Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"Professional No-Limit Hold 'Em"

Ed Miller and company drive me crazy -- they come up with compelling new concepts and then ignore the reality of how today's no limit games play.

"Professional No-Limit Hold 'em"
by Matt Flynn, Sunny Mehta and Miller shows off the best and worst of 2+2 publishing. The book makes you think about pot commitment, bet sizing and stack adjustment ideas while misapplying them to practical situations. Many parts of the book come off as anything but professional, from the constant typos to the faulty hand examples and sometimes awful advice about preflop raising. It repeats some of the same problems that I pointed out about "No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice."

I'll start with the book's strengths.

It is focused throughout on the idea of quickly planning your hand and bets to avoid messy situations. I like this approach because the authors develop new terminology to more clearly define existing stratagems that experienced no limit players know from thousands of hands of practice. It's similar to when David Sklansky came up with the term "semibluffing" to clarify the existing term "bluffing with outs."

Here's a sampling of the book's vocabulary:

_ Commitment threshold: You reach the commitment threshold when you have invested more than 10 percent of your effective stack size. This means that one more largish bet will get you pot committed in many situations.

_ Commitment: Players are usually pot committed if they have invested more than one-third of their effective stack into the pot. At first, this appears to be a low proportion, but it makes sense because after betting a third of your stack, you're only one pot-sized bet away from being all-in.

_ The REM Process: REM stands for Range, Equity and Maximize -- three steps you should take when evaluating your place in a hand. No shit, Sherlock.

_ SPR: SPR stands for stack-to-pot ratio, which is a number used to plan your hand from the flop onward based on whether it's a top pair hand, overpair or drawing hand. The meat of the book is spent on SPR, which I believe to be a useful but inherently flawed metric.

I won't delve into the details of SPR here because the book does that well enough over about 150 pages. Suffice it to say that SPR fails to accurately account for multiway pots and adjust to differing playing styles. Above all, its chief shortcoming is that the authors use it to rationalize weak play that simply won't fly in many of the 2/5 and 5/10 games that are used in the hand examples.

This is where we get to the book's problems. Although it does a good job of introducing new ways of thinking about hand planning, it falls short when it comes to practical application. I think of it as the difference between a graduate student and a working professional. The graduate student might write a solid thesis, but there's often a reason he can't cut it in the real world.

I can see how thinking about SPR can be a useful practice, but it's more of a means to an end than the end itself. By that I mean that I will use SPR to observe and evaluate likely outcomes, but I won't tailor my preflop play to achieve a certain SPR number. My reasoning is that favorable SPRs only serve to make hands easier to play; they do not necessarily result in higher expected value.

For example, the book suggests limping or minraising with AA or KK for pot control purposes. That misses the point that strong raises with premium hands gets more money in the pot when you have the best of it.

Here's another example: The book recommends occasional raises with suited one-gappers if it will result in an unfavorable SPR for your opponent. But I don't think it really matters to most opponents whether they have an unfavorable SPR or not because they're going to play the hand in the best way they know how, even if their stack size might not be just right for that hand type.

A few of the hand examples in the book are a mess. They place too high of a value on pot control while ignoring that solid players will simply destroy you with overbets and river bluffs if you consistently play hands in a style that's afraid to commit too many chips.

It makes me wonder if the authors of this book are truly professionals. Do they really play in 2/4 and up NL games online? Do they win? Do they practice what they preach? I don't believe it for two reasons: their advice frequently won't stand up to aggression, and I've never seen even one winning player in any of the games I play effectively use this style.

I have a few other complaints. In one of the hand examples, the blinds are incorrectly listed at 50/100 instead of 2/5. Another hand example is from a hypothetical online 2/5 NL game, which isn't even spread at any of the sites open to U.S. players (that I know of). In one paragraph, the authors call a raise from $20 to $75 a "huge overbet," which is just plain wrong because the raise to $75 was exactly a pot-sized raise.

These kinds of things make me seriously question the book's credibility. It should have some peer review, or at least decent copy editing.

Despite all these problems, I would recommend "Professional No-Limit Hold 'em" (I guess no-limit is hyphenated these days?) for players who can separate its strengths from its weaknesses. I wouldn't suggest it for players who are looking to replicate the style advocated within because they'd get run over.

I measure poker books based on whether they make me a better player. By that standard, I have to admit this book is a winner. It introduced me to alternate playing styles and new ideas that give me additional perspective when playing hands. It forced me to think harder about commitment and planning of my plays.

I'll treat it more like a work of untested theory than a textbook based on fact.


Grinder said...

Being new to NL (but not Limit)- I purchased them book thinking that sooner or later I would be good enough to understand the concepts.

Not YET I guess.

I'm still in the "How do you play certain hands in certain situations".

And I hate asking 2+2 as I really do not think a lot of those players know what they are talking about LOL

For some reason taking advice from a 22 year old "expert" does not really help.

Matt said...

I like their book...and think it is good. I do take issue with "target spr"..as I dont think that it is realistic to obtain them....although after the flop it is useful to take note of the effective stack size and roughly what the SPR is so that you can decide whether or not you should be committed to the pot ... and if not take a "small ball" approach. This book has helped me avoid a leak in my game: I no longer call bets on the flop if the size of the bet will leave me pot committed and make it a theoretical error to fold to a turn bet...either I'm pot committed and I play very aggressive, play a small pot, or fold. I disagree that u believe the book promotes a passive approach to the game....If your deeped stacked, against a strong/tight opponent, why would you be pot committed when she will only play a big pot with a hand that beats your TPTK....This advice has fixed a leak in my game...losing my whole stack with TPTK. The book actually suggest playing a very aggressive game provided you are committed (based on rational information)...but what do I know...I'm still a donk...deposited $50.00 at FULL TILT...currently at $77.00 after 6k hands..1 cent 2 cent stakes...This game is evil.

Gnome said...

The enduring part of this book is its introduction and discussion of SPR. I still have a hard time accepting "target SPR" as a guideline for how to play my hands, but it's useful to remember the general idea that you want larger SPRs with hands that rely on implied odds. But we knew that already.