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Adapt Or Go Broke

by Roy Cooke |  Published: May 29, 2013

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Roy CookeThe world is rapidly changing around us. The advancement of technology and knowledge is creating higher standards in every sphere. Those revolutions are changing the poker world also. The increased available information makes poker significantly easier to learn. Poker is tougher than it used to be and those that don’t adapt to its changes are destined to be left behind.

At the Bellagio, the only location in Las Vegas spreading high limit-hold’em games, the larger limit-hold’em games, usually $80-$160 or $100-$200 are seldom spread anymore, running only during special times, such as big weekends or tournaments. This caused the Bellagio management to adjust the limits to accommodate more customers. They changed the $30-$60 limit-hold’em game to $40-$80 and the $15-$30 to $20-$40.

In these games the structure, dynamics, player skills and styles also changed. The higher limit players stepped down to the $40-$80. As a rule, they possessed a more aggressive, faster style of play and were better hand readers. Many of the $30-$60 regulars moved down to the $20-$40, looking for a more social, passive game. Additionally, both games changed from two-chip/three-chip to two-chip/four-chip blind structures.

These transformations require strategy adjustments. Since the $40-$80 players are more aggressive, the game plays faster preflop, larger pots form, changing correct postflop strategies. Because the pot is laying you a better price, it’s correct to draw more often, creating greater swings, and putting additional pressure on those prone to “tilt.” Additionally, the experience and knowledge level of the $40-$80 players is higher than what existed in the $30-$60 game, making tells harder to find, rendering the game harder to read, requiring more deception in your game, and strengthening strategists with some game theory knowledge over “feel players.”

Paradoxically, greater preflop aggression is the more correct strategy in the two-chip/three-chip blind structure than the two-chip/four-chip structure, though that is not to say that the aggression in the $40-$80 game is an incorrect strategy. The reason is that in the two-chip small blind (SB), calling one chip with any two cards is ususally correct in a limped pot, while calling two chips in a limped pot in the two-chip SB requires a tighter hand range.

The $20-$40 plays very similar to the way the $15-$30 did, though that is not to say it’s generally played correctly. You see much more loose preflop limping in the $20-$40 even from players first to open in late position. The players are more readable, enhancing edges to many plays due to the increased accuracy of reads. The players are less focused on odds and generally have a lower level of strategic knowledge. It’s easier to obtain an edge in the $20-$40, albeit for a lower volume of money wagered.

But while the $20-$40 is an easier game to beat, that doesn’t mean you will win more than in the $40-$80, or win at all for that matter. Nor does playing $40-$80 double your win rate. That is because your edge will generally be lower in the $40-$80 than the $20-$40. The effect of playing tougher opponents and the consequence of time charges on lower betting volumes make the equation non-linear.

Doing some rough justice, let’s estimate your net costs of play, time charges, tokes, etcetera, total $20 hour in each game (these figures are for Las Vegas, the number is higher in other cities). Let’s also assume you can bet $1,000 per hour profitably in the $40-$80 and $600 in the $20-$40. Notice that the figure for $40-$80 is not double the $20-$40 due to the fact that you should be able to bet more betting units correctly in the $20-$40 than the $40-$80. So, if you bet $1,000 per hour in the $40-$80, the first 2 percent in positive expected value (EV) you earn goes to your playing costs. And to net $60/hour, you must generate a blended EV of plus 8 percent on your money over time. With $20-$40, paying $20/hour net costs, your first plus 3.33 percent of EV goes to your playing costs. Betting $600/hour, to net $60/hour you would need plus 13.33 percent blended EV, a tough nut to crack in even the best of games. A plus eight percent edge betting $600/hour in $20-$40 will net you $28/hour positive EV. And getting a blended plus eight percent edge requires a lot of knowledge and talent, or some incredibly poor playing opponents.

So how does this all translate in adjusting to the new realities at the Bellagio? The money and the challenge are greater at the $40-$80 than the $20-$40. But you have to be realistic in handicapping your abilities. Which is the best fit for your wants and needs? Are you looking to work hard and grow your game? If so, the $40-$80 is probably the best place for you. Competing against the better players, joining that high level social group, adding a good study/work ethic, should make you grow as a player.

Those who want to beat the $40-$80 game need to acquire a high level of strategic knowledge. The $20-$40 is easier to beat, generally more social, and requires less effort to maintain a winning game. Those playing $20-$40 need to work harder on their “feel” of the game. Tells abound in $20-$40. If you pay attention, study your opponents’ tendencies and their counterplays, you’ll create more opportunities to create edge for yourself. That said, a top player will make less in $20-40 than in the $40-$80 over time.

At any limit, don’t get caught like the dinosaurs did; adjust and thrive. That way you won’t spend your golden years telling bad beat stories!

Roy Cooke played poker professionally for 16 years prior to becoming a successful Las Vegas Real Estate Broker/Salesman in 1989. Should you wish to any information about Real Estate matters-including purchase, sale or mortgage his office number is 702-396-6575 or Roy’s e-mail is RealtyAce@aol.com. His website is www.roycooke.com. You can also find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @RealRoyCooke.