Monday, June 17, 2013

Letter to a Friend: The Sad State of Limit Hold'Em Circa 2013

Hieronymus Bosch depiction of hell.
Hieronymus Bosch's eerily prophetic "9 Levels of the Limit Hold'Em Abyss" (1539) 

A few days ago, a friend of mine asked me my opinion about whether or not it was a good idea to start adding some Limit Hold’em into his table load. He said that he was assuming it wasn’t much different from short stack poker and he figured that he could also get a 2bb/100 winrate.

He’s a sharp guy, so I have no idea how he came to these conclusions, but since I felt that it deserved a lengthy answer, I figured it would be best to share what I have to say, since apparently the answer wasn’t as obvious as I had previously thought.

A little background information:

Looking back on the game of Limit Hold’Em brings back some fond memories as well as some cringe worthy moments. It was where I first started my “career” (if you could even call it that back then). Like many people starting out, I thought that being a professional poker player was “cool” and that I would ride up the limits like a white Phil Ivey and be autographing my own version of Play Poker Like the Pros at Borders. Obviously, Phil Ivey is black, Phil Hellmuth’s ghost writer doesn’t know shit about poker, and Borders, much like limit hold ‘em, only exists in most people’s memories.

So, back to the question.  A few years back, I had a stellar rakeback deal on the Cake Network and since there wasn’t a whole lot on offer at the NLH stakes that I preferred playing, I figured I would take a shot at those “soft” limit tables and rock it out for that juicy 2bb/100 winrate. It took me about 2 days to wake up to the fact that I didn’t know what the fuck was going on. It seemed like every raise was getting 3-bet by both reg and fish and that as much as I tried to fight back, I still ended up getting my ass kicked at showdown. On the offensive end, I couldn’t push a guy off bottom pair, which might sound like a good thing to people accustomed to getting value in a game like NLH, but when coupled with the first statement, I was getting the worst of both worlds.

As most long term players can tell you, the fish will tend to mimic the regs both in open raise size and 3-bet tendencies. This doesn’t tend to be a good thing. Why not? As the game matured, the aggression employed by regulars has been ratcheted up in all games. The end result was that getting a cheap shot to hit our draws and then getting rewarded handsomely for doing so (how all of us “pros” made our money) no longer was a viable source of profit. All of a sudden, our attempts to isolate were thwarted and we found ourselves being the victims of said isolation plays.

In our efforts to beat fish, we still need to have the ability to play flops with them where they can be complicit to our will and bend over and take it as we command them to. In NLH, we still have the ability to punish such unruly behavior (albeit much less so in 2013 than in 2004), but unfortunately, in LHE this is no longer the case.

The horror story does not end there. A recent ongoing discussion has shed a lot of light on the profit killing rake in small stakes NLH games, but muffled are the screams of the souls crying out from LHE rake purgatory. They get hit the hardest, but quite frankly, since so few players play these games, nobody really gives a shit so they must carry on and suffer in silence.

The last, and perhaps worst, problem comes from the fact that since these games are the closest to being “solved”, the strategic champions of yesterday who failed to understand the nuances of game theory inevitably got pushed down into the lower limits. Now not only do you need to try and rip the stale money from the fish’s’ gills after it has been filtered through the dirty fingertips of the Mob, you also have to dodge the spears of the Spartans just to squeeze out your 000.1bb/100 winrate after rakeback. Good luck to you, fine sir!

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