Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Quick post. My favorite kind.

I just now finished Wil Wheaton's book, Just a Geek.

And I'm not even a trekkie, damnit. Not that the book is about Star Trek, because it most certainly is not. It's about self-doubt and loss and the web as a new form of communication and Wil discovering who he is. It's truly fucking great. Trust me on this, I'm a voracious reader. Not to mention a geek.

Here's the Amazon link straight from Wil's site. Go buy the damn book. Seriously, Wil is one fine storyteller and I'm looking forward to his future work.
Just a Geek

What I really want to know, is that a freaking Guinness that Wil is holding on the back cover? And don't think I didn't notice that copy of SuperSystem on his desk.

Oh the humanity.

I almost blogged 3,000 words on personal web sites, a topic near and dear to my heart, but I shall spare you, gentle reader. This is a poker blog, damnit.

So allow me to follow up my prior post where I off-handedly remarked that I believe Pot-Limit to be the toughest form of poker to play. That caused a few comments so here are some perspectives beyond my own thinking. I love PL, don't get me wrong. But it's a far more difficult post-flop game than no-limit. It's not even close, in my mind.

First off, here's a column by the late, great Andy Glazer:


As Lexus Replaces Cadillac, Will Pot-Limit Replace No-Limit?
by Andrew N.S. Glazer

Poker is the ultimate context game: holding identical cards all the way around, the right play against Opponent X can be the wrong play against Opponent Y, and the right play against Opponent X under Circumstance A can be the wrong play against that same Opponent X if Circumstance A changes to Circumstance A-1(b).

Although that general observation stands players in good stead in an almost unlimited number of poker situations, I make it here to argue that the greatest poker book ever written was Doyle Brunson’s Super/System, simply because when placed in context — when measured against the then-existing poker literature — Super/System represented such a quantum leap forward that it revolutionized an industry.

Today, there are many great poker books. When Doyle first published Super/System, there was one: Super/System. (And even as great as Doyle was, he was smart enough to utilize specialists to add to his own work and write chapters about their areas of greatest expertise.) There were many other good books (particularly if you were a beginner or a low-stakes home-game player), but only one great one.

It is against the backdrop — the context, if you will — of my respect for Super/System that I not only eagerly await the revised edition coming later this year, but also question the current accuracy of one of Doyle’s most famous lines: “No-limit hold’em is the Cadillac of poker games.”

When Doyle first wrote that, the Cadillac was the ultimate American prestige car. If you owned a new Cadillac, you had “made it,” even though there were superior foreign cars. You were one of the Jones with whom the neighbors were trying to keep up. Today, while the Cadillac is still a fine automobile, if you really want to turn heads, you drive something else — a Lexus, a Mercedes, a BMW, a Viper, and so on.

Just as the Cadillac is no longer the symbol of American affluence, I think the day has come when the other half of Doyle’s famous line may have similarly fallen behind the times (in a way, then, Doyle’s line continues to be correct, although not in the way he meant it). Although no-limit hold’em remains my favorite and best form of poker, I believe no-limit hold’em is no longer the ultimate test of poker skill, especially the way it is being played these days.

That status is reserved for pot-limit poker — hold’em, if you will, although I won’t disagree strongly with someone who wants to claim pot-limit Omaha as the ultimate test. My argument goes back to a point I started making two issues ago, when I explained that the style preferred by most experts, “small-bet poker,” is becoming more and more difficult to employ, because tournaments are becoming increasingly full of players who utilize the “shove ‘em and pray” style of play.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect that the championship events at brick-and-mortar tournaments throughout the world (the World Series of Poker and its lesser known but increasingly important and wealthy cousins), as well as the made-for-TV tournaments like the World Poker Tour, are going to shift over and become pot-limit events. No-limit is sexier, it’s faster (none of those boring splitting-up-the-pot moments), and, perhaps most important, it’s easier to understand.

Make no mistake about it, poker is undergoing an era of rapidly expanding audiences, participation, and sponsorship, and that’s primarily because of television. Television, in turn, became a viable viewing option because of “the viewer can see the players’ holecards” technologies.

It is already hard enough to explain Texas hold’em and the accompanying concept of community cards to a viewing audience that grew up playing five-card draw (or watching movies or TV shows involving poker scenes from the same game). It’s easy for a non-player to “get” that a player holding four aces in his hand is going to beat someone holding four jacks: The cards are right there next to one another.

Television and movie directors are still searching for the right way to explain how players combine their own holecards with the community cards, let alone the far more difficult way to show it in a series of rapidly moving shots back and forth of players checking their hands. In the MTV generation, deathly slow explanations don’t cut it.

There is nothing intuitively obvious (to a non-player, and no matter how many players there are among us, we are still outnumbered) as to why someone holding the Ahearts Khearts is crushing someone who holds the Qspades Qclubs when the board reads Qhearts Jhearts Qdiamonds 10hearts 4spades. Yes, a royal flush beats four queens, but it takes a while for a non-player to recognize that the cards combine that way. In five-card draw, the relative hand strengths are instantly obvious.

Nonetheless, because certain other elements of hold’em are more exciting than draw (the visible cards, the drama of a turn or river card, the extra rounds of betting), and because the reality is that few good players play five-card draw anymore, TV and the movies have finally managed to make hold’em work, by letting viewers see the holecards.

If we have to add the complexities involved in maximum bet sizes (“OK, before the flop, an initial raiser can make it seven times the size of the small blind under World Series of Poker rules”) and/or the delays involved in split pots, TV loses the gold mine of an audience it has so recently unearthed.

As a result, there is virtually zero chance that the important championship events will switch to pot-limit, even though pot-limit involves many more complex decisions (most but not all of which are post-flop). Insiders may respect the winners of huge pot-limit tournaments more, but the world’s most famous champions will remain no-limit players for a long time — probably longer than any of us reading this will live.

Small-bet no-limit hold’em is becoming more difficult to play because of the increasingly large number of players who are employing the preflop all-in move (mentioned above as the “shove ‘em in and pray” style of play). Great players are adapting, and are becoming more willing to gamble (usually, unless they’ve badly misread the situation, while holding the advantage) large amounts on a single hand.

Nonetheless, this change in style is making no-limit poker more “democratic,” if you will. We’ve just had consecutive world champions whose prior experience was relatively minimal: While the large number of entrants combined with the availability of excellent literature and computer software made this more possible than it would have been 20 years ago, I think it a virtual impossibility that two unknowns could have won “poker’s ultimate tournament” if it had been played pot-limit rather than no-limit.

In other words, even though no-limit hold’em is a frightfully complex game, it is not as difficult to master as is its pot-limit cousin.

This increased accessibility to the masses isn’t necessarily “bad” or “good.” Indeed, some very strong arguments can be made that it is a very good development, indeed. It just means it’s less likely that poker’s world champion will be poker’s best player; looked at from the other side of the same coin, it makes it less likely that poker’s best player will win poker’s world championship. It’s still a feat worthy of fame and celebrity, but it just doesn’t prove as much as it used to.

Two issues ago I promised some more analysis as to why small-bet poker was becoming more difficult to play, and what good players were doing to combat that. I’ve found that discussing some of the larger issues about poker’s future have used up some of the space I’d planned on devoting to specific technical examples, so I’ll have to continue with this theme again next issue. Before that, though, I want to share some feedback about one example I cited in that earlier (Oct. 24, 2003, issue) column.

To explain what I meant by “small-bet poker,” I created a purely hypothetical example of a situation in which a small-bet stylist might fold despite holding an advantage, because he didn’t want to risk his entire stack with just a small edge. I used an example involving A-K suited vs. A-K offsuit, rather than something like A-K vs. Q-Q, because I wanted to find an example involving a very small (5 percent) edge. Fortunately, I called my example “less than ideal” because it depended on so many artificial and unlikely circumstances — knowing your opponent’s hand because he’d flashed it, and knowing that he’d call a huge bet with A-K offsuit.

Reader “CoolKen” from Evires, France, wrote me to say he loved the point behind the column, but that my admittedly less-than-ideal example was even less ideal than I had realized, because the advantage wasn’t really 5 percent. True, 91 percent of the confrontations are splits, 7 percent are wins for the suited A-K, and 2 percent are wins for the offsuit A-K … but that’s not a 5 percent advantage!

If you stop to think about it, 91 percent of the time the decision doesn’t matter. The only times when the outcome matters (remember, I’ve already established zero chance of a fold) is when the bet gets called, and that’s not a 5 percent edge — that’s a 7-2 edge! If you’re not willing to intentionally risk your chips with a 7-2 edge, you shouldn’t be playing poker tournaments, because if you do, you won’t be choosing between a Cadillac and a Lamborghini, you’ll be taking lots of buses.

To CoolKen, my thanks, and to those of you who want to know how to battle these “all-in to win” stylists, please be patient for two more weeks. You’ll need that quality to win, anyway.

Random, strange picture:

And now I'm going to do something I've never, ever done. I'm breaking the only rule I had when I began this blog. I'm going to quote that crazy fucking poker cheater, Russ Gorgiev. It pains me to do so, but even crazy people are right some of the time.

Poker Theory - Pot & No Limit

No Limit or Pot Limit

When speaking of holdem, the best way to play this game is pot limit.
Obviously limit is an acceptable way to play any game, though far from the
most skillful. Playing holdem for maximum results with the best player
having the best chance of winning, should only be done in one manner, and
that is pot limit.

Of course you will get the clowns or the incompetents stating that No Limit
is the best way to play this game, but this has been a fallacy perpetrated
on the public since they brought the WSOP into play. By far, the pot limit
players of the world are the best players in the world. Certain games need a
no limit structure, such as low-ball [any variation], five card stud [any
variation], but not holdem. Holdem should be played in a pot limit style for
the best players to have the greatest edge.

Believe me when I say, pot limit separates the men from the boys. Obviously
No Limit requires great skill. However, if No Limit requires great skill, go
to the ten power to understand the difference between the two games. I will
go into detail on why soon. Any one with any ability can play No Limit
holdem. As long as they are aggressive, they have a chance. Far more chance
than they would have in Pot Limit. How much brain power must you have to
just be able to stick all your chips into the pot anytime? Reading any book
will give you the knowledge of knowing when you can 'flip the coin' or stick
all your money in with a coin flip type of outcome. Same as picking a pro
football game with the spread.

Take a game of No Limit or Pot Limit with the blinds being $15-$25. Normally
the buy-in on a game would be about 40 times the large blind, though some
games may make it 20 times the large blind. However, we are not here to
discuss the buy-in. It will be one of the two, or close enough to where it
doesn't make a difference.

Now the No Limit player can play the game with limited success, provided his
stack doesn't get too big. Most No Limit players, and I mean most No Limit
players know very few moves, even if considered to be world class. The
reason behind this is there are fewer moves to know.

Take a game as I just mentioned, with blinds of $15-$25. Have your normal
player buy into the game with the normal buy-in of $1000. Basically, it is
very easy for him to play this game. Far easier than pot limit. In fact, I
believe I could train a monkey, Dave Keiser, or even Razzo to do play this
game where they could be winning players in a very short period. Playing No
Limit requires basically 3 moves. The opening, getting the raise or betting
the flop, and stacking off on the turn. Making it even simpler, opening,
getting a raise, and stacking off before the flop. Very simple, even a
monkey could be trained to do this.

They turn the cards over and one person is an 11-10 favorite or a 6-5
favorite. Big deal, for as often as these guys are the favorite, they are
also the dog. However when they don't, you don't see this or even understand
this. The play begins when these people get larger stacks. Say they get
there stack to $5000. Do you think by playing very tight and having your
opposition know what you hold when you play a hand, you will be able to hold
onto your chips? The answer is NO.

You see games in No Limit and in Pot Limit where some people have Big Stacks
as compared to small stacks. The better players always want to be able to
cover all stacks. The players who are not so good, prefer to play a smaller
stack. Obviously there is a skill to playing both stacks. However, the skill
to playing a large stack in comparison to a small stack is so great, that
the ones playing the small stacks are limited to their potential, as they
must quit when they reach a certain amount, as they don't know how to play a
big stack.

Take a No Limit situation where the blinds are $15-$25. Easy to play when
your stack is $1000. What happens when you make a few hands and your stack
gets to $5000 or more? You are playing one a hand a half hour, and at this
level your opposition knows this. What happens when you are dealt AA?
Raise a lot, raise a small amount. raise a larger amount. No matter what you
do, players will realize you have not been playing many hands and will play
many hands against you, provided they can cover your stack and you stack is
large enough to go after.

Number 1 lesson in No Limit or Pot Limit poker is not to tell the opposition
what you have, until the majority of the money is committed to the pot. This
is where the strength of the best players lay. For once you tell your
opposition what you have, they know what they must do to win or to minimize
your position. Believe it or not, I was once fortunate enough to have a
proposition given to me where we both bought $10,000 worth of chips in a no
limit holdem game and I gave the opposition two black aces. One stipulation,
he could not stack off until after the flop. Blinds were $15-$25. Needless
to say, he lost within the first five minutes when a flop came 2,3,4, and I
held 5,6,. He had made it $100 as usual, before the flop, the rule being 4
times the big blind. Then stacked off every time after the flop.

Think of this while playing No Limit for cash. This is one of the reasons
that the tournament players have no chance against the cash players.[I will
leave cheating out of this post] The cash players can always put these
tournament champions on a hand. While a cash player can have anything and
will gamble with it, the tournament player doesn't have the skills, as far
as even giving you a free card, when warranted to trap you.

Hopefully, I have explained to you that most No Limit players know only the
most basic moves, compared to the Pot Limit Players.

Now we come to the Pot Limit Players. The best Pot Limit Players always have
big stacks. They think more like chess players as they know 3 bets isn't
going to get the job done. The dominant Pot Limit players usually divide the
table in to sections. Position is everything and Pot Limit and No Limit
players know this. Don't even think you will get position on a good or great
No Limit or Pot Limit player. It isn't going to happen. Best way to face
this situation is to space yourself between each other and divide the table.
I know if a player with a big stack sat down behind me, I would just offer
the player behind him $100 or more to change seats. In fact, I have paid as
much as $2600 to change seats in a game.

This is why you should not attempt to gain position on the other players you
consider you opposition. Always space yourself at least 2 seats between the
opposition. Some times they will have to give you a seat the best of it.
Believe it, they do know it and seat changing is a variant that occurs as
frequently as possible in these games. It is almost comical as they may be
playing four handed and everyone is sitting next to each other. One of the
ways to get more room is to lock the seat up to your left. Courtesy will
allow you to have space, but don't you believe that another individual can
take that seat without your permission.

Now we get to Pot Limit games, the games where the best professionals excel.
Pot Limit players realize they must think many moves ahead in this game. They
understand they must play more hands than normal, when playing big stacks.
The edge they have with the big stack is that everyone knows if they [little
stacks] screw up, they go broke. The big stack knows this also and thus
plays accordingly, never telling his opposition anything, especially the
small stack. These he will gamble with on many occasions knowing he may have
the worst of it, but also knowing when they get larger stacks, these people
are his, provided they don't quit.

World Class Professionals will play Aces before the flop the same way they
will play any other type of hand. Provided the opposition faced has small
You raise, they wait hoping a raise behind them enables them to get the
majority of the money in before the flop. If they can't, so be it. They will
do everything they can, and you will have no idea to what they have.

Many times they will have nothing, but you will have told them what you
hold. Boards like 6,7,8 and similar boards are very dangerous to the people
that play extremely tight. Those without the moves needed to play big stacks
are most susceptible. Since bluffing is such a large part of the game, they
will use the 'call bluff' when certain flops come down, gambling on the
large pair you have. When you have a large stack and you are a No Limit
player, you are a Pot Limit players dinner. You can't stack off and they
know how to get position, since this is the name of the game.

Playing big stacks in Pot Limit makes the players think ahead. They think,
what if I call this bet, what will I have to call the next time? They think
of how much to raise in each instant, as to get the pot to maximum value to
bluff or to win on the river. The great players don't bet to get called all
the time, even when they have the nuts and know they will be able to get X
amount if they bet this amount. There way of thing is this, if I bet this
amount to milk this guy, then when I try to steal with a big bet, it will
strike him that I am not milking him. They would rather not get called, as
they can steal this much or far more. They put you to the test as far as
calling. In pot limit, if you are always in the position of calling, you are
the loser. For the big stack is not the big stack by accident.

Big stacks don't just get to be big stacks. Many make sure they have enough
to cover all players when they sit down. If you consider yourself the best
in your game, or even one of the best, you will have the big stack, or close
enough to the big stack to not make much of a difference.

Remember in Pot Limit, there are more moves than in No Limit. Basically it
takes at least 5 bets to get a big stack all in in pot limit. I mean Pot
bets. Usually it would take seven or so. No Limit players are used to making
3 moves as this is all they can think to. Pot Limit requires greater skills,
far greater and more bets. You must analyze the hand from the beginning. You
thoughts must be HOW, WHEN,and WHAT. How much to bet, when to bet, and what
to bet. This is something that No Limit holdem players lack.

Remember, any fool can play a large stack and stack off on a coin flip, as
in No Limit. It takes architectural skills to build a pot and win it in Pot
Limit. I used to have a standard joke when I played Pot Limit and someone
asked me what I did for a living. I would answer I was an architect, meaning
I build pots. This is a skill to the game that most players can never
comprehend. I could play every hand in pot limit and still beat a World
Class Game. This means seeing more than 90% of the flops. For, I will know
what they have, let them GUESS what I have. After all, the name or the
slogan of holdem is any two will do. And it will, when played with the right
position against the right opposition.

Crazy Russ has obviously never played on Party Poker. There are plenty of players seeing LOTS of flops there.

Let's move to one last perspective, shall we? This is several years old, from long-time RGP poster, Vince, with a response from 2004 WSOP Champion, Greg Raymer.

There has been much debate as to which type of poker game requires the greater skill to be a consistent long term winner. Many have professed that NL is the hardest game to at which to win in the long run. The place where the most skilled players live. Russ has just posted his thing he calls a theory in which he claims that pot limit is where the best poker player are and no limit is nothing more than a move in game requiring little if any skill. Mason Malmuth has written
that Limit Poker requires the most skill to be a long term winner. I agree with Mason.

Each type of play requires a varying degree of each of the necessary
poker skills to be a winner. NL is unquestionably the most dangerous
way to play poker. One mistake or just a very unfortunate
happenstance can cause extreme stress to your bankroll. One miscue and
your opponent can get all of your stack or you his. Pot limit requires
your opponnent to be a bit more skillfull or lucky to get your chips.
He cannot usually get them with one swoop. He must help build the pot
before he gets you to commit. However, neither of these way of
playing poker require great skill to get all of an opponents chips.
As you can see one or two miscues during a session and you can take a
lot or lose a lot. In fact you could play perfect poker for almot an
entire session and be very fortuante or misfortunate on the last hand
of the night and have your session decided. You might argue that a
session is not the long run and you would be correct but that does not
in anyway discount the fact that these types of poker are one or two
shot games whose betting options do nothing that requires great skill
to get your opponents chips. However the design of these games are
great for tournaments and also a good place for scammers and cheats to
prosper. Scammers and cheats prefer these types of games because they
lack the poker skill necessary to win at limt poker.

Limit poker is the toughest form of poker to be a long term winner.
It requires great patience and I do not mean waiting for a hand. In
Limit poker most bets, if not all, are relatively small compared to
pot size. Given that most hand vs hand strength is not overwhelming
and the relatively small betting vs pot structure limit requires a
player to win more often (more hands) than in both NL or Pot Limit.
It is very very unusual and extremely unlikely for a limit poker
player to play an eight hour session, win one pot and go home a
winner. Unless of course you play in those low limit passive games
Gary Carson always talks about. The point is you've got to play more
hands at limit than NL or PL. When you play more hands you have to be
better at playing the game because each play carries with it the
potential for a mistake. Certainly the relative cost of a mistake at
limit vs the pl and nl is small. But that is not the driving force
behind winning at poker. The relative cost of the mistake may be
small when compared to each game but the cost of a mistake within each
type of game is what poker is about. In limit the cost of a mistake is
the greatest. It is because the edge that one has is so much less in
limit that a mistake is much harder to over come. In NL you can make
an abundance of mistakes on a number of previous hands and then play
one hand perfectly against an unsuspecting or even a suspecting
opponent and recoup all of your losses caused by your previous
mistakes. PL is similar although a bit harder to make up for a lot of
mistakes. In limit one mistake could require hours and hours of
playing and winning to nullify it's effect.

I will admit that I like playing NL and PL, poker although I confine
my play mostly to tournaments. The reason is obvious. These forms of
poker are exciting. But hey are not "Cadillac" poker games, they are
gunslinger poker games. Something limit doesn't offer except playing
heads-up or 3 or 4 handed.

I wrote this in defense of all of my limit playing poker buddies. I
may not have done a good job. I'm sure others can do better. I would
be interested in hearing others opinions.

Vince Lepore

Mister Raymer responds:

Define "skill".

BTW, I'm serious. This is not a Clinton joke.

Many of us (especially me) would argue that reading your opponent is the
hardest skill to learn in poker. Thus, if it is the one most-essential
skill for PL/NL poker, then it is implied that PL/NL are the most
skill-requiring forms.

Just because the edge you get from maximally skillful play is smaller in
limit than in PL/NL does not mean that limit requires more skill. It just
means that limit involves more luck, as skill will not win as readily.

Later, Greg Raymer (FossilMan)

OK, enough on that. Feel free to agree to disagree.

Thanks for reading. Much, much more pending....

All Content Copyright Iggy 2003-2007
Information on this site is intended for news and entertainment purposes only.

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