Fixed limit poker is often called a thinking-man’s game in which skilled players impose a small edge over a course of many hands to bleed chips away from less skilled players. If your natural inclination is to approach online poker with an analytical and scientific approach, fixed limit is the game for you.
Where no limit poker is a game of short bursts of advancement, fixed limit is a game of centimetres. Your edge isn’t as obvious and this usually results in your opponents not realizing they are beaten until it’s too late. Whatever your reasons may be for choosing this game, I encourage you to only play at the very best fixed limit poker sites.
Once upon a time, fixed limit poker was the game of choice for the majority of players. However, televised tournaments and the online poker boom have resulted in no-limit taking the top spot. It requires just a little more work today to find poker sites with healthy fixed limit ecosystems. Fixed limit poker is far from dead. If this is your game, I’m happy to report that all the above poker sites are home to fixed limit tables at all stakes.
Is online fixed limit poker right for me?
No-limit and fixed limit generally appeal to different types of players. You could call no-limit more of an art while fixed limit is more of a science. Both games are extremely profitable for skilled players, but only if you choose the right game for your style. Let’s look at a few of the differences between the two formats.
Fixed limit is a game of small advantages added up over time
The most obvious difference to both game types is in how your edge plays out over time. In no limit poker, you generally set up your opponents to make rare but costly mistakes. In fixed limit, you punish your opponents through a war of attrition. You cannot take an opponent’s stack all at once so you instead rely on consistently making the better decision over and over again.
Pot odds and drawing odds play a more prominent role in fixed limit. It’s impossible to throw your opponents off hands with big bluffs, so instead you value bet your made hands and punish your opponents as much you can by denying them the odds they need to draw profitably.
Thin value bets are much more important in fixed limit than in no-limit. If you have a hand that you suspect is the best, it’s safe to throw out a bet on the river because the worst that can happen is your opponent comes back with a single raise. There’s no risk in being pushed off the best hand by a late bluff because of the limited betting structure.
This is how you exploit your opponents over the course of the game. You’re not trying to squeeze everything from them at once; you are trying to bleed them dry by value betting them to death when they are behind.
The variance is higher in fixed limit
You need to be able to deal with variance in fixed limit poker because your per-hand advantage isn’t as obvious. What I mean is if your opponent makes a huge mistake in fixed-limit, he’s not going to lose his whole stack. He will only pay a couple extra bets on the later streets. Your long term variance is higher because you can’t just sit and wait for the right moment to take every last chip from your opponent.
Additionally, it is more difficult to protect your hand in fixed limit. If you have a made hand and your opponent is drawing to a flush, the most you can bet is the current round’s betting limit. In some cases, it is correct for you to place a bet and your opponent to call. Bad beats are bound to happen more often in fixed limit.
This may sound like a huge disincentive to play fixed limit, but it does help you in one key way: your opponent’s aren’t as aware of their own mistakes. Losing a pot in fixed limit doesn’t sting nearly as bad as login a pot in no-limit. Oftentimes, your opponents won’t even realize just how badly outclassed they are.
Bad beats happen more often but are less painful in fixed limit
People get better odds to draw in fixed limit and weak opponents are especially likely to call you down with a terrible draws. This will naturally result in more bad beats for you. However, a bad beat for you doesn’t result in you losing all your chips at once. You will experience more frequent bad beats in fixed limit, but they won’t hurt as much.
As annoying as bad beats are, remember that dumb luck is what keeps the fish coming back for more. If there were never bad beats and the fish always just constantly lost money, poker would be just like chess. Nobody would play for money because the game would be just too stacked against the newbies. Bad beats play a critical role in keeping poker profitable for everyone. Sounds crazy but it’s true.
Can I win as much in fixed limit?
If you’re totally new to online poker and reading through this page, it might sound like I’ve been implying that fixed limit is a “slower” game for winners. After all, you can’t even stack someone all at once and your edge isn’t as apparent in each hand. So does that mean that it takes longer to win real money in fixed limit?
Absolutely not. There are two key things to keep in mind when comparing profitability between the two game types. First, the win rate is comparable in games of similar sizes. In no-limit poker, you do win big pots more often, but you also lose big pots more often. It’s great when things go your way, but you’re also going be on the receiving end of huge pots that take every chip you have.
Over the long run, winning no-limit players achieve a modest win rate. You win pots and lose pots, but hopefully you win slightly more big pots than you lose. It all works out to an average win rate in the range of 2-6 big blinds per 100 hands (bb/100) played over the long term for winning players.
Fixed limit win rates are measured in terms of “big bets” per 100 (BB/100). This measurement is twice the size of the no-limit measurement because remember, the big bet in fixed limit is twice the size of the big blind. An average win rate for winning players in fixed limit is 1 to 1.5 BB/100. So if you play $5/$10 fixed limit, you’d be looking at winning roughly $10 to $15 per 100 hands played. If you can maintain that win rate while playing 4 tables at a time, that works out to something in the range of $50 per hour assuming 85 hands per hour per table.
The second thing to keep in mind is that limits don’t translate directly between fixed limit and no-limit. In other words, $1/$2 no-limit is a much larger game than $1/$2 fixed limit. The minimum recommended bankroll for $1/$2 no limit is at least $4,000 (20 buyins). The minimum recommended bankroll for $1/$2 fixed limit is a mere $600 (300 big bets). These are two completely different games in terms of size, risk and skill.
Keep this in mind when comparing win rates between no limit and fixed limit. Otherwise, you’ll be comparing apples to oranges. In the end, the win rates are similar when you compare between no-limit and fixed limit games with similar bankroll requirements. The ultimate determinant of which game is the most profitable is simply your specialty. You will always win more money in the game that best suits your particular skills and temperament.