Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Poker betting structure

The game of poker as played today requires that players agree before play on allowable amounts for betting (called limits), and the use and amount of forced bets. These are collectively called the betting structure of the game.

The betting structure of a poker game is a more significant factor in its balance of luck and skill than the game variant being played. Higher forced bets and smaller limits increase the influence of chance. Smaller forced bets and larger limits increase the element of skill. Good games are carefully balanced so that skillful players will win in the long run while recreational players can win often enough for the game to be exciting to them.

Forced bets come in three forms: antes, blinds, and bring-ins. Home games typically use a small ante only. Casino games typically use blinds for draw poker and community card poker games, and an ante plus bring-in for stud poker games (very small limit stud games may even omit the ante). A good balance is for the total of all forced bets to equal one or two times the betting limit for a game. For example, if eight players play a game with a $2 betting limit, a $.25 or $.50 ante would make a well-balanced game, as would a game with $1 and $2 blinds, or a $.25 ante and $1 bring-in.

The sample deals in poker game play show examples of each of these forced bets.

Betting limits apply to the amount a player may open or raise, and come in four common forms: no limit, pot limit (the two collectively called big bet poker), fixed limit, and spread limit.

All such games have a minimum bet as well as the stated maximums, and also commonly a betting unit, which is the smallest denomination in which bets can be made. For example, it is common for a games with $20 and $40 betting limits to have a minimum betting unit of $5, so that all bets must be in multiples of $5, to simplify game play. It is also common for some games to have a bring-in that is less than the minimum for other bets. In this case, players may either call the bring-in, or raise to the full amount of a normal bet, called completing the bet.

Outside of the United States, pot limit and no limit games are the most common. Most American home games are played with a spread limit, while casino games are played with spread or fixed limits, though larger casinos may have a high-stakes pot limit or no limit game as well. Fixed limit and spread limit games emphasise the skill of estimating odds, whereas pot limit and no limit games emphasize the skills of game threory and psychology. Almost all poker players believe that pot and no limit poker involve more skill than fixed limit play. A few prominent players, most notably Mason Malmuth, believe that the richer tactics make fixed limit more skilled. Although the world championship is played no limit, most high stakes cash games are fixed limit, so it is unclear which format is the experts' choice. -