Poker Strategy With Bryan Devonshire -- I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now
Devonshire Looks At Limit Hold'em
Back in the day, no-limit hold’em cash games rarely existed. The variant was generally reserved for tournaments, and everybody spread limit hold’em cash games. I played in one $5-5 pot-limit hold’em game at the Hustler once a week on Fridays. The game was awesome, and nobody knew what they were doing, myself included.
I moved to Vegas in August 2006 as an expert in limit hold’em. The games stayed good until about November when they just completely dried up. Everybody was playing no-limit, and I needed to learn the game soon if I wanted to stay gainfully employed. In my last article I spoke of the importance of game selection and things to look for. To be able to perfectly game select, you must be able to beat all the games. Continuing with my I Wish I Knew Then series, I will delve into the mixed game variants, because being a well rounded poker player is key to long term success.
In the modern era most people have gotten into poker playing no-limit, so instead of discussing my transition from limit to nolimit, I will discuss the transition from a converse perspective.
Limit and no-limit hold’em are vastly different games. Concepts like pot control, bet sizing, and preflop seven-bet games of aggression with kittens and napkins are non-existent in limit hold’em. Preflop hand values change dramatically because a much higher percentage of money going into the pot happens preflop in limit hold’em.
The first mistake I see no-limit hold’em superstars make consistently when learning limit is not ramping up the aggression enough. In limit hold’em, my game plan is to bet until they fold, and if they don’t fold, make a pair by the river and bet it for value. It’s really difficult to make a pair. In most cases preflop it is never correct to call in limit. The exception of course is after being reraised by an opponent, in which case it is never correct to fold.
When first into the pot, it is never correct to limp. First, raising gives you the opportunity to win the blinds without contest, which is the whole point of entering the pot in the first place. Second, it gives you the lead. It puts the opponent on the defensive, forcing them to make a hand, come up with a bluff, or fold. They don’t have to fold postflop very often to make bluffing profitable. If seeing a flop against just the big blind, there are 2.25 big bets in the pot, and it only costs half of a big bet to bluff at it. Betting the fl op only has to yield a fold 22.3 percent of the time to be profitable. If they call the flop, and then check the turn, there is 3.25 big bets in the pot. It costs one big bet to bluff at it, and only needs to work 30.8 percent of the time. Third, when opening for a raise preflop, unlike in no-limit hold’em, you cannot get raised off of the hand, and you can’t get punished too hard either.
When facing a raise in front of you preflop, it is almost never correct to just call. Your play should be three-bet or fold. If you think your hand is better than your opponent’s opening hand range, then you should reraise to put more money into the pot with a better hand. Making it three-bets also prevents the blinds from coming along cheaply. Furthermore, it gives you the lead even more so than opening for a raise does, setting up the “bet, bet, bet” line as strong and credible. In a three-bet pot, opponents do not need to fold very often for bluffs to be profitable, but they do all the time because the line is strong.
Preflop hand selection is more important in limit hold’em. With the potential for big bets to go into the pot postflop in no-limit, it can be argued that any hand can be profitable in certain situations versus certain opponents.
In limit hold’em, due to the large portion of the pot that is created preflop and the limited opportunity to put more money in postflop, many hands are just simply not profitable to play. Suited connectors and most small cards become unprofitable.
Small pairs lose all value from set mining but gain lots of value because they’re a pair. Hands like Q-T offsuit go up in value for it’s potential to make top pair, which is essentially the nuts in limit hold’em. Q-10 offsuit loses value in no-limit due to its reverse implied odds, but in limit, your opponent can only bet three times putting a total of 2.5 big bets into the pot postflop. Position is significantly less important in limit.
In summary: Play solid starting hands preflop. Don’t ever limp. If your hand is good enough to see the flop, it should be for a raise. If not, then it should be thrown in the muck. If you want to mess around with a bad hand, at least play it like a good hand and give them a chance to fold. If your opponents just call, then bet the flop, and bet the turn if you still haven’t been raised. With three or more opponents
this becomes less and less automatic and more based on hand strength and board texture. When they do raise you, it is usually incorrect to fold a hand with showdown value. If you are reraised preflop, don’t fold. You can almost always correctly check to the raiser, and can almost always check-raise any pair on the flop. You can usually check/call with overcards and draws. It is usually correct to get to showdown with a hand that has showdown value. All of these are guidelines and most should be deviated from, but only with good reasons dependent on opponent tendencies.
I love limit hold’em. You get to make so many more decisions that involve betting and raising and don’t have to bother with bet size and stack size considerations.
The game is a lot more fun for me, and I love it when the best game in the room is limit hold’em. ♠
Bryan Devonshire has been a professional poker player for nearly a decade. With over $2 million in tournament earnings, he also plays high stakes mixed games against the best players in the world. Follow him on Twitter @devopoker.
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