Life in the Streets
Play limit Hold’em, Part 2
By Vincent Olmos
In the last edition of The Cardroom I talked about the benefits of playing limit Hold’em. This may still seem like an oxymoron to limit haters, so I laid out some educational guidelines. To rehash they were: developing sound strategy, learning pot size calculation, learning post flop play, and multiway experience.
Each of these fundamentals can be greatly expanded on. I’d highly recommend further reading on each.
This follow-up article details the most polarizing aspect of limit Hold’em—variance, the big V, running good and running bad. You and variance have no doubt met. Its ups can inspire new gamblers to devote their entire free resources to play. Its downswings can cause one to curse the very casino floor they walk. The key is to learn how to best interpret variance and use it to your advantage.
Everyone knows someone who has run extremely well in a limit Hold’em session. They hit all their draws, make big pairs, and their opponents always seem to be holding second best hands. It’s pretty sweet when it happens to you.
Contemporary vernacular dubs this “running like a god.” It’s also known as being hotter than a pistol, being on a heater, “dat rungood,” or just plain lucky. The beauty of poker is never knowing if you will flop a full house in the big blind or fall flat on your face three barreling with 10 high.
It’s said that good players create their own luck, and to some extent that is true. Players familiar with manipulating their showdown vs. non-showdown winnings will surely attest to it. If your line makes sense and if the target holds the lower end of their holdings, the bluff just may work.
However, in a limit game, when players are regularly getting greater than 8-to-1 odds to call, showdown is a foregone conclusion. Thus, we should not rely on non-showdown winnings to have as large of an effect as in a no-limit game. Here beats the heart of limit poker.
When our win rate goes down, both the frequency and the amount of our wins decrease. For example, if you’re used to winning 73 percent of your no-limit Hold’em sessions with a four big blind per hour average win rate, it will change when playing limit. You will not be able to take down pots uncontested as often.
You will have to rely more on hand strength. You will be handcuffed to playing certain hands in certain situations. If you have a strong multiway hand, you may decide to play it. If you have a decent holding vs. one or two players, you may want to put pressure on. Notice that your hand strength is important in each situation. The hand WILL most likely get to showdown. That is not saying that bluffing and semi-bluffing are not factors, they will just have different results. In limit the skill gap is less immediately exploitable.
If this makes you feel hopeless, think of what you can still control. The cards you play, your position, amount of value you get for your hands, and free cards you receive. While you may not have all your chef’s knives, you can still make a mean omelet. Once you succeed through these unfamiliar means, you will have gained a valuable skill and may be on your way to seeing the realization of poker profit.
As humans, we tend to attribute our successes to our personal skill. You may think, “Wow! I sure played that hand greatly” (after flopping a gutshot, calling 70 bets, and binking the river). Conversely, we are inclined to allocate our failures to outside factors. “I lose with ace-king to the big blind every time” (after open limping the button to trap). This is normal, but not for a winning poker player. They will need to look at the big picture instead of subconsciously stroking their ego.
One of the greatest strengths you can learn from limit poker is mental toughness. Limit games such as Hold’em and Omaha High/Low will test your faith in your game. You will lose in ways you never thought possible. There are times big pairs will lose so often that you don’t remember ever winning with aces. Ace-king may cost you more than your ex wife. These huge hands have big reverse implied odds. You will remember losing with them more often because of your initial expectations.
However not all situations are equal. Losing with aces in an eight-way preflop battle can be brutal, but rather common. Stubbornly holding onto kings, while staring at a double paired board and with Methuselah firing away can be downright foolish. Once you realize the relative hand strength for the situation you are in, you will know to ram and jam or run for the hills.
The biggest takeaway from learning strong discipline, however, has nothing to do with the cards you have. Avoid frustration from derailing your strategy. Going on tilt can cost you more than the worst starting hand ever can. Repeatedly making huge errors as a result of tilt can eviscerate your bankroll.
If you can avoid being results oriented, you may analyze when your plays have positive expected value or not. That’s the goal. It’s simple. Before continuing with a hand, ask yourself whether this situation would be profitable if it were to occur 10,000 times.