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A shocking confession: Maybe NLH is alright, after all

18 November 2010

By Aaron Todd

I've been a poker snob. While no-limit Texas Hold'em has been the undisputed king of poker for at least a decade, I've espoused the more "intellectual" challenges of the limit variety of the game. I've professed my love for limit Omaha Eight or Better, for Stud, and mixed games like H.O.R.S.E., while generally relegating my no-limit Hold'em play to tournaments only.

The truth is, I was scared. Scared to face a group of hardened no-limit grinders who would instantly peg me as the mark. Scared to get it all in with the worst of it and lose. Or even worse, scared to get it all in with the best of it and lose. It's one thing to be an 80 percent favorite and jam the pot with four bets preflop, then adjust your betting accordingly as community cards are revealed. It's another thing entirely to put an entire buy-in on the line, only to see your aces get cracked by kings.

Over the last few months, I've discovered that there are some no-limit Hold'em tables that do terrify me. But I've also learned that that there are plenty where I can sit down and have a significant edge.

During my recent trip to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker's November Nine, I had the opportunity to sit down and play a few $1/$2 no-limit Hold'em games at The Mirage. As a player with a smaller bank roll, I bought in for the minimum, $100. At least half of the people I sat with at my first table looked to be regulars. One woman in particular was fiercely aggressive, re-raising me at every opportunity. I think she could smell the blood in the water. Even if I did call and win, my paltry stack wasn't going to put much of a dent in the piles of chips and bills in front of her, so none of my bets had any meaning to her.

Thankfully, several players left and our table broke about an hour after I sat down with a mere $10 loss. My new table consisted of a few regulars (most notably Hal Lubarsky, using a different reader than the one profiled here by Gary Trask), but none of them really terrified me the way that my first table had. After picking up a small pot early on, I got dealt aces the very next hand. I raised, got re-raised, and moved all in before the flop. My opponent showed pocket kings, and when a king showed up on the flop, what I thought had been my greatest fear was realized. I'd played perfectly and lost my whole buy-in. What surprised me, however, was my reaction. I wasn't tilted; I knocked the table, bought in again, and felt confident that I had made the right play and that I would play my next buy-in correctly as well.

I later got a little lucky myself, doubling up when my top pair turned into a flush to beat Lubarsky's top pair with top kicker (he correctly informed me that he was a 59-41 favorite when the money went in). After that, it seemed I could do no wrong. I finished the session up more than $200, and left confident in my ability to play my best in spite of the fact that I might be forced to make a decision for more than a hundred dollars instead of for eight. Later in the trip, I returned to The Mirage and had another successful no-limit Hold'em session, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to give it another try to the next time I'm in town.

Before I sat down at the table, I would have told you that I didn't like no-limit Hold'em cash games because it all came down to who got lucky. And despite my two hands where luck played a bigger role than skill, I can tell you that the more skilled players at the table won the most money (believe me, it wasn't me). But if I'm really being honest, the thing that was keeping me away from the no-limit Hold'em tables at the casinos was fear.

There are two key questions to ask before you sit down at a no-limit Hold'em table (or really any poker table, but I think they're magnified in no-limit Hold'em):
  1. Are you properly bankrolled to play the game?
  2. Do you feel comfortable at the table?
If the answer to both of these questions is "yes," play away. If the answer is "no," then get up and walk away.
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and (his personal favorite) Badeuci.

Since graduating from St. Lawrence University, Aaron has worked as a journalist covering the gambling industry and as a communications specialist in college athletic departments.

A native of a small town in New York just south of Ottawa, Aaron lives in Needham, Mass., with his wife and three children. Write to Aaron at, and follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.