Online poker has introduced many new developments to this beloved game. One of these is the advent of intentionally short-handed tables. Because efficient use of floor space and dealer time areNick Christenson is widely regarded as one of the best gambling book reviewers publishing today. He is a contributor for Poker Player magazine, and has published in Full-Tilt and Gambling Times. He is also the editor of the very funny 'Casino Death Watch,' which chronicles the comings and goings of casinos in Las Vegas. He is an avid poker and blackjack player. Nick's website is www.jetcafe.org/~npc/ not concerns for online card rooms they can economically spread games where the maximum number of participants is lower than the typical 8, 9, or 10 that we find in live games. Despite the popularity of these games, few books have been devoted to examining the special circumstances surrounding short-handed play. One of the few to do so is Limit Hold'em: Winning Short-Handed Strategies by Terry Boyer and Lawrence Mak, with assistance from Barry Tanenbaum.
The book begins with several chapters that serve as an introduction to the topics it will cover. The authors discuss differences between online and live play, as well as general differences between short-handed and full games. They also go into considerable detail about using statistics and online player-modeling tools as playing aids.
After the introductory material, we get down to it. Around half of the book steps through each hold'em betting round, explaining how to play at each stage assuming the game is five or six handed. Following this we have chapters that cover "super short-handed" situations (less than five players). Finally, the book concludes with several chapters on miscellaneous topics. These include bankroll management, tilt, poker ethics, and personal development.
One of the things I really liked about the book was its use of supplemental software to help profile online opponents. Instead of poker book hand examples characterizing opponents as "loose/aggressive", "tight/passive", or the like, the authors use metrics such as VPIP (voluntarily put money in pot), PFR (pre-flop raise percentage), and AF (aggression factor, or the number of both bets and raises divided by the number of calls). So, in their hand examples they might characterize a player in a 6-handed game as a 33%/10%/0.9, representing each of these factors. We can only do this in situations where we have accurate statistics about our opponents, such as with online poker, and even there we need to use special software to help us with that. However, in those situations when we can make these calculations, we gain a much better way of categorizing players than anything else I've seen in print.
The chapters on each betting round contain mostly good advice. I'm sure these techniques make the authors winners in the games they play. The suggestions are thoughtful and aggressive, just what I expect you'd need to beat short handed games. The supplemental material at the end of the book is again, good advice, but all stuff that has been covered in more detail in other places. I'm sure many people who read this book will find this information to be valuable, but a lot of those who have extensive poker libraries will find it repetitive. I certainly didn't have any serious disagreements with most of what was written in those chapters.
I have to admit that I did have a problem with an overarching theme of the book, though. The authors state that playing in a three handed game is different than playing in a full game where everyone folds to the player on the button. Does their rationale have anything to do with the possibility that the folders in full game may have had especially poor cards? No. Their claim is that the game is different because it plays different. Since the game plays different, they focus on how their opponents play and don't consider why it is that these situations play different. Apparently, they don't think it's an important question.
Well, I do think it's an important question, and I believe that the theory surrounding play in short handed games (and, in some sense, full games) depends a great deal on how these two situations are different if they are. In Limit Hold'em: Winning Short-Handed Strategies, the authors relate to us the techniques they use to beat the players they encounter in online short-handed limit hold'em games. I feel confident that many will benefit from what the book has to say on this topic. However, what if our opponents don't play this way? Will these techniques still be effective? What happens if a full game becomes, say, five handed? Will our opponents in this case play the same way as those who sit down at an online short-handed table? What should we do if they don't? This book addresses none of these issues. Consequently, while I expect that these strategies will be valuable for those who play in online short-handed games right now, I have much less confidence that it will continue to be as valuable as time goes by, nor am I so confident that the book will be as valuable to those who play in other types of short handed games.
So, while I think this book is likely to be valuable to those looking to improve their short-handed online play, and I while I think the way they parameterize opponents is nothing short of outstanding, I don't think the authors did such a good job of providing a strong foundation justifying the way they play. As such, I fear that the fundamental techniques described in this book will not have as wide an applicability or as long a shelf life as one might hope. Despite this, I do expect that those who presently play in the sorts of games specifically discussed here will find much of what Limit Hold'em: Winning Short-Handed Strategies quite beneficial.
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