14/02/2008

Is No Limit Really Your Game?

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

I am taking a leave from talking about limit hold’em for a while for a few reasons. Firstly because most people on this forum don’t want me to write about it and secondly because I just fancy a change. I am very passionate about limit hold’em but if you are boring the pants of everyone then its time to shut up.

This week I want to revert back to NLH but before I go into strategies and theories during the coming weeks, I want to present to you a question that many people should be asking themselves. “Is no limit poker really suited to me?”

The interest in no limit hold’em has really only come about because of the recent poker boom. Televised events, websites, books, magazines etc have not only brought poker to the masses but in particular... Texas hold’em... .even more in particular... no limit Texas hold’em.

Millions of people who have never played poker in their lives are suddenly playing poker and the game that they are playing first is NLH, is this wise? Well... without a good deal of self analysis and reflection and understanding, I say a resounding no to that? But even if you have been playing poker for years, you could still be unsuited to playing the form of poker which for me has the most demands on a player in terms of testing their character and personality... no limit hold’em.

Don’t get me wrong, I have spouted for years just how wonderfully intricate and complex limit play is when compared to NLH and I am only just becoming fully aware of the nuances in PLO after all these years. But a losing limit player will slowly but surely haemorrhage money, a long procession of his life’s blood slowly and agonisingly dripping away. But a bad no limit hold’em player will meet with a far quicker and brutal death. One fatal stab to the heart and one hundred big blinds are moving across the table to someone else.

I had someone approach me to coach them a while ago, he was pretty green and I helped his game to reach a good technical level. He still sends me hand histories from time to time because he is not doing as well as what he had expected. As I read through the hands, I cannot believe that this kid is a losing player. He is playing good solid tight aggressive poker, not trying to be fancy and playing at a level that he can easily beat ($1-$2).

But then after looking at about one hundred hands or so... BANG! He loses a huge portion of his stack in a huge pot that he simply has no right being in. He allows himself to get drawn in against a tight passive player with nothing more than two pair and two mediocre pair at that.

He tells me how angry he was at losing that pot but the startling thing is that he knew full well that he should not have got sucked in and yet it still happened. To me this is worrying because it indicates potential problems with his own self control and discipline. But this applies to many players out there at all stakes and even to many famous players.

They play well for a while, maybe even play great poker but then something seems to snap and they implode. NLH is a monster of a game when it comes to exposing indiscipline and believe you me... it will expose it given time. I think that the pace of online play enhances the situation for many people because it is so easy to be swept along by the speed of it at times.

But this underlines that to be a successful cash game player does require discipline and lots of it. When I talk about discipline, I am not talking about being disciplined enough to fold a few hands for thirty minutes or so. I am talking about having discipline to never explode in a pot like my student did in the previous example and ruining several hours of hard work in one big blow out.

If you are failing at NLH ring games and you are a strong player technically then there could be a fair chance that this form of poker is simply not suited to your character. There is no shame in it, many big tournament stars totally suck at ring games for this very reason. I often sit and watch games and you can sometimes think that certain games are full of good solid players and they ARE good solid players 99% of the time.

But then you see them get all in for their entire stack with some cruddy hand and you think “what the hell was all that about?” In NLH, it’s the 1% that gets you. You can be correct with the vast majority of your decisions in NLH but yet still be a losing player. The fact is that there may be parts to your personality that are not conducive to playing NLH where mistakes and indiscipline are brutally punished.

But if you recognise this as you, then don’t think that you have no future in playing poker. Just simply accept that this may be the one form of the game that you struggle in and play something else. Go and play STT’s or limit poker, maybe tournaments... anything where your destructive inner personality is not going to drag you back. As always, any thoughts and comments are welcome on the forum and I will respond in time.

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