Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Poker Abby: NLHE Starting Hands

Dear Poker Abby,
I've been reading some books on low-limit games and have created a doc to use as a guide for which starting hands to play in .50/1 & 1/2 games at a canadian casino. Mostly this is lifted from that book by Sklansky and Miller and ?. I keep this open while I'm playing because I don't fully have it internalized yet. Anyway, I haven't been having much success with it over the last 500 or so hands at .5/1 and 1/2 on a canadian casino (I've lost 30% using these guidelines and before I adopted them I was winning). The problem may very well be my post-flop play as opposed to the starting list, but the truth is that the plays that have really cost me money are the ones where I raised pre-flop following the recommendations (e.g. ATs, KQ, AJ) and then don't get anything good in the flop (I also get rivered to death at a canadian casino and it's killing me). What do you guys think of this starting hand guideline doc for low-limit games? (BTW, I've been tracking and I lose more money raising with AK preflop than I make from doing it for sure--except in SNG NL tournament games). BTW, I almost never use the recommendations from the loose table, but instead use the ones from the tight table. Despite the claims of a lot of loose passive playing at low limits, I'm not finding it on pp. There are usually 4-5 players to the flop (9-10 people at the table) with frequent raising by people with mediocre hands (mediocre to me is some like AT, KJ, QT).
Rivered in Reno

Dear Reno,
In Hold’em for Advanced Players Sklansky recommends limping with a hand like AK or AQ if raising is unlikely to trim the field (this is mentioned in the loose game section). So, for instance, if you’re in late position and there are already a lot of players in. The reasoning is that when you hit your hand, the pot is still small enough to make it a mistake for your opponent to draw. Another interesting recommendation is waiting for the turn to bet if you’ve been checked to after hitting the flop in this situation. The reasoning here is that many people are likely to call your flop bet and some will get close to proper odds. On the turn, your opponent will be making a large mistake if they are still on the draw, since they will be calling a big bet with only one card left to come. Of course, this can put you in a pretty awkward position if a draw hits on the turn. Another gain here is that someone may very well bet out a mediocre hand at this point just because the flop checked around, allowing you to make your opponents call two big bets when you’re still ahead.

With that said, we very much agree with raising AK and AQ in loose games. The thing to remember is a typical loose game isn’t loose because players are correctly playing lots of good drawing hands while folding hands that play poorly multi-way. They are loose because the opponents don’t know how to play the game correctly and play too many hands of all kinds, including completely worthless ones. If all of your opponents were limping with legitimately strong multi-way hands like 78s and 44, and if they can really never be driven out with a raise, we might agree with not raising with AK. But they aren’t just playing those hands. They are playing hands like 94s and J3o, as well as hands you dominate like AXo and KXo. Further, there are often people sitting on the same draw (two guys with JT of different suits, two guys holding spades, etc.), so some players are just dead money. Even though I agree that AKo and AQo would prefer a smaller field if possible, you are still going to win more than your fair share of pots and are giving up way too much equity in general by not raising with these hands.

And the book that you are referring to is Small Stakes Hold'em by Miller, Sklansky, and Malmuth. It is commonly referred to as SSH. We started a big losing streak when we took it's advice, too.

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