Becoming a Mixed Games Player – Part 2

Last month we discussed several different general ideas on how to gear up to transform yourself into a player that can quickly adapt to any new variants that may arise in the future.  This month we will outline several key considerations to analyze when formulating a strategy for any new game that you chose to add to your repertoire.

  1. Avoid the Biggest Leaks

    When learning a new game it is imperative to avoid the major mistakes that will cause you to lose all of your money before you have a chance to become proficient. Here’s an extreme funny example; around ten years ago you could play a game called Royal Hold’em online.  As the name suggests it was Hold’em but the deck only contained the tens through aces. Flopping the nut straight was the ultimate sucker hand.  Against someone holding a set there is no possibility to win the pot outright because either the board will pair, in which case you lose to a full house, or if it does not both players will have a straight and the pot is split.

    The above is a humorous example but getting a great deal of money in the middle in a small Pot Limit Omaha pot with 8♥ 7♠ 6♣ 5♣ on a flop of T♥ 9♥ 6♠ would almost be just as bad.  So would playing rolled kings, heads-up Stud High-Low Split No Qualifier pot.  Whatever the game is, the first order of business is to avoid throwing your money out the window.

  2. Importance of Position

    All games reward position, but some games rewards it more than others.  Obviously position is vitally important in the big bet games but amongst those how do they rank?

    No Limit Hold’em appears to be the game where position is the most crucial.  The game has evolved, the competition has gotten tougher, and many players have effectively learned the power of double and triple barreling against capped ranges.  Constantly playing out of position to highly skilled players is a nightmare.

    In contrast there are only two streets of betting in No Limit Deuce to Seven Single Draw so in that big bet game the in position player loses much of his betting leverage. Also, in a pot where both players are drawing one I’d argue that the benefits of position seem rather limited because the first player to act has the right of first bluff.  This means that if both players busted out, the in position player must choose between folding and risking a lot of chips on a bluff.

    Among the limit games, position is probably more valuable in the draw games as the knowledge on whether or not your opponent is standing pat in certain situations is critical.  Consider a hand in Deuce to Seven Triple Draw Lowball where you are out of position with one draw remaining.  One the second draw you obtained a T8642 and lead out against a single opponent who was also drawing.  He just calls your wager so you decide to stay pat.  It turns out that your opponent just called in position with 87643 and by doing so ensured himself the pot.  Had the positions been reversed you could have drawn to your hand and still have had a chance to outdraw your opponent.

    A game like Omaha Eight or Better doesn’t have as much of a premium on position because many more pots are multi-way and thus hand values dominate.  In that game relative position usually matters most in terms of your major decisions and the ability to get maximum value and that varies randomly from hand to hand. For example, in one particular hand you may be out of position but if you are to the direct right of a player you know has the nut low and will be betting you can punish other players calling when you have the nuts on the high side.

    In general position is also not a huge consideration in other split pot games such as Badacey, Badeucey, and Archie because they also produce many multi-way pots.  However, you should restrict your hand standards in early position to holdings that play well against many players as you don’t know yet how many players will be in the pot.

  1. Pull in Potential Future Customers or Limit the Field?

    Suppose we are in the hijack in a $5/$10 Pot Limit Omaha game with the ultra-premium A K♣ J♣ T.  A tight player in early position raises to $30 and there is one caller before the action gets to us.  Our hand is tremendous but if effective stacks are around $1500, I would tend to call instead of re-raising in this spot.  What makes this hand really good is that it usually makes the nuts or flops a draw to the best hand; holdings that can survive an onslaught of players.  A smooth- call will often entice dominated hands to also enter the pot.  You will win less pots but probably win more money.  The best Omaha hands play great multi-way, so allow other players to enter the pot.  Certainly you will get no argument from me if you decide to raise the pot here but keeping players in is a consideration.  Stack sizes play a large role in the decision.

    Limit Omaha Eight-Or-Better is another game where it is often advantageous to try and pull in players.  Thus in early to mid-position my playing style is to open-limp my entire playing range. My rationale is that if my hand is worth playing from these positions then it is also the type of hand that craves multi-way action.

    Games where you should tend to try to and limit the field would be Limit Hold’em and Seven Card Stud, especially when it is Stud played with a sizeable ante.  In Badugi it is really important to limit the field even if you have a super smooth starter like A 2♣ 3♠ so that you can win unimproved more often.  Also you make a ten badugi on the first draw and be thankful you are not up against many other players.

    Draw games such as Deuce to Seven Triple Draw Lowball are a lot more subjective.  Outside of the blinds I tend to re-raise or fold because I feel that there is value in limiting the field, chopping up the blinds, and increasing your win percentage.  A hand like 237 is smooth and you could make a monster which is a great situation in a multi-way field.  But seven lows are very hard to make and someone else must make a hand as well.  In a heads-up pot your chances of winning without a showdown are much higher and can also win with more mediocre hands.

    In general, I think it’s correct to employ a “pushing” strategy most often in one winner limit games and give myself a greater chance to win what starts out in the middle but in split pot and big bet games I’m thinking more about the potential of future bets.

    There are pros and cons to “pulling” versus “pushing” so everyone may not agree with everything above but that isn’t vitally important.  What is most important is that as move from game to game you need to determine what you feel is optimal for yourself and your playing style considering everything including current table dynamics.

  1. Value of Initiative

    In Limit Hold’em, Badugi, and Stud you can represent hands that can win very often without further improvement thus seizing initiative from the onset can be very advantageous.  Also given the fact that chopping up the blinds and antes in those games has a lot of value you can see why the most successful players in those games tend to be very aggressive.

    Pot Limit Omaha is certainly a game where a large variety of playing styles can do very well but being aggressive simply to seize the initiative isn’t as important.  No matter how premium your starting hand is you still must hit the flop to have a holding that can withstand heavy betting and it’s also much easier for inferior hands to overtake better ones in this game.  Many loose aggressive players do very well in PLO but that is the case because they play extremely well post flop in big pots, not really because they seized the initiative.

  2. Domination Concerns

    When developing starting hand standards from each position you must be able to generally ascertain the probability that you will run into a better hand and how bad of shape will you be should that happen. In Limit Hold’em you need to be highly selective in early position because of the threat of domination. For example you would fold K♥ J♣ under the gun in a six max game as you will often be isolated by a hand where you can easily have 30% or less equity.  This fold is relatively standard even though K J♣ is in the top 20% of starting hands in terms of hot/ cold equity.

    However, in Ace to Five Triple Draw Lowball you can probably play hand as weak as 346 from early position for a profit even though it doesn’t quite make the top 25% of starting hands.  This is because even against the strongest two card draw of A23 you still have around 46% equity. In addition, you are very rarely up against a strong one card draw or a pat hand where you would be a significant underdog.

  1. Implied and Reverse Implied Odds

    This is closely related to the threat of being dominated but it is important enough to warrant its own section.  The worst possible hand to hold in poker is the second best one.  The only prize for continually “placing” is a battered bankroll and a lot of sad stories.

    The previously mentioned K J♣, aka the “home game hand”, is notorious for making second best hands in that you are often forced to pay off.  The difference between holding an ace high flush versus a king high one in Pot Limit Omaha is immense. The K J♣ in Hold’em and a hand like K T 9 7♣ in PLO have a lot of value in shorthanded pots but should be mucked pre-flop with many players left to act.

    In draw games sometimes you are faced with a tough decision between keeping a fairly good pat hand that may experience trouble later in the hand or breaking it in the hopes putting yourself in the position of reaping implied odds.  When in doubt, I almost always choose to play the implied odds even if I know I’m sacrificing quite a bit in terms of “hot/cold” equity.

Hopefully this article gave you a flavor of what is meant by thinking about poker in a broader sense.  These are among the important considerations when formulating your strategies amongst the various games; but there is plenty of room for multiple styles in poker and that is what makes it such a great and challenging game.