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Limit Hold'em Hand by HandThe Quick and Easy Way to Advanced Poker Play (with DVD)
By NEIL D. MYERS
LYLE STUARTCopyright © 2007 Neil D. Myers
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTight and Aggressive Play Wins the Day
Many well-known poker authors maintain that the playing style that offers the highest chance of success is tight and aggressive. Using this style means that a player is very selective about the situations he enters and the hands he plays, but once committed, he remains very aggressive as long as he perceives that he has a situation of positive expectation.
A style that has become more prevalent with the advent of televised poker tournaments is the hyperaggressive style. In this style, you play your opponents much more than your hands and are therefore much less selective about things such as starting hands and Flops that fit your hand. You aim to dominate your opponents by a combination of sheer aggression and unpredictability. While this makes for very good television, and certainly has its place under certain playing conditions, especially tournament play, playing like this for most players is beyond their level of skill and usually makes for a short trip to poker oblivion. Only the most skillful players can play this way successfully, and most poker players vastly overestimate their playing ability because of the combination of inflatedegos and short-term runs of good luck. If you aim to consistently make money in cash games, I strongly suggest you cultivate the tight-aggressive style.
The tight-aggressive style is not natural. It must be learned and practiced because psychologically it demands contradictory things: great patience and fearless aggression at the right time. Patient players are often too passive, and many aggressive players crave action and therefore are not selective enough in waiting for the right moment to push their advantage. This "unnatural" style is the most difficult to cultivate and requires a lot of discipline and understanding. When practiced correctly, it will make you a feared and dangerous player and a winning player, especially in cash games. The examples throughout the book all assume that that this is the optimum playing style and will reflect this in play selection and progression. If you don't want to play a tight-aggressive game, this book is not for you.
A tell is a mannerism or otherwise unconscious behavior that a player gives which indicates that his true actions or intentions are not what he wants them to appear. For example, if a player makes a bet and his hand trembles (unconsciously, of course), it usually indicates that he has a very strong hand and cannot contain his excitement. The granddaddy (I am not sure Mike wants me to describe him as a "granddaddy" of poker!) of tells and tells theory is Mike Caro, who has described, analyzed, and cataloged this part of the game for over twenty years. In fact, Caro's writing is so well known that many players deliberately make a point of doing the opposite of Caro's tell to fool their opponents; a sort of countertell, if you will.
What should we know about tells? How significant are tells to your winning edge? Not very for most of us and here's why:
Tells are more significant in some poker forms than others. For example, in Five-Card Draw (the game Caro played mostly as a professional in his early days), tells can matter a lot. This is because there are no seen, community cards in Five-Card Draw and only two rounds of betting. Basic strategy in Five-Card Draw is fairly straightforward, and the only information you have about your opponent is how many cards they draw between the first and second rounds of betting. Therefore, any physical mannerism that gives away the strength of their hand can be very valuable.
Another arena where tells are important is in big cash and tournament games of no-limit Hold'em. Between good players, an observed tell can translate into major differences of success or failure. That is why players at this level maintain an almost expressionless demeanor. It is one reason why Chris ("Jesus") Ferguson makes a very deliberate pause before acting; he does not want the speed or slowness of his action to betray the strength or weakness of his hand.
Knowing tells is not a substitute for sound poker knowledge. I classify tells as secondary knowledge, especially in games such as Hold'em and Seven-Card Stud. They should never be a substitute for sound play and hand analysis, but may be used to confirm your belief in the type of hand your opponent is holding or the strength of his hand. For example, if your tell knowledge says that an opponent who bets weakly at the River is trying to induce you to call because he has a very strong hand, and you fold your hand solely because of this, you will have made a serious mistake if you are wrong. In small limit games, it is often right to call a bet on the end, even if you estimate your chances of winning are only 10 percent, because the pot may be so large. I see players making costly, "big laydowns" too often on the basis of tells (and of unsound poker knowledge) because they overvalue their tell reading abilities. These players are proud of their ability to make the big fold but display too much confidence in their assessment of the situation, based upon tells. Losing a big pot like this, rather than losing one big bet, can be a very costly error.
Tells can be misinterpreted. Tells are not a universal language applicable to all people, of all ages, and of all cultural backgrounds. Some people's tells are different from others. Also, one person's tells may change depending on whether he is winning, losing, tired, rested, drunk, or distracted. They are not consistent.
You may still make a wrong playing decision if your theoretical knowledge is unsound. Some players read a tell correctly and then still take the wrong action! Why? Their theoretical knowledge is shaky. Tells are icing on the cake, but you better be able to distinguish chocolate cake from carrot cake before getting too picky over icing. You must strive to always improve your theoretical knowledge and play well based upon what you know.
Tells have less relevance in smaller games If you have read my first book, Quick and Easy Texas Hold'em, you will know that I caution the reader not to make fancy plays against poor players. Poor players have little guile and won't recognize what you are attempting to represent when you say bluff, and their attempts to confuse you are often crude. You don't need to be a master of tells to win consistently in small- and medium-stakes limit Hold'em games, because you make most of your winnings by capitalizing on the crude errors of your opponents.
This book will not base any problems on tells and I believe that with the exceptions listed here, you should not really focus on them as your primary poker study. Learn sound starting hand selection, learn how to play certain hands, learn excellent Flop and Turn play, and learn how to maintain discipline at the table; then learn tells. Sorry, Mike!
Chapter ThreeLow- and Middle-Limit Hold'em
There is a general rule in poker: as the stakes increase, the games get tougher. This is natural as better players at each level win more money and want to maximize their earning power by playing in successively bigger games. Eventually, many players plateau at a level they feel comfortable or bust out attempting to beat games that are too tough for them, at stakes for which they have an insufficient bankroll, or both.
However, the terms low limit and middle limit are often used by poker players and poker writers as as a way of describing not only the stakes but also the type of game. The average low-limit game tends to consist of players who are mostly playing in a loose and passive style. In middle-limit games, the players tend to be better, have a larger range of poker skills, and are often more aggressive. This means that tactics ineffective in lower-limit games become not only desirable but also necessary to beat the game at higher limits.
For example, some people have criticized David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth's strategies in Hold'em Poker for Advanced Players as being unsuitable for the low-limit game, and they have a point because, for the most part, that book addresses the tougher middle-limit games. Sklansky and Malmuth recognized that they needed to more fully address looser (often but not always low-limit) games in the newest edition and do so in a special chapter devoted to looser games. They also coauthored with Ed Miller a book specifically for the low-limit game that has strategies specifically aimed at maximizing wins in this type of game.
The majority of problems in this book are aimed at looser rather than tighter games, unless specifically stated. Sometimes, however, low-limit games have a number of tight and aggressive players and middle-limit games ($15-$30 to $30-$60) are populated by loose and aggressive players, or even some loose and passive players. Good poker players are taking a constant pulse of the game in which they find themselves sitting and are constantly observing the players in that game and if and how their play changes over the course of a session. A player who began, say, playing tight, solid poker may, after a couple of bad beats become a calling station or a maniac. Aloose-aggressive player who by contrast has gotten lucky and won a lot of big pots in this session, may decide to sit on his win, and play like the Rock of Gibraltar (well, maybe of Atlantic City) for the rest of the session. If you keep playing against him as if he were still a loose-aggressive player, you are going to do badly. You must remain vigilant.
This is also one of my major beefs with the school of thought that likes to classify players as personality "types." This form of psychological classification, I understand, has very little following in professional psychology circles because, psychologists argue, peoples' personalties are fluid not fixed. Classifying people by personality types strikes me as a rather lazy way to attempt to understand people and how they play. A player who is winning may exhibit a personality and playing style far different from the one he exhibits if he has had back-to-back losing sessions that have drained 70 percent of his bankroll.
One thing that is observable today is that games even at middle limits tend to be much looser than in the days when poker was less popular. This is because of the growth in poker and the influence of televised poker, which has brought a new crop of less experienced players to the casino and card room. Looser games are especially observable at the small, fixed buy-in, no-limit games now present at just about every casino that spreads Hold'em. In the old days, when no-limit games were rarer, they also tended to be played among players with bigger stacks and at higher stakes. In these games where the money was deep (big stacks in relation to the Blinds), it was often the case that many hands were over even before the Flop, and it was rare for more than three players to be in the hand beyond the Flop. Currently, in a fixed buy in "baby" no-limit Hold'em game, it is not uncommon to have four, five, or six Pre-Flop callers and even four to six players at the showdown.
So the message here is look at game conditions, not stake size, or limit size, to determine how best to play any given session and any given hand in that session.
Chapter FourThe Importance of Post-Flop Play
The bulk of this book will contain poker problems and scenarios on the Flop and the Turn. Less consideration will be given to River and Pre-Flop Play. Here is why:
In River play, there are relatively few (though important) concepts, because by that stage of the hand, play is usually obvious. The exception, of course, is no-limit Hold'em (when the stacks are large in relation to the blinds), when one may often have to make tricky decisions on the River. In limit Hold'em, the decisions are more straightforward, though no less important for consistent winning play, and key River play concepts of limit Hold'em will be illustrated by some of the problems in this book. The lessons contained in them concerning River play are very important, and I am not saying by this that you should not read them. However, focus on Turn play and especially Flop play if you want to make rapid improvement.
Many players, especially those seeking to improve their game, place too much emphasis on Pre-Flop play. Now, it is certainly true that correct Pre-Flop hand selection will plug the biggest weakness in most players' games, and it is also true that correct Pre-Flop play is the shortest and, in many ways, easiest route to improvement; but some players focus on this to the exclusion of other parts of the game. Certain players seem to believe that poker "justice" consists of the best hand Pre-Flop winning and that if it does not, it must be a bad beat. This is why players constantly regale you with tales of how their wired aces or kings were run down by inferior holdings. This is simply ridiculous. Apoker hand consists of five cards and so your pocket cards consist of only two-fifths of the tale that is about to unfold as the hand progresses. Premium hands before the Flop can be almost worthless after it and vice versa. Of course, this is not an invitation to play any two cards, only that you must recognize how hand values change, often drastically once the Flop has been dealt.
It is for this reason that many problems in this book will illustrate Flop and Turn play, because it is here that expert Hold'em players really begin to differentiate themselves from the less experienced and less knowledgeable. Part of the aim of this book is for readers to apply themselves so that they can rapidly improve this part of their game and move toward expert status by doing so. Again, solid Pre-Flop play can only take one so far in Hold'em, and play beyond the Flop must be understood if one is to be a consistent winner in anything but the smallest games.
Play on the Turn and River can be very complex, and it is impossible to illustrate every scenario, but the problems given here will cover the major themes and allow you to develop your own poker thinking based on sound principles. Then you will be able to act rapidly and confidently, even in situations that would confuse the less scholarly and lazier player who cannot be bothered to apply himself to thinking about, as well as playing, Hold'em.
Chapter FiveStarting Hand Selection
In my first book, Quick and Easy Texas Hold'em, I offered readers a solid but somewhat conservative strategy for how to play Pre-Flop. Some readers have said that my starting hand recommendations are too selective and overly conservative. Compared to the advice offered in other books, they are right, but for the audience that that book is aimed at, they are dead wrong. I maintain that the single biggest mistake that new players make is playing too many starting hands; hands that get them into trouble on the Flop and beyond and that create difficult playing decisions as the hand progresses. As the title promised, that book was a fast track to solid but somewhat conservative play that would keep new players out of trouble.
The starting hand selection for this volume is more liberal, because as your skill improves and your understanding of Hold'em broadens, you will be able to more fully recognize opportunities for profitable play that are beyond the ken of the novice. Now don't take this too far: T,2 is still a garbage hand, even if it bears the name of a poker legend (Doyle Brunson), but you can be more liberal in your starting hand selection as your skill increases. However, this does not mean that KT in a tough game, in early position, is playable because you are now more "skilled." It may mean, for example, that lower-ranked suited connectors are playable from an earlier position than normal (or at all), if the game is very loose and very passive, because you may win a large pot, if the Flop hits you. Better players are more finely tuned to the ebb and flow of a game as it progresses and learn to vary their game appropriately. The problems in this book reflect this.
Excerpted from Limit Hold'em Hand by Hand by NEIL D. MYERS Copyright © 2007 by Neil D. Myers. Excerpted by permission.
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