It’s the story … of a game named spread limit

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Go ahead, call “shenanigans” on me.

Yes, I’m writing a “Holdout” column on, well, hold’em.

But in my meek defense, the impetus for Holdout was as much to do with giving limit players some playable options under Florida’s repressive poker laws as it was with introducing readers to new games that will broaden their poker horizons.

So, now that you’ve forgiven me, let’s take a look at spread-limit hold’em — and why it’s surprising that more rounders aren’t playing it in Florida.

Think of “spread” as the Bobby Brady of the betting limit family:

• No-limit, where you can bet anything in front of you, is Greg Brady. Big Man on Campus.
• Fixed limit, where the bet amounts are dictated, is Peter Brady. Predictable, just like pork chops and applesauce.
• Pot-limit, where you can bet up to the size of the pot, is Cousin Oliver. Quirky, like the game where you’ll usually find it — Omaha.
• Spread-limit, where you can bet anything along predetermined lines, is the easily overlooked brother who might surprise you if you just give him a chance. Like Bobby.
And if you’ve ever jammed the pot all the way in a $2/$4 fixed-limit game, only to have that annoying nitwit in Seat 7 river you because you just couldn’t bet enough to convince him that it’s not funny to play 7-2 off, you exact some justice at the spread table.
With Florida’s $5 bet limit, the spread is usually $1-$5 or $2-$5, which means your bet can be anything between the two numbers. Blinds in a $1-$5 game are usually 50 cents/$1, and $1/$2 in the $2-$5 game.

On the Ante Up PokerCast, I suggest to limit players looking to make the transition to no-limit (yeah, there are still a few out there) that spread-limit is a good in-between step. It lets you learn the skill of varying your bet size without the risk of losing your whole stack on one mistake. And here in Florida, that variation is what makes it a much more interesting limit game than $2/$4 or the odd $3/$5 fixed games that are more popular.
So how do your spread your wings at spread-limit? Recall the fable of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. (Admit it, I’m the first writer to weave The Brady Bunch and Goldilocks and the Three Bears into a poker column. Yeah, Mom is beaming with pride).

Bet too small: I’ve started to use a “limp and trap” strategy in my no-limit game, and while it’s not a strategy any pro would endorse, it fits my personality and is working for me. But in a spread-limit game, I love it. Particularly in a $1-$5 game, you can see lots of flops cheaply and then juice the bet to $5 after you connect. So take some cheap chances on those gambling hands (suited connectors, etc.) and make your opponents pay for not raising.

Bet too much: Conversely, the spread lets you put a lot more pressure on your opponents than you can in a fixed-limit game. So when you have a strong, yet vulnerable hand (say 10s or jacks), raising the max of $5 will have more success driving out hands than a $2 raise in a $2/$4 limit game.

Bet just right: The middle of the two extremes is betting just enough to get some action, while not driving away inferior hands. And this is the skill you need to hone to whip the spread-limit game. If you’re an established no-limit player, you’re well on your way. You’ll just have to learn you don’t have the “nuclear bomb” option of moving all-in. But if you’re a limit player, you’ll need to do a little “trial and error” with your bet sizes to see what gets you the desired effect. If in doubt, playing it like a fixed-limit game is an acceptable fallback until you get your legs.

— Email Scott at scott@anteupmagazine.com.