by Lou Krieger
Maybe it was the day, or the time, or just a random confluence of forces, but there’s a big difference between younger and older no-limit hold’em players. What brought this clearly to light was a full table no-limit game, where seven of the table’s players looked to be on the downhill side of 50. And the majority of older players made one similarly shocking error. They significantly overvalued big pairs.
Overbetting the pot with a big pair became ridiculously obvious at this particular table. With the pot containing approximately 4 big bets, one player raised 33 times the big blind. Needless to say, he took down the pot. And as he did, he said, “I didn’t want anyone to draw out on my pocket kings with a lone ace.” Well, good thinking as far as it goes, but he should have been able to take down that pot with a bet that was significantly smaller. After all, a raise doesn’t have to be 33 times the big blind to preclude everyone except a player holding a pocket pair of aces from playing.
It wasn’t the only example of this kind of play—merely an egregious example—and the reason these guys were all doing this sort of thing suddenly dawned on me. They all played fixed-limit hold’em for years before switching over to no-limit in the past few years.
Dealt a pocket pair of aces, kings, or queens in a fixedlimit game, these guys will go to the grave with their hand absent an action-filled, three-suited board that doesn’t suit them, or an obvious Broadway straight possibility. After all, even with a pair on board and action in front of them, limit hold’em players are generally reluctant to release a big pocket pair.
It’s a leak—no doubt about it. But in a fixed-limit game, the suffering is mitigated because you can only lose a fixed amount unless you’re silly enough to keep calling when the pot is bet, raised, and raised again. It’s a loss, and like any other single loss in a limit game, it’s usually a tolerable one.
But that’s not the case in no-limit, where winning or losing one big pot can take the sunshine from your day or chase away the rain completely, depending on which side of the cards you’re on. I saw this mistake made time after time. And even though I did not have a particularly good run of cards that day myself, it was a winning session simply because a number of opponents were willing to slug it out with me when all they had was one big pair. I flopped a Broadway straight in the big blind with Q-J, and was called by someone with a pair of nines. That’s right. He held 9-9 the board was A-K-T, and I still can’t figure out what he was looking for. I don’t think he can, either. Most of poker’s younger generation grew up playing nolimit hold’em. Many, in fact, have never played fixed-limit hold’em. To them a big pocket pair is just that—one pair. A good one, to be sure, but it’s seldom a hand worth risking all your chips on.
But the older generation is all too often a product of their own poker upbringing, where a pocket pair of queens, kings, or aces represents a hand worth going to the wall with. You can do it when the cost is only one additional bet, but when it costs your entire stack, or most of it, it’s an all-too-frequent catastrophic mistake made by guys who played fixed-limit hold’em for years before switching to no-limit.
If you’re a player in my age bracket, remember that in poker, as in war, discretion is often the better part of valor. Don’t let this happen to you.