When I started playing poker for a living, I looked like the average poker student in everything I said and did. I was always reading poker books and magazines (in the casino as well as at home), was constantly thinking about the game or analyzing plays, always kept my poker diary on the table, and so on. I played limit hold’em only, and was known as a super-rock. People nicknamed me “Ace” because I played tighter than anyone they had ever seen before, and I was laughed at more than once because I took the game so seriously. That said, there were not a lot of players who thought I would make it. Most people labeled me a “book player,” someone who didn’t know what “real poker” was about. OK, they thought, maybe I had done pretty well in low-limit hold’em games, but in other games, I wouldn’t stand a chance, and at the higher limits, I would get creamed. People kept saying that even after I had moved up in limits and still kept winning, and even when I also proved to be successful in games I had never played before: limit Omaha and limit stud, for example. There was one more game people claimed I would never be able to beat: the big pot-limit Omaha game, which was introduced in Holland a bit more than four years ago. Now, four years later and having cracked those games for a goodly sum, people are finally giving me credit for being a player. (That said, I still have a reputation for being mostly a “lucky” player, because to some people, it seems like I always get lucky when the real money is at stake, when the big bucks are involved.) In fact, I sometimes get criticized now when I write about limit poker, with people claiming I am a high-stakes pot-limit player and therefore shouldn’t comment on limit poker. It’s a strange world, folks, and it’s funny how things can change so quickly.
Pros and Cons of Offering Pot-Limit
As you probably know, pot-limit poker is played in Europe a lot more than it is in the United States. However, it’s not like all games in Europe are pot-limit. In most countries, the casinos offer their clientele the choice between limit and pot-limit, and in some casinos, the majority of the games are limit. It is my opinion that limit and pot-limit poker may very well coexist, in contrast to what most American cardrooms seem to think. They are reluctant to offer pot-limit, fearing it might break the weaker players too quickly. While I can see and understand their reasoning, and even agree with it up to a point, I think a few more factors should be considered:
- Pot-limit play may bring some new customers to the casino, especially “gambling” types of players who have more than enough money anyway, and who don’t mind losing a bit if they can get some excitement in return. These players would not play in the cardroom otherwise, because they think limit poker is simply too boring.
- Pot-limit daftar poker online poker attracts people who want to make a big score once in a while. This doesn’t mean they are winning players or are beating the game; they just want to have the chance to win big once in a while — just like craps or roulette players.
- It is good for the general atmosphere of the house to have a big gambling game going, because it gives the lower-limit players something to look forward to and work their way up to. If they fail, they can simply return to the limit games, but the bottom line is that they know serious money can be made in poker.
- Limit poker is often considered boring, and a game for grinders. Every serious player knows that you have to play very tight in order to be able to win a little. Even then, some of the best limit players, the ones who can be considered “the best in their field,” don’t live fancy lives, by any means: They might make a decent living out of the game, but nothing to become thrilled about. This is not an exciting prospect for people wanting to make it in poker. They may focus on other moneymaking investments instead; thus, poker will have lost another young gun, and the casino a potential lifelong, loyal customer.
Having said all of this, I am not too fond of casinos offering high-stakes pot-limit hold’em on a frequent basis. In my opinion, pot-limit hold’em is not a good game, for the following reasons:
- Weaker players stand no chance in the long run.
- It is hard to win a lot, to make a big score, even in the short run. Weak players have to get very lucky to book even a decent win.
- Pot-limit hold’em is a game that, for most players, can be played reasonably well only by folding and playing tight. Any game that encourages folding and playing tight cannot be a good game, if you ask me.
- Because weak players lose in a very high percentage of their sessions, the game will almost certainly die out. This leads casinos to conclude that pot-limit poker breaks weak players too quickly, and confirms what they already thought: that they should stick to limit poker. What they should have concluded, instead, is that hold’em is not a good game to offer with pot-limit betting.
A Better Game
In my opinion, a better game to offer with pot-limit betting is Omaha. Pot-limit Omaha is a big, brutal gambling game in which even professionals, the experts, sometimes lose big-time. What’s more, even the worst players, the total fish, can book mammoth wins on any given day — and it is this characteristic of the game that attracts so many new players, so many gamblers. Also, because even the best players lose frequently, a healthy gambling atmosphere is created and the games don’t die out nearly as quickly as pot-limit hold’em games do. In Amsterdam, for example, the limit-poker action had always been very slow, with a maximum of two tables during weekdays. After the introduction of pot-limit Omaha about four years ago, there have always been at least two limit tables, and the big pot-limit game has been going at least five days a week ever since. This can be considered a big success for the players as well as for the house, because for the players, there are now more games from which to choose, and for the house, there are more games from which to make money.
About the Dynamics of Limit and Pot-Limit, and How to Adjust Your Strategy Accordingly
Let’s talk some more about strategic differences between limit and pot-limit poker. It should be clear that there are quite a few differences in which hands to play, and how to play them. In general, you would tend to play a bit tighter in the big-bet game, because the consequences of playing a marginal hand can be quite severe. However, some of the best pot-limit players play a lot more hands than is usually recommended, simply because they think they can outplay their opponents when the real money is at stake. A few good Omaha players are even close to what can be considered maniacs, playing and raising almost every hand. It should be clear, though, that I don’t think this is a good strategy for the average player, the player who is new to pot-limit.
I think a very tight approach is recommended in almost any game — in regard to starting hands, that is. You have to be able to play a decent game from the flop onward, as well. You’ve got to read your opponents, play your position, pick up tells, and not give away any tells yourself. You’ve got to play the players, know when to bluff, know how to induce a bluff, have the heart, courage, and knowledge to make the play that’s called for, and a dozen other things I cannot get into here. The bottom line is this: If you don’t know how to play well from the flop onward, you stand no chance in pot-limit. This is especially true if you are playing with deep money. (In online big-bet games, the average stack compared to the size of the blinds is often a lot smaller than in live games. In fact, in some games there is even a cap on the buy-in, in order not to let the size of the game escalate. Whether you are playing a short or a large stack will have a huge impact on your best strategy in pot-limit poker.) In general, while limit poker rewards patience, pot-limit poker rewards aggression. However, if you start betting and raising like there’s no tomorrow, trying to run over the table, you’re going to get chopped off eventually and will be standing on the rail sooner than you can imagine. And without patience and discipline, you will stand no chance in any poker game — pot-limit being no exception.
Some Final Words
In pot-limit Omaha, it is not always easy for new players to know what to look for in their starting hand, especially those coming from a limit hold’em background. For those people, two of my past columns (What to Look for in Starting Hands: Pot-Limit Omaha — Part I and Part II) might be of assistance; they both can be found in the CardPlayer.com archives. These columns discuss the value of some PLO starting hands, and how they can or should be played, before and after the flop. Of course, the recommendations are general, and in practice, you may sometimes need to do exactly the opposite of what’s usually right. That said, I hope these columns will help you get a feel for this game, which is beautiful and exciting, but also dangerous and extremely brutal at times — basically everything that poker should be, if you ask me.