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Poker Strategy With Dusty Schmidt: Changing Your Game

A Look At How To Revamp Your Game

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Dusty SchmidtPoker can be a grind. When you feel burnt out on your own game but want to play poker, you actually have quite a few options. I listed five of them in Part 1 of this series.

To recap:

1. Change your style of play.
2. Change the stakes you play.
3. Change the game you play.
4. Change the people you play with.
5. Dress up to play poker.

In the fifth article of this series, I’ll come back to changing your style of play, so I started off by looking at how changing the stakes you play can freshen things up a bit for you. This time, let’s talk about changing the actual game you play.

Changing the Game

There are a couple of ways to change game formats in poker. One is to change from something like no-limit hold’em to limit hold’em. While the mechanics of dealing cards and such are completely identical, the dynamics of the game can be extremely different. The other option is to play a game with totally different rules. From hold’em, you can move to something similar like Omaha, or something further away like seven card stud or some sort of draw game.

Fixed-Limit, Pot-Limit, No-Limit

If your main game is some variation of hold’em, the simplest change you can make is to play some hands with a different betting structure. This is similar to moving up or down in stakes, but it gives you a chance to move something like sideways. You can find a game where you risk a similar amount of money, but with a new set of betting rules. Here’s a rundown of how each structure works and what effect the structure has on solid play.

In fixed limit games, there are specific bet sizes that you must use on each round of betting. In $5-$10 limit hold’em, you bet and raise in increments of $5 both before and after the flop. Once the turn card comes out, you bet in increments of $10. The river is the usually the same as the turn, though you might occasionally run into a game where the river betting increment is larger than that of the turn.

One feature of limit games is that, by the end of the hand, the bet sizes are fairly small relative to the size of the pot. Another feature is that players rarely go all in, since they can only raise a little bit at a time. This means that you cannot make a single huge mistake that ruins your session. It also means that you can’t book a huge win by winning a single huge pot. Solid play in limit games requires you to make a long string of consistently good decisions. Losing in a limit game is more like death by a thousand cuts than it is like getting hit by a knockout blow, which is what can happen in no-limit.

No-limit is basically the opposite in all of those regards. While consistently making good decisions is still very important, a few small mistakes are less likely to sink you. Instead, you need to avoid making catastrophic errors that cost you all your chips. That said, you can sometimes pull off a huge bluff or win a massive pot with a marginal hand, relying on your increased fold equity and implied odds that come along with the structure of the game.

If you regularly play no-limit, you may enjoy how limit hold’em affords you the opportunity to see more flops and reach more showdowns. If you regularly play limit, then you may enjoy how no-limit gives you the potential to bluff people off of considerably stronger hands and the chance to win some huge pots.

Pot-limit is more similar to no-limit than it is to limit, but with the single difference that you can never bet more than what’s in the pot. This can have the perverse effect of encouraging people to make bets of full pot size more often, so the average bet size in pot-limit may actually be larger than the average bet size in no-limit, despite the fact that the maximum bet size is smaller. It’s hard to find a pot-limit hold’em game these days, but pot-limit Omaha has become very popular. Which brings us to…

Flop Games, Draw Games, Stud Games

Texas Hold’em and Omaha are the two most popular flop games, but there are others, like Crazy Pineapple, Big O, and the like. Some people even play Double Flop Hold’em, Double Flop Omaha, and other creative variants on familiar flop games.

A key feature of flop-based games is that everyone shares some cards. The community cards (i.e., the flop, the turn, and the river) give players an idea of what the best possible hands could be in a particular hand of poker. When the board changes, everyone knows it. The flush gets there out in the open. This provides a certain kind of context that is lacking in some other games. On the other hand, it also supplies some restrictions that other games don’t have.

In draw games, there are no exposed cards at all. The only hints anyone has about anyone else’s hand is the betting action and the drawing choices made. It’s possible to bluff not only with chips, but also by drawing a particular number of cards, or standing pat. This adds a fun dynamic that doesn’t really exist in flop games. There’s a bit of a Wild West feel to draw games, partly because Five Card Draw was one of the first variants of poker, but also because it feels a bit more like guts and guile and a bit less like analyzing the combinations of how a player’s range intersects with a particular flop, turn, and river.

Somewhere in the middle, then, are the stud games. Seven card stud and the same game played for hi/lo are the two most common stud games these days. Each player has their own private hole cards, but then the next four cards are shown face up. Instead of everyone sharing a board, each player has their own board. Still, this provides context similar to that which exists in a flop game. The river card is dealt down and dirty, as they say, which gives it a bit more of a draw game feel on that street.

I’ve given you a very broad overview of some of the differences between various betting structures and game types. The truth is that each game is more or less as complex as the one that you usually play. Learning a new game to the level of mastery is a lifetime’s work. But playing around with it, noticing the similarities and differences, is something that can give you some fresh perspective on your regular game. ♠

With more than $5 million in cash game winnings in his 9-year career, Dusty “leatherass” Schmidt is the consummate grinder. In 2007, Dusty became one of the first SuperNova Elites and later became a member of PokerStars Team Online. He is currently the player ambassador for America’s Cardroom. He is the author of Treat Your Poker Like A Business and Don’t Listen To Phil Hellmuth, available at cardoza.com. Schmidt’s newest book, Poker In Practice: Critical Concepts, can be found at pokerinpractice.com.