Thursday, July 06, 2006

Three Reasons Why Limit Poker Is More Exciting Than Watching Paint Dry

Those summer projects are finally happening. Couldn’t put ’em all off indefinitely. One was to do something about the walls around here. When moving in, the agent had described the original color as Clam Chowder. New England style, I suppose, since we’re talking about the blandest off-white you can imagine on every wall (and ceiling) in every room of the house. Now it’s Dancing Light, Golden Fleece, Brick Dust, Sweet Annie, Delightful Moon . . . .

Miscalculated a bit, though, and bought a few more gallons of each than was necessary. So I’ve decided to scrap the primer and instead I’m putting up two coats. Generally takes a couple of hours to ensure the first coat is sufficiently dry. That’s right . . . I’m playing less poker this week in favor of watching paint dry.

Articles concerning recent legislative efforts to criminalize online poker have reported that nearly two million people log on every day to play for real money online (with something like two-thirds of these players being from the U.S.). A quick scan of the tables at any site shows that the great majority are playing no-limit games or tourneys, not limit games. A lot of players speak with disdain about limit poker, a view often reinforced by the pros. In his autobiography-slash-anecdote anthology-slash-strategy primer, Ace on the River: An Advanced Poker Guide, Barry Greenstein describes an early stage of his career when he quit his software job and began playing limit hold ’em full time. He’d play twelve hours a day, seven days a week, eventually deciding that even though the game provided a reliable stream of income, for him playing limit was "like watching paint dry.”

As I sit here waiting to apply a second coat of Dancing Light to the hallway, I thought I’d offer three reasons why -- for me, at least -- Greenstein’s opinion, though shared by many, doesn't quite hold. Don’t get me wrong -- these aren’t arguments for why limit poker is more exciting than no limit. Rather, these are reasons why limit poker is more interesting and fun than those who avoid it might think:

1. Limit poker forces players constantly to make decisions. There are a lot of showdowns in limit -- more than in NL. Thus playing a limit hold ’em hand to the end means making a total of four decisions along the way. Even when not involved, one gets to see other players making multiple decisions just about every hand. (Rarely do hands end preflop.) One can often gain a lot of information about one’s opponents in a short amount of time in a limit game, information that can later be used when having to make all of those decisions.

2. As a result, limit poker requires concentration. On the July 2 episode of CardPlayer’s The Circuit, Greenstein’s son Joe Sebok told how he spent the night before the $3,000 limit hold ’em event (Event 7) drinking and partying with friends. He’d overcome the effects of his night to do well on the first day. “I’m lucky that it’s limit today, ’cause I’m really hungover,” Sebok explained. “When you’re hungover playing limit, it’s like heaven, ’cause you don’t really have to think at all. It’s such a mathematical game, you can just play . . . you play your hands, you listen to music, it’s actually really nice.” (As he writes about in his blog, Sebok ended up busting just short of the money.) Sebok was certainly being facetious here, not just about playing with a hangover, but also about how limit hold ’em doesn’t require one’s full attention. As I’ve written about before, odds are important, to be sure, and definitely play a huge role in limit games when determining whether to fold, call, or raise. And it is true that in limit “you play your hands” (as Sebok says). In other words, since you’re showing down more hands, you’re usually better off being more concerned with the strength of your own hand than with that of your opponent. (The opposite is true in NL.) Still, you’ve got to pay attention. And not just to the math.

3. Limit poker (often) involves having to adopt different “roles” or styles of play. Again, this is true of NL as well, but those who believe limit is strictly a math game don’t always appreciate the fact that one can play -- indeed, has to play -- a number of different styles even in a single session. The key difference is that it is often the cards (and not other players’ styles) that encourage you to “become” (for a while, anyway) one kind of player rather than another. Had a session last week in which I was dealt KQ three times in the first four hands, and in fact preraised on all three occasions. My actions actually solicited a comment from another player about all of my preflop raises, helping me see how I had suddenly created for myself an image as a loose player interested in building pots and getting action. I had then to try to use that image to my advantage in subsequent hands (tightening up a bit in the hopes of getting action when I eventually got some cards).

That’ll do for now. I believe we’re good to go here with that second coat. So long Clam Chowder.

Image: Barry Greenstein, Ace on the River: An Advanced Poker Guide (2005), Amazon.

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