Strategic Thinking in No Limit Hold’Em
01 Nature of the Game
The popularity of no limit Hold’Em is exploding. With the exposure of no limit Hold’Em tournaments on TV, no limit Hold’Em games have gained wide popularity in cardrooms, kitchen tables, fraternity houses, and on the internet. Television defines and shapes American culture in amazing ways, and it can do so very quickly. The poker sub-culture is not immune from it. Television has recently had strong influences on the poker world. Poker has always been a popular game but until recently that popularity has been somewhat under the surface, and perhaps with a little of a naughty slant. The poker sub-culture had been something of a deviant sub-culture. No longer. Poker has become vary mainstream. When I was in college there were college bridge clubs. Today there are college poker clubs. There were campus poker games when I was in college, but they were in dorm rooms, not in the student union.
Television brings the players. The huge influx of new players has changed the way the world looks at poker and has caused the nature of the typical no limit game to change dramatically. The nature of a poker game isn’t defined so much by the rules and procedures of the game as it is by the behavior of the players themselves. It’s a social game, not just in terms of the social interaction among players in games consisting of friends and family, but it’s social in the very way that the game is structured. Bets in poker are structured as a social interaction. A bet is a form of negotiation. When I make a bet it’s in the form of an offer. You have options in your response. You can reject the offer, closing off negotiations by folding. You can accept the offer by calling. Or you can counter offer by with a raise. The negotiation of a bet is a social act, even if there’s no verbal exchange, and it takes place in a social context.
The players and the way they interact make the game. Wild players make for a wild game. Passive, sedate players make for a tight and passive game. Some of the small blind, small buy in no limit games you can find today (both in brick & mortar and online cardrooms) can get a little wild at times. Although today’s new players are sometimes wild, mostly they tend to be loose. Today’s gambler came to play much more so than the gambler of yore. The image of the old, cigar chomping gamblers in the back room, carefully considering each bet, is gone. Players that are introduced to poker through edited TV shows, showing 30 minutes of highlights from a 10 hour day of poker, tend to have seen a lot of aggression and they bring it to the table with them. They don’t show 9 hours of folding on TV, they show the 1 hour of action.
Players make the game
Today’s games are very different from the way games used to be. That’s because the players are very different from what they used to be. When I was in the Navy, in the late ‘60’s, there were a lot of pot limit 7 card stud games on ships at sea. Those games where full of terrible players. But they were terrible in a very different way than are bad players today. The really bad players used to chase way, way too much. Calling when they had almost no chance of winning was the norm among bad players. To win at those games all you had to do was wait until you had an extremely good hand, bet it, and you’d be called by very poor players with hands that were almost hopeless in terms of chances of winning.
Today’s bad players don’t tend to be calling too much, they tend to be bluffing too much, inappropriately aggressive, or folding too much, inappropriately cautious. It takes more than sitting and waiting to get the money from either of these types of players. Sitting and waiting is still an important part of a winning strategy today, it’s just no longer all there is to it.
Things are a little different online than live. There’s still a lot of inappropriate aggression, but the online games tend to be tighter than the live games. There are a couple of reasons for this.
One is an online player has to actually do some work to get into the game. He has to register with an online site, download software, find some way to get money to the site (and that part can really be difficult right now in the United States), deposit some money, and then he can finally play. If a US resident wins it can be difficult to get paid in a form he can easily convert into US currency. Then he can finally play. He’s going to be a more serious player than the guy who just got off work and drove over to the casino to play poker because his girlfriend didn’t answer the phone and he couldn’t find anything else to do.
A second reason that online poker games tend to be tighter is that many players are playing more than one table online. They aren’t going to start playing marginal hands because they’re bored, they have more than one game going to keep their attention.
And of course the more effective ways of cheating cause tighter games. If two partner players are sharing information about their cards and playing “best hand” the game will be tighter.
Labels: Strategic thinking in no limit hold'em