Thursday, June 26, 2008

Harrington on Cash Games: How to Win at No-Limit Hold 'em Money Games: Vol I

I think I know what Harrington is trying to do in a large part of his first cash game book: He's demonstrating a strategy that attempts to avoid exploitation by mixing up his play.

The fundamental problem with this approach is that it's almost always better to make the highest percentage play rather than sacrifice value in a misguided effort to obfuscate your hand for potential future profits. Harrington attempts to mix up his play based on the second-hand of his watch instead of balancing his play based on the game situation.

For example: If you hold Ks Kc on a Ac Ts 4s flop, Harrington recommends checking 80 percent of the time rather than making a continuation bet.

I argue for betting the vast majority of the time. In addition, I definitely wouldn't decide whether to check because the second-hand of my watch as Harrington would. He'd have you take the 80 percent action if the second-hand is in the first 48 seconds and check if it's in the last 12 seconds. Does anyone do this in real life cash games?

I would bet because I know my opponent probably didn't cold call with an Ace preflop, I can bluff him off the hand if I think he did cold call with a weak Ace, and I'm just as happy to take down the pot right now. Those are all legitimate, practical reasons for betting completely dependent on what I believe to be the strongest play, and there's no reason to ever do anything different from what I think is right.

A whole chunk of the book is dedicated to these deception plays at the expense of analysis of gametime decisions. It's better to consider whether my opponent is a calling station, bluffer, check-raiser, maniac, regular, weekend warrior, squeeze player, blind stealer or blind folder than it is to try to make ambiguous fancy plays.

At least one hand example in the book illustrates an approach I'm more comfortable with. With ATo from the cutoff, Harrington supports raising a limper to 5X and then continuation betting nearly every time on a Kc Qc 4h flop.

"Given that Player D is a loose, weak player and he checked, this flop probably missed him, and in addition should look pretty scary with the king and queen out there. Make a continuation bet almost 100 percent of the time. Unless Player D caught a piece of the flop, he'll go away."

See? That wasn't so hard. Continuation bet based on the flop texture, your position, your read on your opponent and the previous action. There's no reason to do anything differently for deception or meaningless variation.

I don't think I'm overstating this point. In other hand examples, Harrington goes for variation plays preflop, with random limps as well. That's not going to work in most of today's games, both online and live.

On top of that, the ATo hand is used to make an argument for a terrible "general rule":

"The more outs you have to a big (or winning) hand, the less you want to make a continuation bet."

That rule is not true. When you have more outs, you want to bet because it gives you more ways to win. You'll either take down the pot with a continuation bet, or you build the pot while controlling the action, retaining fold equity and potentially hitting the well-disguised nuts.

I want to say something positive, so I'll say this: I enjoy learning about new styles so that I can better understand what my opponents may be thinking.

But there aren't many new tactics from this book that I'll be incorporating into my game.


pokerpeaker said...

I agree. I think the book was a good buy because it helped me solve some leaks that me, being a tight player, took for granted, such as playing some weak hands OPP "just to see a flop," and it also made me think about playing tighter than I should in certain situations. But I agree with the randomness idea. It's a little TOO much in my mind. And there were several plays I disagreed with. But that's what makes poker good. Thanks for another good post Gnome.

Pseudo_Doctor said...

hmm...I only comment here 5% of the time when the second hand is on 58.

Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

I'm looking forward to reading Harrington's book shortly, but I just haven't found the time yet. What I do know is that Volume 3 of his tournament book sucked balls. I will be really disappointed if he shizznots the bed again.

spritpot said...

I haven't read this book but I've heard from a couple of different sources I respect now that it's not worth the time.

One thing on checking behind with outs - I think it's good to check behind when you have kind of a medium-ish number of outs to the nuts, like maybe if you have a gutter-ball to the nuts or something, particularly if it's on a board where you're likely to get check-raised. Example: you raise limpers with AQ, get a couple of callers, and the flop comes KJ3. Good spot to check behind.

Once you have enough outs to shove over a check-raise though, then go ahead and bet. Example: Same hand, except it's AhQh and flop comes KhJh3c. Bet and shove over the top.