23/02/2009

Evolution of a Limit Player

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

I don’t know what attracted me to limit hold’em, it was either the structured safe betting or the fact that it was the very first game that I studied at the outset. But limit was the big game online years ago as the sites were still having problems incorporating non structured betting games into their software.

It was also the era where you played your opponents on a basically level playing field and nobody could datamine or use tracking software. You were left to your own manual note taking devices. But the early pioneers in limit were still using software to beat their opponents and analyse their games.

I was using a great piece of limit software called Turbo Texas Hold’em and for me the best part of this software was the analysis screens where you could literally break your game down warts and all. While you could not track your opposition using this, it was still a major breakthrough at that time in identifying leaks in your own game.

It isn’t easy to calculate VPIP using TTH but you can easily see your “see the flop percentage” and then calculate it from that. But there were numerous metrics that professional players were analysing using this software years before tracking software was invented.

For instance you could see at a glance your “Won $ at showdown %”. The common benchmark in six max limit is 50% so if you are winning 50% or more of showdowns then you are doing well. With many metrics in hold’em, it doesn’t take that many hands for the data to become pretty accurate unlike win rates.

You could tell your “won $ at showdown %” after only about 500 hands and certainly 1000 would be enough. To get these percentages then this meant playing the software against the computer profiled players which were far more sophisticated than anything that had been produced at that time.

However, computer simulated players are not real players. They don’t make emotionally driven decisions like human players do and this was something that you needed to learn how to factor in when you used the software as a training tool.

Another key metric that TTH could easily identify was the “went to showdown %”. Once again only about 500 hands were needed to spot flaws in your game here but you needed to have a range somewhere in the region of between 28% to 43% to be playing optimally. This metric measured how often you saw the showdown after you had seen the flop. This is such a key metric because it shows you if you are either playing too tightly and giving players too much respect for better hands or being bullied or whether you are calling down too much and getting value bet to death.

I was very sorry to see the arrival of tracking software for so many reasons. The main reason for me was that many players were now getting access to information that they simply did not have regarding the weaknesses in their own game while all the time I had been using it to improve mine.

Folding the river can be a terrible error in limit play simply because most of the time you are getting good pot odds to call. But you often do need to fold for instance if you have been chasing a draw in a multi-way pot and have missed. But this is also another key metric in identifying sound limit play that we were identifying years before everybody else cottoned on. Once again you can tell if you are in the zone after 500-1000 hands.

Benchmark for this is to be folding somewhere between 20%-40% of the time. If this percentage is too high then this just encourages bluffing and you are simply folding too much, another reason could be that you are playing along with too many poor drawing hands. Likewise too low and you are paying off stronger hands too much with poor holdings.

These were critical statistics at that time and still are. Nothing has changed except that you can now get this information in a fraction of the time against real opponents and not computer simulated ones. Limit is a game that is very dependent on statistics of this nature because you need to have a solid default game in place as a bedrock to move on from. Looking back now, it’s like seeing an old picture of yourself using a ZX Spectrum. The evolution of a poker player is a very fascinating and instructive one indeed.

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