Limit hold’em is a more complex game than many give it credit for and requires every weapon in your poker arsenal
Many poker players deplore limit poker. These no-limit junkies think the game is too simple and too much of a grind to play. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love no-limit and played it almost religiously for about two years, but if you’re not playing limit hold’em because you think the game is boring or simple, you’re missing out. The game is far more complex than it seems and if you want to be a big winner, you’ll have to learn to utilise everything at your disposal.
In my article last issue, we tackled heads-up limit hold’em, but here we’ll focus on the six-max games. In six-max games, you’ll almost never open-limp. Generally, if I’m the first to enter a pot, I’m raising. Poker is an aggressive game and this is intensified when playing in a short-handed game.
One of the first things I look for when choosing a game is an opponent who likes to open-limp, which brings me to my first ‘weapon’ that should be in every poker player’s arsenal: game selection. It amazes me when I see a poker player just grab any random table online and start playing poker. You have the opportunity to watch a game before you sit down – why not take it? If you’re playing live, you probably don’t have this luxury, but if you’re playing online, there really is no excuse. Before I play in any game, I’ll watch for five minutes and try and get a feel for the game. Even if I know the players involved, I figure it can’t hurt to see how the game is going. Maybe one of the players is on tilt and spewing – don’t you think this might be something you’d want to know before sitting down?
Now that I’ve found a game, I’ll try my best to get an advantage with seat selection. What I’m looking for is a spot to the left of someone I perceive as weak. From here I’ll have position on the weak player and will be able to isolate them with raises and re-raises. If possible, I want predictable and relatively tight nits to my left. This will help me in many ways, most notably that I won’t have to worry about someone playing back at me while I isolate. I’ll be able to buy the button by raising in the cut-off seat knowing that the tight opponent behind me will fold more often than not.
So, you’ve picked the right table and you’re in a good seat relative to your opponents – what next? I’ll assume you are playing with some sort of tracking software. If you’re not and your foes are, you are giving up an enormous edge. The information available to you is invaluable and (except at the lowest levels) you can bet your opponents are taking advantage. The last thing to consider before we dissect a few hands is note taking. I’m a big fan of taking notes. Information is king and the more I know about my opponent the better equipped I’ll be.
It pays to watch a table for five minutes before joining it in order to get a feel for the game and your opponents
PLAYING OUT OF POSITION
The best players don’t play that often from out of position, but in a six-max game it is essential or your opponents will relentlessly steal your blinds. The key is deciding when to defend, when to three-bet and when to just let it go. Say you’re in the big blind with 8-6 offsuit. The loose-aggressive villain is on the button and opens with a raise but you don’t give him much credit for a hand. The small blind, who is quite weak, calls. Your best play is to play this hand. If the small blind calls and he’s bad, you can call with a wide range of hands – the bad player in the pot protects you a bit and also gives you more value.
Depending on the original raiser, there might be value in raising here. If you can three-bet and take initiative, you might also be able to get the player on the button to fold on the flop or the turn. Then you have the perfect situation: heads-up with position against a bad player. That said, I don’t mind calling and seeing what develops.
Let’s look at another example. The under-the-gun player, who only raises 19% of the time, decides to raise. There is a re-raise from a regular who we assume uses tracking software and so knows how tight the UTG player is. A loose-passive donk makes a smooth call. You’ve got A-J in the big blind – what’s your play? It’s close, but I’d fold. I have to give the original raiser and re-raiser respect because of the circumstances. Many times, a three-bet means nothing, but in this case I’m a believer. A-J is a very good hand in a six-max game, but I could easily be dominated and I have to play out of position. I would recommend waiting for a better spot.
In a six-max limit game it is important to defend your blinds to prevent opponents from stealing relentlessly
If you are going to play hands from out of position, you’ll have to be comfortable check-raising. If you are defending the blinds, you’ll be check-raising a large range of your hands. This is fairly simple when you think about it. If your opponent is a decent player he is going to continuation-bet most of his range, regardless of whether he hit the flop. You’ll have to combat that by check-raising him when you have a hand and sometimes when you don’t. A check-raising bluff works better when the board isn’t draw-heavy – it’s easier to put your opponent on a hand when the board is dry.
If the flop comes K-7-3 rainbow and you check-raise and get called, you can start to put your opponent on a range of hands. Maybe he’s a got a pair or maybe even Ace-high. Either way, you’ll be able to manoeuvre your way through the hand with greater ease.
Contrast that with a flop like 10-9-4 with two spades. If you check-raise this flop and get called it’ll be very difficult to put your opponent on a hand. He could have a pair or 7-8 or a flush draw or even two overcards. Firing into him on the turn could prove perilous, but this is exactly what you’ll have to do after you check-raise the flop. By contrast, check-raising with a made hand when the board is wet can be very profitable. You’ll often get paid because your opponent will put you on the draw.
LEAD OUT OR CHECK-RAISE
The check-raise is highly valuable in limit hold’em, specifically six-max because of the aggressive nature of the game, but is there a time to lead out? When I worked as a prop, one of my favourite plays was to bet into the raiser with my made hands. I would almost always get raised and then I could three-bet. Often, I would get paid off all the way to showdown. But most competent online players aren’t going to pay you off to the same tune. Check-raising is generally the better line to take, but mixing up your play is imperative and leading out is occasionally the right play. If I’m not heads-up and I have a big draw, I might not want to check-raise and drive out the other players. If I’m drawing to the nuts, I want as many players in the pot as possible. Or, let’s say I check-raise and get three-bet. If I think my opponent is on a draw and might take the free card on the turn, I’ll bet. I don’t want him getting any free cards to beat me.
The last thing I want to cover is bluffing when out of position. The most important thing is to know what you are trying to get your opponent to fold. The premise behind bluffing is pretty simple when it comes down to it – you want to get your opponent to fold a better hand with a bet on the river often enough for the bluff to be profitable. If you’re playing $ 10/$ 20 and the pot is $ 200, you can bluff on the river profitably if your opponent will fold one in ten times. It almost seems like you should always be bluffing, but good players know this and will call you down very lightly.