A Look at House Rules: High-Limit vs. Low-Limit
Many poker rooms around the world aren’t geared to handle high-limit poker games and the reason for that is there simply is no demand. The average poker player — including professional grinders and occasional players — does not start out as a high-limit player and most never accomplish the mindset it takes to control their game and bankroll to get there. And there are those who have no desire to take a seat in a $1,000/$2,000 or higher poker game.
That said, let’s take a look at some differences in house rules with regard to high-limit vs. low-limit games in casino poker rooms. (Note: This article will not address home games or online poker as the following information applies only to live rooms that offer a variety of poker game formats with limits that may start as low as $1/$2 and go as high as any two players want to play.)
What constitutes high-limit poker?
The cut-off varies from room to room, but as a general rule “low-limit” games run from $1/$2 up to $8/$16, with “mid-limit” games then starting at $10/$20 and “high-limit” beginning at $50/$100. Certain game formats may qualify as high-limit in different rooms, like $20/$40 mixed games (because of the variables involved in the different games) and $10/$20 no-limit hold’em.
Keep in mind that while the poker room has rules governing all games regardless of limit, high-limit games have a way of writing their own rules in some cases and it would be impossible to cover all of those special rules here. Rather it is our intention to give you a basic grasp of the differences between how high-limit and low-limit games are run and outline a few of them.
High-limit games and “unwritten rules”
Since most high-limit players started at low-limit — and probably played many hands as they ground their way up — they know what rules protect the game and the players, and their input helps write poker room rules.
Some rules are implied — and understood by everyone who plays high-limit — and may not be recorded in the poker room’s book of rules. The reason those “unwritten rules” are allowed by the poker room is that while in low-limit to mid-limit games, on any given day, a new player can enter the game and have the protection of a standard set of rules, in high-limit games it’s seldom the case that a complete stranger to poker would walk in and take a seat.
Thus what might appear in certain circumstances in high-limit games as a form of collusion really isn’t, and everyone at the table understands the reasons for the unwritten rules. High-limit players will most certainly try to make anyone who is a stranger to poker welcome in the game and allow that player to make a few rule “mistakes” because the new player is going to feed the game.
How the house gets paid
In “A Look at House Rules: The Rake and Time Pots” we talked about high-limit players paying time to play at the table while low-limit players paid a rake (the house fee) taken from each pot. That is one of the differences in rules in poker rooms established by the limit played.
Dealing to stacks
In high-limit games, if someone pays the blinds, that player is dealt in every hand even if not seated at the table until the player misses the big blind (BB). In low-limit games, dealers do not deal to chip stacks; a player must be in their seat or close enough to it to be considered an active player.
Chopping the blinds
Unless it’s a time pot, if it folds around to the blinds the small blind (SB) and the BB can agree to “chop the blinds” — meaning both can take back their blinds and the hand is over. Such is usually always allowed in high-limit games; however, in most low- to mid-limit games, chopping the blinds is not allowed because the house only makes money if there is a pot.
Adding an extra seat
In high-limit, if a “live player” — that is, one who is very good for the game and plays a lot of hands — arrives and is going to have a long wait to play, an extra chair is pulled up to accommodate the newcomer. The addition of the live player may make an eight-handed stud game nine-handed, or a nine-handed hold’em game 10-handed. The accommodation will be made because the regulars want the live player in the game.
Once in the game the live player will still remain on the list, the list will move in order as usual, and when that player leaves the table or a seat opens, the extra chair will be removed. Meanwhile in low- to mid-limit the only time an additional chair would be brought in is if games are breaking down and one full table remains with one last player waiting from the broken games.
Eating at the table
Many poker rooms do not allow eating at the poker table except in the mid- to high-limit section where players are allowed to order food from the casino’s specialty restaurants and have food delivered to the table.
“Running it twice” (or more)
“Running it twice” (or three times) is usually a high-limit option only.
Sometimes when two players have all their chips in the middle they will agree to “run it twice” and have the dealer put out the remaining community cards two times rather than once. For instance if the players agree to run it twice after the flop, the dealer will deal the turn and river, then pull those two cards to the side and deal a second turn and river. Each turn and river is then separated and the players’ tabled hands are read to see which one wins with the original board and who wins with the second board.
One player could win each “run” and claim the whole pot or each could win once and the pot would be split. If running it three times, one player could win all three times (and the whole pot), or one could win twice (and win two-thirds of the pot) and the other once (and claim one-third).
“Playing behind” or “playing the pot out” vs. table stakes
“Playing behind” or “playing the pot out” is reserved for high-limit play where the players are trusted to be good on their word or have chips coming to them from the main cage (brought by the brush/list person or poker room management). Keep in mind that “society” chips ($500, $1,000, $5,000, $25,000 denomination) are the standard in very high-limit games and players order chips from their account at the casino’s main cage at times.
In a high-limit game if a player starts a hand with short chips, that player can say he or she is “playing behind” or “playing the pot out” which means that during the duration of the game (unless the player states otherwise) if the player loses the hand, the player will pay the winner of the hand. The dealer would then mark what the player owes to the pot by placing the amount of each bet (in chips) in front of the player to eliminate any confusion about what is owed.
In low- to mid-stakes limits, all games are table stakes and what is on the table when the hand starts is what is going to play in the hand. The only time this does not apply is if chips are on the way and the amount has been announced by a chip runner or floor person bringing the chips.
Asking to see a losing player’s hand
Asking to see a player’s losing hand when the bet is called on the river is normally not allowed in high-limit games unless the request is made by a live player. If too many of these requests are made by the live player, it usually requires a floor decision to turn the losing hand over. The normal consensus is the only reason to ask to see a player’s losing hand is if one believes there is collusion at the table.
There are those who play low- to mid-stakes games who would argue that asking to see a player’s losing hand after the river is called helps them figure out how their opponents play. There are also those would respond by saying “If you can’t figure out how a person plays by watching their position bets and actions at the table, you should just go home.” Usually asking to see a player’s losing hand is done in low-limit games only.
All of the rules listed above may or may not apply in a poker room near you. As stated previously in our series, house rules apply to the room you are playing in and may not be part of the picture in another poker room… so adjust your play accordingly!