Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. Originally published (2009) in Bluff magazine.
I like to think about things. Why can’t even the smartest dogs, like German Shepherds and Border Collies, understand statistics? Stuff like that.
If you immediately concluded that such pondering is a waste of time, you’ve probably wisely settled for the “they just can’t” answer and moved on with your life. I haven’t.
My life is marooned right here and has been for decades as I struggle, often futilely, to grasp the “why” beyond the obvious. The really sick part is that sometimes, after I’ve spent 12 hours thinking deeper than whale shit and failing to even approach an answer, I call it a day and feel that I’ve accomplished a great deal. No, I’m not smoking anything, but thanks for asking.
What does this have to do with poker? Nothing whatsoever, except that one of the things that’s been flitting through my mind lately is the contrasting natures of limit and no-limit poker.
There are many theories regarding the differences between limit and no-limit. And there are many bits of advice that fall short of being theory, because they seem to have no rational reason requiring their utterance. Today I’m going to briefly address three selected misconceptions. In the future, I might examine these and others in more detail, but right now, let’s talk about some basic misunderstandings.
No-limit poker is bigger
I once heard a man’s wife retort with pride in her voice when a friend said he was in a $50/$100 limit seven-card stud game. “Bill’s in the no-limit game over there,” she said, emphasizing “no-limit” as if it had special prestige.
That particular no-limit game consisted of $2 and $5 small and big blinds and, thus, was much smaller than the $50/$100 stud game. Most experienced players understand that it’s a misconception to think of the term “no-limit” that way. No-limit doesn’t describe the size of a poker game.
It describes the style of wagering.
Small suited connectors
Many hold ’em players believe that small suited connectors, such as 5♣ 4♣ or 7♥ 6♥ are more profitable in no-limit games than in limit games. In some cases they are; in some cases they aren’t; and in most cases they’re unprofitable in both types of hold ’em games.
To play these hands in either type of game, you need to face a field of opponents that is basically unaggressive. That’s because you not only need to see the flop cheaply, you need to be able to afford the price of turn and river betting when you partially connect, but don’t complete a hand on the flop.
That’s where it gets scary. Most of your favorable flops will be only partial connections — leaving you with four parts of a flush or an open-end straight attempt. You’ll need to catch one more favorable card on the turn or river to have a powerful hand at the showdown. Only rarely will you flop a miracle flush or straight.
Even when you do flop that miracle, you’d rather see your 7-6 snare 5-4-3 than 10-9-8, reducing your chances of being beat by a bigger hand. If your straight gets victimized by a larger one or by an even stronger hand, the penalty you’ll pay will tend to be much greater in no-limit games.
Also, remember that even if you flop that flush, there are likely to be opponents holding just one larger card of that same suit. That means you must avoid seeing another member of that suit fall on the final two board cards. Worse still, if you flop a straight, it’s unlikely that opponents have connected for pairs large enough to call a big bet.
Flopping a small straight makes it impossible for any opponent to hold a big pair that wasn’t held pre-flop. So, often, you can’t really capitalize in no limit after flopping a small straight. Too often, nobody will call a big bet.
Put that together — along with even more reasons not discussed — and it’s easy to see that most players keep losing money throughout their no-limit hold ’em careers by playing small suited connectors too frequently. And it’s all because of that common misconception that those hands are ideally suited to no-limit play. They aren’t.
Making same-size bet
Another misconception is that you should routinely make the same-size bet, proportional to the size of the pot, whether your hand has a tiny or a huge advantage. The thinking is that opponents won’t be able to gauge the strength of your hand by the amount of your bet.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. When you have bigger hands, they’re worth more. And just like you would if you owned a retail store, you should put bigger price tags on your more valuable products. Your “products” in poker are simply the hands you sell. But unlike in a retail store, your customers can’t inspect what they’re buying. They’re kind of at an auction, bidding on the contents of a locked trunk.
If you structure your bets strictly in accordance with your estimated advantage, astute opponents will be able to determine how strong your hand is by the price of your wager. That part of the misconception is true.
So, the trick isn’t to bet the same, but to average bigger bets with stronger hands, while not making all bets the same proportional size. Rarely you’ll make a much smaller bet with a dominating hand or a much larger bet with a riskier hand. That’s appropriate, just so your average bets over time are consistent with the value of your hands.
There are misconceptions throughout poker, but no-limit seems to have more than its share. See you soon. — MC