Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Where the Money Comes From

I was talking to my friend Drew last night about where I thought the most money was to be made in limit poker. I highly recommended Jennifer Harmon's limit section of Super System II (which Drew had recently read), and many of these thoughts echo her sentiments.

Because limit is a game of value betting, I feel the best way to make money is to maximize your profit when you have the best hand or increase your chances by thinning the field with a more marginal hand.

Here are the three ways I told Drew that you make money in limit hold 'em poker:

1. Check-raising.

2. Bluffing.

3. Semibluffing/saving bets when you're committed to calling down anyway.

Check-raising makes you money because it's often the only way for you to protect your hand. In a multiway pot, if you check-raise the flop from early position, you can frequently drive out many drawing hands that would have paid one bet but are unwilling to pay the price of two. Additionally, check-raising is valueable when you have a strong draw, although these kinds of bets are made more for value than to thin the field. Thirdly, check-raising with a hand like second pair can often win you the pot when you bet it out again on the turn if you can get the hand heads-up after the flop.

Bluffing is difficult in limit hold em because you can't intimidate opponents with a big bet; every bet you make can only be as big as the limit you are playing at. But when you can pull off a successful bluff, it's a major coup. When you get someone to fold the better hand, you're collecting somewhere between two and 10 big bets that wouldn't belong to you if you went to showdown. Now that's value betting! Because the bet sizes in limit are regulated, it's important to think about how often your bluff will make your opponent fold. If you think your opponent will fold one out of seven times, and your bet is less than one seventh of the pot size, than you're making money if your estimates are close to accurate.

When I mention saving bets, I'm referring to Jennifer Harmon's advice of raising from late position on the turn if you think that will make your opponent check to you on the river. The cost of raising the turn and calling down is the same -- two bets (one each on the turn and river, or one on the turn and one on the river). But you can make a lot of extra money this way if you get lucky. If you hit trips or two pair on the river, you can fire again. Or, sometimes, your opponent will simply fold the turn.

Of course, these are just three tactical in-game concepts that ignore the larger places where money in limit comes from. From a macro standpoint, the money is generated by the fishiest players who add value to every pot and go too far with hands that they are unlikely to win. It also comes from players who don't know the odds and continue with hands they should have folded, or vice versa.

Also, these tactics all are secondary to the most important aspects of limit hold em: aggression and value betting. Aggression and value betting are like the guiding principles of correct play. Check-raising, bluffing and semibluffing are merely ends to those means.


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