21/10/2008

A Lesson in Omaha #5

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

Over the past year or so, there has been a preponderance of players playing a short stack in PLO and in NLHE too. I think that the lessons here are clear in that playing a large stack isn’t necessarily the way to go for many players. But this is an argument that I have been making for ages but I have been derided for it in certain circles.

The fact of the matter is that playing a deep stack in any form of poker requires considerable experience and skill and not to mention personal discipline. Most players do not possess all of these attributes, if they did then they wouldn’t be losing players would they? With the percentage of long term winning players online being ten percent at the most then it is clear that many players are playing large stacks who clearly do not have the ability to do so.

But one of the primary advantages to playing a short stack well is that it can almost totally negate a good player’s advantage against you and in many cases provide you with an edge over strong players. This is especially the case with regards strong players who cannot make the proper adjustments when going up against short stacks.

This is why as you progress as a poker player, paying close attention to your opponents stack sizes is critical. It not only helps you to identify the proper strategy to use against certain players but in many cases it helps you to decide whether to enter the game at all. There are millions of poker players out there who don’t have enough personal or financial discipline and deep stack poker is cruelly exposing these personality flaws.

But this does not mean that these players cannot have a profitable poker career. These short stacking strategies are so successful that they are a real pain in the backside to the experienced players. I have used short stacking approaches in both PLO and more recently in NLHE so I know they work.

The theory behind playing tight and then getting all in either pre-flop or on the flop with an equity edge is solid. But for a short stacking system of play to be successful in PLO then you really need to be playing against bigger stacks and not other short stacks. I wonder how many players for instance automatically buy in for the maximum despite not having to do so. If your five opponents in a $2-$4 PLO game or a $2-$4 NLHE game for that matter are sitting on stacks of $168, $89, $212, $193 and $290 then why buy in for $400?

You can bust the highest stacked player with a $300 buy in so the extra $100 has little effect. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it has no effect because there are psychological factors involved and even metagame factors too but I don’t think that they adequately compensate. 

This is why I have always believed that NLHE and PLO have certain design flaws and these are pretty self evident when you consider the effectiveness of unskilled players playing on short money.

A skilled poker player with the proper bankroll and a big stack is supposed to have the edge over less skilled players on short money but this is clearly not the case. This is why the game is flawed because if skilled players cannot properly utilise their skills against even novice players then there has to be something wrong somewhere.

But short stacking is definitely on the increase and it will continue to do so for one simple reason. Poker is incredibly alluring and even more so once you delve deeper into it and every single person on this forum is aware of that fact.

But there are vast numbers of keen poker players worldwide who are risk averse but yet are stilled attracted to poker all the same. To people like them then short stacking is the answer to their prayers. There are clear differences in mindset between online players. To me this is indicated with players who play full ring.

If you are an aggressive player and you walk into a card room that has ten poker tables and each one is a nine handed table then you have no choice but to play full ring. But when you go into an online card room and deliberately choose full ring over six handed then this indicates something about a players mindset and probable style of play in my opinion.

This is why short stacking strategies in online NLHE are less effective than they are in online PLO and live PLO... the games are less aggressive making it harder to get all in pre-flop with a short stack unless you chronically overbet the pot. But short stacking strategies are definitely changing the face of online poker and it is something that large stacked pro’s are going to have to come to terms with.

But as long as you remember that them limping in can be a prelude to a limp re-raise and that they are playing very tight ranges then it shouldn’t be difficult to adjust.

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