I've been playing limit holdem again recently, and a few things revealed themselves to me last night. Actually, I've known them all along, it's just that lastnight they showed themselves to be true, yet again. So, I thought I'd share those tidbits for those of you who are entertaining the thought of spending time at the limit tables.
The winning formula is simple. Kindof.
- Play Good Hands
- Play Them from Solid Position
- Don't Cold Call
- Forget about Bluffing
- Watch Your Opponents
- Vary Your Play
- Don't Get Wrapped Up in Big Pots with Soft Cards
It all seems such simple advice, and it is. But, every time I forget something on the list, it seems to take away from my chip stack.
Play Good Hands
A friend of mine was at a Vegas poker room once, and after watching him go on a folding spree, a player at the table actually said to him "What, do you only play your good
hands?". Well, if you want to win, yes.
If you have the discipline to stay away from mediocre hands, you'll have an easier time playing pots. No one likes to try to limp in with KTo, only to find a raiser behind them. Which brings up point two . . .
Play Them from Solid Position
There's nothing wrong with playing KJo, or ATo, you just can't do it from early in the table. Well, you could, but it wouldn't be profitable. Obviously, table position means a lot. Here's an example of a hand where position makes a big difference.
Hand Example - Position
You're dealt ATo, and are first to act. You limp in with one small bet. The action goes fold, fold, raise. Hmmm. That's not a good sign. The next player folds, the following one calls the raise. That's a bad sign, but with 6.5 bets in the pot, you make the call after the small and big blinds fold.
The flop comes A J 7, rainbow. You've hit the top pair, with a decent kicker, but, you're out of position. So you bet to try to find out where you are. The next player raises, and player number 3 calls. Hmmmm, that didn't work. You lay down your hand, after putting three bets into the pot. It makes you sad.
The hand plays out, and it turns out that the first raises had AKo and the cold caller had JJ. You were way behind after the flop hit, but just didn't know it.
Say you catch that ATo on the button, and can watch everyone else act before you need to make a decision about your hand. Action goes fold, fold, fold, raise, fold, cold call. Well, know you know ahead of time that you're not interested in getting invo9lved in a hand where you're facing a raiser and a cold caller. So, you can fold, without any loss of chips.
Same cards, completely different results, all because of table position.
Positive Expected Value Tool
Because there is such a grey area surrounding which cards are playable from which positions at what limits (or against what types of players), I want to point out a valuable tool you can use to at least get an idea of how much value there is in any one set of hole cards.
You can look up the Expected Value of a hand on Poker Room's Expected Value Machine and see if it's a winning hand or a losing hand, and how that changes with table position.
It's based on real-world play at the table of PokerRoom.com, so it offers some genuine insight into what hands make, or lose money when played from various table positions.
No Cold Calls
Well, that's an overstatement. If you have Aces, you can call anything anyone's willing to put in a pot against you. But the idea is that routinely calling raises will get you into more bad situations than good ones. . Oh, a cold
call is calling a raise when you haven't invested a thing into the pot already. You can simply fold and lose nothing. Or, you can enter a raised pot
ScurvyDog has a solid post about the evils of cold calling on his Sound of a Suckout blog.
In limit poker, and this might change in the values of those limits, bluffing isn't very rewarding. Limit your bluffing to the occassional blind steal from the cutoff. And by occassional, I'd say once a night. Also, the once in a while I-have-last-position-and-I-limped-in-against-the-blinds-that-both-checked-to-me-after-the-flop bet. That's worth trying on occassion as well. But those might be the only two situations, small pots, little resistance.
I've been double-tabling the $3/6 limit game at Stars these past few weeks, and every third day I see this conversation . . .
Loser: "How can you call that bet, donkey?"
Winner: "I had a fill-in-the-blank"
Loser: "But there was a such and such on the board, and an overcard!"
Winner: "Oh, did you have the such and such?"
Loser: "No, but keep it up and I'll have all your chips!"
Winner: "Oh you mean these chips? The ones i just took from you?"
And so goes the saga of bluffing at the limit tables.
Watch Your Opponents
Instead of say, the television. Look for things like, who . . .
- plays hands out of position
- raises with mediocre hands
- never plays hands
- plays every hand
- calls anything
- folds quickly
- just took a beat and is steaming mad
That's not the whole list, but you get the idea. In short, try to spot the suckers and the sharks. And then, play them appropriately.
Vary Your Play
The biggest leak I had for the longest time was immediately abandoning a hand when I missed the flop. And, on the surface, that's exactly what you should
do. Except when I did the same thing over and over again, it led to a simple read for everyone at the table.
When I would miss a flop, and my opponent did as well, they would bet, I would fold, and we'd move to the next hand. It was sort of a "ties I lose" system I set up. And, if someone had half of a hand, they'd push me after the flop. If I resisted, they'd get out of the hand, giving me a small win. I never saw many showdowns, just lots of folding, small losses and a few small wins (even with monster hands).
And I set it all up because I played passively, on a consistent basis. If I were to play aggressively, on a consistent basis, players would read that as well, and they'd take advantage of my play in a different way. Once I stopped being completely consistent, I had an easier time at the tables.
Remember that "watch your opponents" advice? Don't be surprised if your opponents are watching you back.
Big Pots Need Big Hands
Another take on the "discretion is the better part of valor" theme. If you find yourself in a big multiway pot at a limit table, and all you have is a decent hand, you are in trouble.
Even if you hold top pair/top kicker (say AQ on a A J 7 board), someone is pushing the pot for a reason. And if he has callers, someone else is sticking around for a reason. You need to have them both beaten in order to take down the pot because once it gets big, no one wants to fold.
When you see the raises and calls taking place on the Turn (where the bets are big), make sure you have a hand worth supporting to the showdown before you decide to stick it out.
Oh, and knowing a little bit about Pot Odds doesn't hurt.
This page last Updated: January 16th, 2007.