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01/09/2006 No. 62
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday Sep 1st, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

In Las Vegas, I took the chance to practise no-limit Texas hold 'em cash games. Pot-limit (my favourite structure) has never been big over there; the most popular American format used to be limit betting, and now it's no-limit. Playing the preferred local format, different from your regular home choice, is as much a part of travelling as using curious foreign money and eating quirky local dishes. Or, at least, it is if you're crazy enough to spend your holidays playing poker.

But no-limit cash games are gaining ground over here, too. And they're all the rage on the internet. I wish they weren't; my own tastes and skills chime better with the subtle, calculating spirit of pot-limit poker than the fearsome, get-rich-quick rollercoaster of no- limit; but you have to move with the times. A good player should have a decent understanding of every poker variant (stud and draw as well as flop games; hi-lo and wild card varieties; limit, pot-limit and no-limit betting structures).
For the moment, however, all the action centres on no-limit hold 'em. Devotees of seven-card stud are wandering round the world like lost souls, many of them turning to drink. Draw players are slumped in front of daytime TV, wondering whether to take themselves along to The Antiques Roadshow and ask for a price.

There are two broad approaches to making money in no-limit cash hold 'em. You can sit like a sneaky sponge, letting other players make the action, calling them down with your superior hands, mopping up the money that these crazy kids want to throw in with any cards at all. Or you can dominate the table, forcing the action yourself, using the unlimited nature of the betting to bully people away from pots and wipe out players with marginal hands. This is the strategy described by the brilliant British player Tony Bloom, while he was playing the World Series this year, as going in "to pummel and destroy". (In tournaments, it works better than the first method.)

The best players can turn your head upside-down by swapping sharply between these two lucrative strategies. What you don't want is a vague middle ground. The danger with no-limit is that, because the pot might transform from tiny to enormous at any moment, you often feel "priced in" to call with almost anything. Losing players get dazzled by "implied odds" and let opponents run the game. We can't all pummel and destroy, but maintaining control (of yourself, the action and the pot size) is the most important no-limit skill.

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