or more players are in a hand, and at least one player is all-in, the remaining players then start competing for the side pot.
If an all-in player can't put chips in the side pot, they can't win that pot, even if they hold the best hand at showdown. Whichever player has the best hand out of the remaining players wins the side pot.
No-Limit Hold'em Example Hand
Let's take a look at an example from a nine-handed $1/$2 No-Limit Hold'em cash game. The $1/$2 notation means the small blind must post a forced bet of $1 before each hand, and the big blind must put in $2.
The under-the-gun player is the first player to act, and can either call (match the amount of the big blind), raise (increase the amount of the active bet), or fold (push his/her hole cards to the middle and forfeit the hand).
After the under-the-gun player acts, the action moves clockwise around the table, with each player getting the same opportunity to call, raise, or fold. The player in the big blind is last to act unless further action needs to close behind the big blind.
For example, let's say the under-the-gun player raises to $6 in our theoretical $1/$2 game. The action then moves one player to the left, and that player has the option of either calling (matching the $6 bet), raising (increasing the amount of the bet), or folding.
In this case, our active player folds, and the next three players also fold. This brings the action to the player in the cutoff position, one seat to the right of the button. The cutoff player decides to call, and the action moves to the button, who folds.
The small blind, one position to the left of the dealer, also folds, forfeiting their $1 forced bet. The big blind, already with $2 in the pot, can choose to call, putting $4 more in the pot to match the $6 raise. The big blind can also raise, increasing the amount of the bet, or fold, sending his $2 forced bet into the pot.
In our example, the big blind calls, and the first round of betting is complete. Three players (in the under-the-gun, cutoff, and big blind positions) all put $6 in the pot, and the total pot is $17 when the small blind's forfeited $1 is added.
Postflop Betting Rounds
In any round of betting after the flop, the small blind gets to act first if they're still in the hand. If not, the first player to the left that's still active gets to make the first bet.
The dealer puts out the first three of five face up community cards, known as the "flop". After the flop, the small blind, or first still-active player to the left, can either check or bet.
In our example, the big blind player is first to act. Let's say this player checks, which passes the action to the under-the-gun player. This player decides to bet $10.
The cutoff player calls the $10 bet, and the big blind re-raises to $40. The under-the-gun player now has the option to put an additional $30 in the pot to call the previous bet, re-raise to a larger amount, or fold. The under-the-gun player folds.
The action now moves to the cutoff, who makes the call. If the cutoff folds, the hand is over, and the big blind wins without the hand going to a showdown.
The main pot is now $107, and the dealer puts out a fourth community card face up, known as the turn. The big blind player bets $60, and the cutoff calls.
The dealer then puts out the final community card, known as the river, and the final betting round takes place. The main pot is now $227, and the big blind checks. The cutoff also checks, and the two players move to the showdown.
The player with the best hand wins according to standard poker hand rankings. The act of all remaining players showing their hole cards is known as the showdown.
No-Limit vs Pot-Limit vs Limit
What exactly does the "No-Limit" part of No-Limit Texas Hold'em mean? The world's most popular poker game uses a no-limit betting structure, meaning at any time a player can bet all of his/her chips.
No-Limit Texas Hold'em stands as just one of many games in the world of poker, however. Not all games use no-limit betting rules.
Pot-Limit Omaha, aka PLO, takes its place as the second-most popular poker game in the world. Games like 7 Card Stud, Limit Hold'em, and Razz, use limit betting rules.
Let's dive into the differences among no-limit, pot-limit, and limit betting structures in poker.
No-Limit Betting Rules
The term "no-limit" seems simple enough. In any no-limit poker game, players can bet all of their chips at any time.
Most no-limit games use a system of blinds and a button, and for more on that system check out the "Blinds, button, and antes" tab above.
For example, let's say we're observing a no-limit hold'em cash game, played at $1/$2 stakes. In this example game, six players are seated at the table, each with $200 in chips.
The small blind posts $1, and the big blind $2. The cards are dealt, and the player directly to the left of the big blind starts the preflop betting round.
In a no-limit game, this player can bet any amount, up to all of his/her chips. If this player wagers the whole $200, this is known as going all-in.
At any time during a hand, any player can go all-in. Note that the maximum amount for an all-in equals the amount of chips in front of a player when the hand starts.
With $200 in front of you, going all-in means betting $200. You can't, for instance, take another $200 out of your wallet and try to make your all-in bet bigger.
The no-limit betting structure leads to some of the most dramatic situations you'll see at a poker table. In the late stages of the World Series of Poker Main Event, for example, a player going all-in is putting their tournament life on the line, with millions of dollars at stake.
The following clip illustrates just how quickly the pot can escalate in games with a no-limit betting structure. Watch as Tom Dwan and Paul Phua get all of the money in preflop, with $2.35 million going in the middle:
Pot-Limit Betting Rules
Pot-Limit Omaha is the second-most played poker game in the world. Also known as PLO, this game is one of many poker variants that can be played with pot-limit betting rules.
Unlike no-limit poker games, the maximum raise in a pot-limit game is equal to the size of the pot. This sounds like a simple concept, but calculating the maximum possible raise with a pot-limit betting structure can be tricky.
Betting the pot means placing a bet that's equal to the size of the pot, plus any outstanding bets, plus the amount you'd have to put in to call the last outstanding bet.
If you're first to act on any postflop street, betting the pot is simply betting the amount already in the pot. There are no bets or calls in front of you to calculate. For example, if you're first to act on the flop and there's $100 in the pot, betting the pot (aka "potting") is $100.
If the player next to act wants to raise the maximum, they must add the amount of the pot before you bet ($100), plus your bet ($100), plus the amount it would take to call your bet ($100). This amount comes out to $300 ($100+$100+$100).
The $300 represents the maximum raise this player can put in over the top of your $100 bet. So in this case, when your opponent "pots", they're betting $400 total (the $300 maximum raise plus the $100 to call your bet).
An easier way to calculate the pot is to calculate the size of the pot before the latest bet. Take the latest bet or raise, multiply it by three, and add it to the amount already in the pot. This gives you the maximum amount you can bet.
Pot-Limit Hand Example
For example, let's say we're playing a $1/$2 PLO cash game. You're under the gun, meaning you're the first to act preflop. The cards are dealt and the action is on you; how much can you bet?
We can use the "multiply by three" rule to figure this out. The small blind posted $1, and the big blind $2. We can treat the big blind's $2 as the latest bet, and multiply this by three.
This gives us $6 ($2x3). Add that to what was in the pot before the big blind's bet ($1), and we get $7 as our maximum possible bet from under the gun.
Suppose the action folds around to the player on the button, and he/she announces "pot". A "pot" bet in this case would be three times the latest bet, which was your $7 from under the gun.
Multiply that bet by three ($7x3), and we get $21. Add the $3 that was in the pot before your under-the-gun bet, and we get $24 ($21+$3) as the maximum possible bet the button player can make.
Let's take a look at a few Pot-Limit Omaha hands, with Upswing Poker founder Doug Polk battling high-stakes nemesis Dan "Jungleman" Cates on Live at the Bike:
Limit Betting Rules
Many poker games, like stud variants, are almost always played with limit (aka fixed-limit) betting rules. Any poker game can be played with a limit betting structure, however.
A Limit Texas Hold'em game played at $2/$4 limits generally means the blinds are $1/$2. Limit games are played with a "small bet" and a "big bet", with the big blind usually equal to the small bet.
Many limit games use a structure where the maximum raise is equal to the small bet in the early betting rounds and increases to the big bet amount in later betting rounds. In each round, the betting is "capped" after three raises, and subsequent players can only call after that.
Limit Hold'em Hand Example
For example, you're playing a $2/$4 Limit Texas Hold'em game and sit in the under-the-gun position. You're the first to act preflop, and you have the option to either call the $2 big blind or raise to a maximum of $4. You choose to call.
The player in the cutoff announces "raise", and can raise to a maximum of $4 total. The button raises to $6 (again the maximum allowed raise), and the big blind raises to $8, adding $6 to the $2 they've already committed to the pot.
As the under-the-gun player, you now have the option to call the $8 raise, which requires putting $6 more in the pot. You can also fold, but you can't raise any further.
You decide to call, the cutoff calls, and the button calls. The four live players now go to the flop betting round, with $33 total in the pot.
This same pattern of a maximum bet/raise of $2, capped at $8, applies for the flop betting round. For the turn and river betting rounds, the maximum bet/raise goes up to $4, capped at $16.
Here's a look at a Limit Hold'em hand played on Live at the Bike, at $20/$40 limits:
No-Limit, Pot-Limit, and Limit betting structures require very different strategies across the three varieties. It's crucial to know what betting structure a game is using before sitting in to play.