Friday, January 25, 2008

Is Limit Hold'em Dying?

If you talk to old-timers, they'll talk about the days that California card rooms were built around five card draw, jacks to open, and lowball. Mike Caro's earlier work focuses on those games, but when was the last time you saw a draw game in a casino? Draw is almost completely dead now.

Or, if you're an East Coast type, you probably grew up with 7-stud. I expect it is a lot harder to find a good game now that's not populated by really old white guys.

Evolution is natural whenever there is a population with differing traits and external pressure for natural selection. I have a hypothesis that poker is slowly evolving away from limit hold'em. In this case, the population is the games (and the players, to some degree), the different traits are the type of game and the rules, and the external pressure is the desires and feelings of the players.

And the winner of this evolutionary war?

No limit texas hold'em.

Originally, I thought the no limit games would dry up because poor players tend to lose money faster in no limit than limit. In fact, the opposite played out online, where evolution happens much more rapidly. Trying to find a good limit game online is super difficult, unless you go down to the micro limits. I guess capped buy-ins (reducing a bad player's exposure) and numerous books and TV shows (bringing the lowest level of play up) the stabilization I expected to see never happened. Plus, if gambling is a high, then no limit produces a bigger high than limit, and that will bring the players to the table.

From what I've heard and read around the net, in blogs and in casino reviews (like PokerWiki), many casinos are spreading larger no limit games than limit. I was surprised to learn that many Vegas casinos now spread 4/8 as the highest limit in the room. Is this the beginning of the end for limit texas hold'em in live casinos also?

Maybe, maybe not. If it is, I have to ask myself why I'm spending my time learning a dying game. Granted, it probably won't die for at least 20 years since so many players in their 40s and 50s started and will stay in LHE. And definitely, the rules around the bay area preventing no limit games will keep limit games in action longer. But in 20, 30, or 50 years, what will the most popular poker game be?

I asked Thuan about this and he said:

It appears that low limit games aren't too prevalent in vegas.... yet lots of 200 buy-in NL. In a way, I would say these games are equivalent in terms of the bank roll you need. I suppose people in vegas just want to try NL because they see it on tv. But I don't think limit will go away at least not in CA. Even if it does, I think we can adjust to the game. Basically, newbies will feel better at limit stakes, so I don't think it will be marginalized. Hopefully, I'm right.
I do agree with Thuan that new players have a better shot at limit than no limit. But they'll focus on the low games (2/4, 3/6, 4/8) and not the middle limits (6/12 and up). Besides, many new players want to play no limit because that's what they've seen on TV. Will enough of them switch to limit or stay at limit to keep the game going strong?

Robert at The Vegas Year just posted about switching to limit after a long period of no limit because he'd have less variance at limit. Here's a guy who's spent a year working hard on his no limit game and he's decided that limit is a better option for a long term earn. Kind of scary -- I thought no limit was where all the bad players lost their stacks?

Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter. Most necessary skills for limit, like:
  • Reading the board.
  • Reading players.
  • Maintaining emotional control.
  • Managing a bankroll.
... transfer very well to no limit. Some traits that are more unique to limit (like proper strategy in multi-way pots) also transfer to the small, super loose, no limit games. So no matter what, my time learning the game now will help me later on. But I can't abandon no limit completely; I need to be competent in both (and limit omaha, and pot limit omaha eight or better, and whatever else comes along in the next few decades).

If limit hold'em is in fact dying, then I should just enjoy it while it is around!


Thuan said...

I think you need to ask yourself... Do you want to be a poker player like Phil Helmuth or Chip Reese? Do you want to be a one trick pony or excel at all the games?

I say work on everything. Even thought the O8 games aren't any good at GC, it's still worth sitting down once in a while. I've also thought about doing the 5-200 spread just to keep in practice with a NL-type game. Though the strategy for this kind of medium stack poker is limited.

Sean said...

Well, I agree -- you have to be able to play all games well. The 5-200 spread requires a similar bankroll as $6-12 (give or take) -- maybe we should be focusing on that instead?

Personally, though, I'm happy that I'm finally able to be comfortable at a small limit game -- I've never had that before.

DonCoryon said...


Thuan brings up an interesting point, "Do you want to be a one trick pony or excel at all the games?"

We could ask this question in reverse, "Do you want to be a Jack of All Trades or do you want to be a specialist."

Specialists nearly always earn more in a specific field than their counterparts who dabble in multiple fields. For example an anesthesiologist earns more than a family practitioner.

Side Note
5 card draw is actually one of the most popular games in Las Vegas. It's just evolved into a video game (Video Poker).

Sean said...

Doncoryon, I think you raise some good points about specialization, but I think the key is balance.

Specialization IS good. If I were to switch which game I played every time I went to the casino, adapting/improving would take much longer. There is definitely an argument for specializing to optimize your earn rate. If I'm an excellent limit hold'em player (I'm not) and a decent no limit hold'em player, I should usually be playing limit to maximize my earnings.

I should still know how to play no-limit or omaha or even stud. Sometimes, the game I want is full with a monster waiting list or the one game available is filled with rocks. Yet, the omaha table might be super soft, so I should play over there. Your anesthesiologist could practice family medicine if he needed to (maybe not technically) but he has the opportunity to make more in anesthesiology, so he does.

And definitely, if my time playing is limited, I should be focusing on one game to maximize my improvement.

I think both specialization and ability to play all the games is important.

BTW, nice observation about five-card draw filling the main video poker niche. That's kind of funny.

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