Get It Quietly

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Location: Enfield, London, United Kingdom

Friday, July 18, 2003

What's with Hold-Em ? (Part 2)

What’s with Hold-Em anyway ? Why is Europe and particularly Britain obsessed with hold-em to the exclusion of all other tournament games ? I have a strong preference for both Stud and Omaha and feel that the good player has a much bigger edge in these games.

Let’s start with Hold-Em. That’s what they play on TV. NL Hold-em is invariably the game when the tournament stakes are highest. If you’re a wannabe Devilfish or Moneymaker it’s the only game to play. If you are a wannabe money maker though (aren’t I clever), I’m not so sure. Not so sure at all. Hold-em, especially No-Limit, is just too damn easy to play when the blinds get high. Wait for a hand you like and shove it in. Just one decision to make, and not a hard one. No one’s going to get it wrong with AA, KK, QQ and AK. No one’s going to get it wrong with 72, T4, 35 and 85% of all the hands in the deck. If anyone gets it wrong with the small number of inbetweeny hands like two pictures or a middle pair, they’re not going to get it very wrong. A good player, ducking and diving, playing the situations and the players, doing everything he can, is going to do better than the guy whose grasp of strategy amounts to “Me like cards go all in”. BUT NOT MUCH. Even if your simplistic opponent is calling instead of raising, he’s only in real trouble when you can find an overpair against him. And those hands just don’t come along very often. Notice I said an overpair, not AK. That’s because AK is only a 2-1 favourite over the worst hand in the deck, 72. And 2-1 shots come in quite a lot …

You could say the same about Omaha. When the blinds are high, a bit of a crap-shoot. Maybe, but not as much of one. There is a lot less pre-flop raising in Omaha tournaments. Good players know that they should keep the pot smaller until they see the flop. That’s where you outplay your weaker opponents in Omaha. And the weaker players just don’t know where they are pre-flop. It’s not as easy as “big pair or AK means raise”, like Hold-em. So more of them (not all) tend to just call as well. All this means you get much more play on the flop. More time, more decisions to be made, to sort the sheep from the goats. When the blinds are high, you have to put some raises in. But at least you don’t have your legs taken out from under you when the rock finds AA behind you. If you choose your hands properly, you are usually only a 2-1 dog against anything, even Aces in Omaha. And that’s the other thing. People mis-value their hands in short-stack situations. Hold-em players love pairs in their hand but any pair apart from Aces is an implied odds hand in Omaha. You want to take a flop cheap and try to hit a set. In an all-in or committal situation you would usually prefer to have 4 different cards to hit straights and two pair with. Especially against the main hand that’s going to call you – AAxx .

Pot-limit Stud is just about the best tournament game you can play against weak players. It’s a shame that it’s only regularly played in one card-room in the world. But it’s great that that card-room is 30 minutes from my flat ! Last year I won 7 out of 54 small stud tournaments I played in. Given the size of the field that’s about 5 times more often than average. If you can do that in Hold-em you have either found a fantastic game or you are a hell of a player, or both. Sometimes Ram Vaswani plays in the £50 Stud tournaments in Luton (thankfully for me, the £20 events are beneath him). I’d back him at 4-1 in a field of 50. Maybe less. I don’t want to give away too many trade secrets here. I don’t mind telling you how much I win or lose but exactly how I do it – coaches in the car park :-). A great deal of it is not because it’s Stud per se, but because the game is played with antes rather than blinds.

In conclusion, maybe I have answered my own question. Weak, inexperienced players don’t get ironed out in tournament Hold-em like they would in the other two games. They have a chance, they stay in action, they get a few results and so do their friends. That’s why Hold-Em tournaments sell out. Credit to Luton and the Vic though for putting at least one Omaha and one Stud comp in most of their festivals. If you see me at a festival between now and Christmas, it’s likely to be in one of those. If you see me at a festival at all, but that one’s for another day.


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