Friday, January 13, 2006

My annoyance with limit poker has crescendoed to the point that I am now, for at least this week and maybe longer, a no-limit player.

True, I've been spinning my wheels for about a month, now. True, I've ascended to limits that very few can hope to ever beat. But the main problem hasn't been the mediocre (recent) results or the difficulty of competition. Rather, I'm starting to feel hamstrung by fixed limit. I feel like I've developed skills that are rewarded more in NL play, but are practically squandered in limit.

One skill is hand-reading. Obviously, hand-reading is valuable in any form of poker, but one can exploit the skill much more readily in NL, via pushing people off of mediocre holdings, or folding fairly strong holdings. Here's an example from the other night:

Bellagio 2/5NL. I'm in the SB with 88. MP and button limp, I complete, BB now raises to $15. We all call.

Flop ($56): Jd 5s 2s. I check, BB makes a very weak bet of $15, followed by weak calls from both MP and the button. I call.

Turn ($116): (Jd 5s 2s) 3c. I bet $60. BB grinds his teeth a bit, almost calls, but ultimately folds. MP folds quickly, and button thinks for a while and calls.

River ($236): (Jd 5s 2s 3c) Jc. I bet $100. Button folds.

Now let me explain the hand a bit, and then I'll contrast how it played out in NL with how it would play out were it a limit game.

What's BB's hand range when he raises preflop? AK/AQ/AA-?? for pocket pairs, essentially. I hadn't been playing with him for too long, but he didn't seem to be much more than a basic weak-tight straight-forward player, the type that pervades Vegas poker rooms in the very early morning hours during the week.

He then leads out very weakly. Well, he could have JJ, but my read was that he was legitimately weak. AsKs or AsQs are possibilities, while much less likely are other suits of AK or AQ. Also very possible are TT or 99 (or 88, 77, but very doubtful lower).

The weak calls show that either no one has a J or at least no one has a J they're happy with.

I could go ahead and raise right there but there is a possible flush draw, and if there's one thing I've learned about NL players, even with your typical weak-tight mid-week Vegas crowd, it's that people have a hard time laying them down on the flop, regardless of the money involved. Looking back, I probably still should have gone ahead and raised, but at the time I decided to play it safe and wait for a good turn card. This, of course, ignores that there are many more "bad" turn cards than "good" turn cards for me, but it's what I did at the time.

The turn card thankfully was fan-fucking-tastic, so I lead out. This shows a lot of strength, and given I was in the blind, people really can't put me on too specific a hand. A straight, two pair, whatever, are all possible. But this is still baby NL, and so no one's folding AA/KK/QQ on that board, so really what I'm trying to do is get out what I think are hands that beat me but aren't too happy regardless--say the BB's TT and MP's J6s, for example.

The BB's very reluctant fold tells me he had something more than just AK--perhaps AsKs but then I'd think he'd call. I'm willing to bet just about anything he had TT/99 there, most likely TT. MP mucks quickly, so I figure he wasn't even as strong as J6s (66? A5?), but then button annoys me to no end and calls after a bit of deliberation. Turn pairs the Jack. Now, what does he have? A flush draw would call quicker. A Jack would either put more assertive action in on the flop or call quicker on the turn. He has a pair. And not only does he have a pair, it's not a 5--it's something he's reluctant to put down. He's got a pocket pair from 66-TT, but given that both he didn't raise and he really doesn' t want to lay it down, it's in the 77-99 range, and much more likely 99.

Now obviously he could have his J6s or whatever, in which case he's calling my final bet--or raising--but I'm 80+% confident he has a pocket pair and about 50+% sure he has me beat. Getting him to fold a better hand here is both 1) huge and 2) very possible. So I have to bet out and hope my read is true.

He folded, and claimed to have none other than the other two eights.

So I accomplished exactly what I wanted--I was pretty sure people were weak enough that a show of strength got me the pot. And not only that but I folded out one hand that was most likely the winner and another hand that would have chopped the pot with me.

Plays like that are possible in limit, but in very rare situations. You need the right image, the right opponents, and even then you're probably SOL. What does TT/99/88 do on that board? Raise preflop, bet the flop, call the turn bet, call the river bet. Next hand. All the hand-reading in the world doesn't get me that pot.

Another skill that is much more suited for NL is forcing people to make mistakes. I tend to play a fairly aggressive style and so anyone paying attention will realize that I don't have a hand every time I'm betting. That makes me look foolish at times, but also wins me a bunch of payoff bets on the hands I do make. It's a tough line to straddle in limit, since playing too crazy will just lose you money, while not crazy enough won't give people a reason to call down your full houses. And even if they do, it's only a bet or two. In NL, their poor calls and poor folds are much, much bigger mistakes, thus more benefiting my own natural style.

And, finally, although it's not really a skill per se, I simply like that I'm not limited with how much I can win in a hand. In limit, if I make a powerhouse to someone's second best hand I win a few bets, just like if I make a medicore hand to someone else's slightly more mediocre hand. In NL, my powerhouse gets the stack of my second-best opponent. As long as I'm better at folding #2 when mine and my opponent's positions are reversed, then I'm profiting, and hugely.

Now, all this isn't meant to disparage limit. I've played probably 400,000 hands of limit poker in my life, and I'm sure I'll play plenty more. Each game accentuates different skills, and has its own beauty. For now, I just need a change, and so will focus on NL for the time-being. With luck, I'll get proficient enough to hold my own at the Bellagio 10/20 game (or even, yikes, 25/50, which has been running pretty regularly), and so I'll have my choice of games when I show up--80/160 limit or 10/20NL? Which one looks softer? More variety is always good.


Anonymous Johnny FlopBoot said...

I play NL for pretty much the same reasons you outlined.

If you're playing 2/5NL right now, and want to get to 10/20... what is in between? Is it just 5/10? Do casinos spread 5/10 NL?

4:57 AM  
Blogger eric said...

5/10 NL is offered at the Wynn and Bellagio regularly, and often at MGM, Caesar's, Palms, and perhaps one or two other casinos.

5:20 AM  
Anonymous Evan said...

Also, NL allows good players more of an advantage.

I haven't played yet this month, but NL is just easier.

1:27 PM  
Blogger eric said...

I'm finding NL to be more interesting than limit now just because I'm not nearly as experienced. When I start to play limit, it's the potential money and only the potential money that keeps me interested. If I have a losing or a break-even session I feel like I completely wasted my time.

But I actually look forward to playing NL. It's exciting to me the same way playing limit was a year and a half ago. I'm not nearly as good or experienced, but I'm learning a lot every session, which is very different from my limit sessions where I might actually be getting worse every session I'm so on grind-it-out autopilot.

I'm liking the more variety aspect, too. Last night I went to the Bellagio and their waiting list for 5/10NL was insane so I actually did sit in the 80/160 game, despite this being "NL-only" week. I did well there, and when the game started to suck after a couple hours, I left and got my seat at 5/10NL. Then that game started to suck so I left and went back to the 80 game which was now uber-juicy. That broke and I would have played the 20/40 1/2-kill O8 game if it weren't so late.

Bouncing around like that might be preferred for me since I tend to lose concentration after a few hours.

5:44 PM  
Blogger Nuck said...

I've been reading your blog for a while now and very much agree with your jump to NL. I've always wondered why you play limit for all the reasons you outlined in this last entry. I'm an amateur NL player in STL; we've got a extremely wild 20/40 game but it's just too frustrating to know exactly what's going on but not to be able to do anything about it. Good luck with the transition. Take a peek at
if you've got a free moment.

9:04 PM  
Blogger fairnbalncd said...

Good commentary on the hand analysis. Hand reading skills are an aspect I really need to improve upon. Sounds like you have yours down and can put it to good use.

The NL I've played had a tendency to bite back to keep me a breakeven player. Maybe I should play a few sessions of NL a week to keep some variety in my game?

Good post. Thanks.

7:58 AM  
Blogger GamblinSteve said...

Interesting post, Eric. Let's say your expected earn for the coming year was the same between limit and NL. The standard deviation is much higher for NL. So, unless you can equivocally say that you'll make more money playing NL, I'd rather play the game with smaller swings.

7:14 AM  
Blogger eric said...

Steve, most people seem to feel that NL actually has lower variance than limit. In my experience, this is true.

My main reason for playing NL is that it's a new challenge, and should help keep poker fresh, instead of being the same ol' limit grind day in and day out.

My expected earn at limit right now is much higher than at NL but with practice I should be able to close the gap some.

9:23 AM  
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