In Defense of Limit Poker

Murderer's Row

Okay, I know I better duck now … or, to protect my ego, not read the comments this column will generate. But no matter.

I’ve got a point to make here and I happen to think it’s a good one. There are some damn good reasons for shifting over to Limit poker. Here’s a few:

First, because so many people are playing No-Limit and Pot-Limit poker, a lot of them have gotten good. The games are tough and are getting tougher as I write.

More and more young players with a deadly serious approach are pouring in. They are getting good faster than you can imagine. If you’re a recreational player, that “discretionary income” you use to bankroll your game isn’t going as far as it did just a year or so ago and its life expectancy is getting shorter by the day.

Why? Because the fish are going broke.

As Ingo Fiedler and Jan-Philipp Rock at the University of Hamburg's Institute of Law and Economics reported in one of the most careful analyses of online poker, the vast majority of Internet players buy in, play fewer than 100 hands, go broke and never log in again.

The obvious message? The game isn’t a cakewalk and there aren’t many easy games out there these days.

Jennifer Harman
Jennifer Harman at the WSOP

Second, NL and PL play has become significantly more aggressive and aggression raises variance. Increasing variance isn’t just a matter of withstanding cash fluctuations; it’s managing the psychological elements that accompany the swings.

High variance is the mother of tilt. Tilt is the enemy of us all. I see more tilt these days than I did just a few months back. Hell, I tilt more these days.

Third, Limit poker is more tightly built around reasonably well-known heuristics.

Solid, tight positional play is a far more effective strategy at Limit than at No-Limit, for the reasons just acknowledged. It is easier to learn and requires fewer hours of experience to become a decent winning player at modest stakes.

By “modest” levels I’m including limits from $4/$8 up through $15/$30 - although admittedly it is difficult to consistently beat the rake at $4/$8 and when you get to $15/$30 and above the game can be tough.

I usually start with a dime on the felt in both a $5/$10 No-Limit game and a $20/$40 Limit game. I’m occasionally picking green felt out from between my teeth in the former but rarely in the latter.

For those ready to switch to Limit play, do some reading. Good places to start are Lou Krieger’s Hold ‘em Excellence and More Hold ‘em Excellence. If you want solid insights into the game played a tad more aggressively, see Jennifer Harman’s chapter in Doyle Brunson’s Super System 2: A Course in Power Poker.

For Omaha/8 I recommend Mark Tenner and Lou Krieger’s Omaha/8 and Bobby Baldwin’s chapter in Super System 2 (full disclosure here; Lou and I wrote a book together and we are friends. But even if I hated his guts, I’d still recommend these books.)

Fourth, if you get interested in Limit play you will suddenly discover a lot of other poker games that are only played with fixed stakes. In recent months I’ve become a big fan of Stud, Stud/8 and Razz. It all began when I started playing in H.O.R.S.E. tournaments and discovered that most of my opponents do not know how to play the Stud games.

Jeffrey Lisandro
Jeffrey Lisandro, the Stud king.

In fact, the discrepancy in skill here is so great that I’ve hit on a workable strategy, which I offer to you free of charge. During the Hold ‘em and Omaha/8 rounds, only play premium starting hands and never draw to anything but the nuts (always good advice in Omaha/8 where even the nuts can get you quartered).

Try to break even here and build your stacks on the Stud rounds. To get you started on your education, try:

Stud: Konstantin Othmer’s Seven Card Stud - that’s right, “Othmer.” You almost certainly never heard of him, which is good because your opponents won’t have either. It’s the best book on Stud I’ve seen.

Stud/8: Todd Brunson’s chapter in his Daddy’s Super System 2.

Razz: The chapter in David Sklansky’s Sklansky on Poker and Linda Johnson’s chapter in Championship Stud co-authored with Max Stern and Tom McEvoy. 

I’ve had so much fun in these tournaments that I’m now putting in more hours playing cash Stud games. Not only has it been good for the bankroll, it has been good psychologically.

I feel more in control in these games. I enjoy the newer strategic plays that I am learning and, best of all, I am beginning to grasp how much more there is to poker. To be a complete player you do need to master the game in all its varied forms and digging into the nuances of the Stud games is a good way to start.

Everyone likes to say that Phil Ivey is the best player alive. Of his 7 WSOP bracelets, exactly none of them are NLHE.

Interesting, yes?

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