Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ed Miller’s How to Read Hands at No-Limit Hold’em

Ed Miller, 'How to Read Hands at No-Limit Hold'em' (2011)Not long ago I had a chance to read and review Ed Miller’s latest book-length offering, titled How to Read Hands at No-Limit Hold’em.

I’ve been a big fan of Miller’s ever since Small Stakes Hold’em (2004), a book he co-authored with David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth. That book focuses on limit hold’em and for me was kind of a formative text that especially helped me understand winning LHE strategy.

That was back when I’d generally be reading a new poker strategy book every other week or so. Can’t say I’m reading as many such books today, although the truth is books aren’t being produced at quite the same clip, either, having been largely replaced by various forms of online instruction, including videos, forums, and online coaching. But if you’re like me you still like to read, and perhaps respond well to smartly conceived and well written books of strategy. If so, then Miller’s book might be worth checking out.

Like SSHE, Miller’s new title is similarly aimed at low-limit players although it definitely assumes the reader has some experience with NLHE and understands basics like starting hand strength, the importance of position, and so on.

As the title suggests, Miller hones in on one particular aspect of the game here -- i.e., hand reading. That means that while other topics like bet-sizing or bluffing or more advanced methods of “leveling” versus tough opponents are touched upon here and there, the primary focus throughout is simply learning how to profile opponents at the low-limit games, then how to put them on hand ranges that you can narrow down as a hand progresses, then playing accordingly.

A few ideas stand out for me from the book, one being the way Miller groups the players at these tables into three categories -- nits, fish, and regulars. Nits are the easiest group to read, although as Miller points out a lot of us still have trouble letting go of hands in the face of nits’ bets. “A recent survey of small stakes poker games revealed that every eight seconds, somewhere in the world a nit is holding the nuts and getting paid on the river,” jokes Miller.

Regulars are generally more crafty, but they, too, play a relatively straightforward game most of the time. Meanwhile the fish are generally the hardest to read, illustrating as they do the principle that it is hard to interpret the actions of someone who isn’t clear himself regarding why he does what he does. That said, the fish will often play a range of hands that include a lot of weak holdings, increasing the chances that a solid player who uses discretion when choosing hands to play will be ahead of them and thus profit from playing hands against them.

Another point Miller emphasizes in the book is this tendency a lot of us have to assume the worst when engaged in post-flop hand reading. In other words, when faced with an opponent who doesn’t cooperate immediately by folding to our post-flop bets, we instantly assume he’s connected with the board in the strongest possible way. In other words, we aren’t really “reading” his hand, but letting our emotion (or fear) overwhelm us into imagining bad outcomes rather than using logic and an understanding of probability to approach the situation in a more rational -- and thus profitable -- manner.

Part of this effort to minimize emotion and maximize logic involves committing to some significant mental effort to construct hand ranges and be willing to do some math to figure out how to proceed. Miller offers advice about how to develop this skill so as to be able to take some shortcuts at the table when making these calculations, and his book includes some terrific suggestions for away-from-the-table exercises for doing just that.

There’s much more to talk about -- and to like -- in Miller’s book, but rather than go on further about it I’ll just point you to my more comprehensive review over on Betfair poker. You might also check out Bill Rini’s review of How to Read Hands at No-Limit Hold’em as well.

As Bill notes, Miller kind of stands out from the crowd as far as poker strategy texts go, both for the clarity of his style and the originality of his thinking. I agree with Bill that if you are looking for a new NLHE strategy book to energize your thinking about the game -- and especially if you want to work on the art-slash-science of constructing hand ranges and reading opponents’ holdings -- Miller’s new title is a good one for getting back into reading and thinking about poker.

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