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Texas Hold' em is not an easy game to play well. To become an expert you need to be able to balance many concepts, some of which occasionally contradict each other.
In 1988, the first edition of this text appeared. Many ideas, which where only known to a small select group of players were now made available to anyone who was striving to achieve expert status, and the hold' em explosion had begun.
It is now a new century, and the authors have again moved the state of the art forward by adding over 100 pages of new material, including an extensive section on "loose" games, and an extensive section on "short-handed" games. Anyone who studies this text, is well disciplined, and gets the proper experience should become a significant winner. Some of the other ideas discussed in this 21st Century Edition include play on the first two cards, semi-bluffing, the free card, inducing bluffs, staying with a draw, playing when a pair flops, playing trash hands, desperation bets, playing in wild games, reading hands, psychology and much more.
Mason Malmuth has a nice column entitled Another Set of Quick Notes in the November 21, 2003 issue of Card Player Magazine. Not only is Mason Malmuth a well respected author, he is active in the poker community. Some poker authors write their books and that is that. Sklansky and Malmuth however, make tremendous contributions outside of their books. He starts out by talking about volatile hands. He states that fluctuations should be considered when your bankroll gets small. Malmuth notes that small or medium suited connectors have a lot of fluctuations.
"They can easily be big fluctuating hands. If you flop a draw and it gets there, you can win a very large pot. But sometimes it can be very expensive trying to get there, since putting two or three double-sized bets in on the turn in an attempt to make your 4-to-1 shot, while correct, can cost you lots of chips."  Malmuth goes on to explain that contrary to what many players think, small wired hands do not have a lot of fluctations.
"Many people think they are big fluctuating hands, but in reality they are not. The vast majority of the time, they will be played for one or sometimes two small bets, and then folded when you miss your set on the flop. It's only when you flop a set, and the preflop odds are 7.5-to-1 against, that you begin to play for big money." 
Malmuth goes on to discuss betting in late position. He give a specific example where you have the second best pair on board.
"Suppose you're in late position, or perhaps even last to act, with a medium-strength hand in a large multiway pot. To your surprise, instead of it being bet, it is checked to you. Should you bet and risk getting many callers or fall victim to a possible check-raise? Let's get a little more specific. You start with 10-9 in a raised multiway pot. The flop is K-9-3 and everyone checks to you. Should you bet? The answer is yes, and it's not even close, even though you might get trapped by the dreaded check-raise. The reason for this is that once the pot gets big, it's important to do everything you can to win it. Futhermore, in this spot, since no one bet before you, there is some chance that your hand is the best. If your bet makes someone with one or two overcards to your hand or a small pair fold, and the turn card would have hit them, you come out way ahead. Once there are many bets out there, this needs to happen only a small percentage of the time to make the reward greater than the risk." 
Some keys to Malmuth's example are the fact that this was a large pot yet no one had bet on the river.
Malmuth appears to be of the opinion that much of the holdem poker literature out there is too loose before the flop and too tight after the flop.
"Of course, there are exceptions, but I constantly read advice that has you folding when you should be calling or even raising, and otherwise playing much too timidly. This includes not calling any bets on the flop unless you have at least top pair, playing only nut-flush draws, folding a set on fourth street if there is a four-flush on board, folding all flush draws and open-end straight draws if there is a pair on board, and virtually never raising with A-K before the flop since it is a 'drawing hand.' What's ironic is that much of this advice is coupled with play that is too loose before the flop. So, now you get the worst of both worlds." 
Lee H. Jones has a great column entitled Give Up Those Blinds in the November 21, 2003 issue of Card Player Magazine. Jones raises the point that authors like David Sklansky have also conveyed, players often play incorrectly in the small and big blind positions. Jones starts by talking about the small blind.
"As an example, I'm persuing a copy of Winning Low Limit Hold'em, and right here on page 50, it says you can play 5-4 offsuit for half a bet from the small blind. What moron* wrote this book? Unless you're a world-class player post-flop, I think you should toss it, and here's why: Your position sucks. In fact, it's the worst position available at the table, for the entire hand. I mean, the dealer puts out the flop, and then he, the other players at the table, and the passing cocktail waitress all look at you and wait. Wonderful." 
Jones goes on to give an example in the big blind position.
"The same is true of the big blind when faced with a raise. Now, oftentimes the big blind will be offered some pretty tempting pot odds to jump into the fray, and if you have a hand that can hit big, I think those pot odds may justify a call(of one more bet if you don't fear a reraise). But too many players feel obliged to defend that dead money with an equal number of very live chips, almost regardless of their cards. K-6 offsuit is not a hand to defend. J-3 suited is not a hand to defend. These are hands that should be abandoned at the first sign of trouble, and facing a raise when sitting out of position is the 'u' in trouble." 
Jones gives another small blind example.
"The problem is that, as the small blind in a $5-$10 game, you called $3 more with A-5 offsuit. The flop came A-rag-rag rainbow, and you bet out and got raised. Now what? Call $25 more($5 on the flop, $10 each on the turn and the river) and see if that really is an ace with a better kicker? Check-raise the turn and fold if he three-bets you? Nothing here looks very good, and you got yourself into it because three little $1 chips seemed like such a good investment with all those pretty red nickels lying around. This is what Sklansky (or was it Malmuth?) was talking about when he discussed compounding errors. He was talking about going too far on third and fourth streets in stud, but the same principal applies. You make a small mistake and it snowballs into a minor catastrophe." 
Finally, Jones talks about how much the pros value position in discussing the play of his professional friend, Tommy Angelo.
"Tommy loves position the way little boys love puppies. If he's on the button, he's getting ready to raise before he's seen his cards. If he's in the blinds, he's getting ready to fold before he's seen his cards. Much of Tommy's game is built around being one step ahead of his opponent, and hey, when you have position on your opponent, you're exactly one step ahead of him, because he has to act exactly one step ahead of you. It's beautiful to watch Tommy fold blinds and raise buttons all evening long, and I have come to be more generous with blinds and more aggressive with the button because of it." 
The article by Jones is especially important for places like Hollywood Park where the button player has to put a chip in. I played $2-$4 holdem at Hollywood Park on November 14, 2004. The button player always had to put a $1 chip on the button which went to the dealer(not the pot) as the rake. However, in terms of the game, it was treated as if the chip went towards the pot. In other words if no one raised pre-flop then the button player could see the flop by just placing $1 into the pot (since the $1 given to the dealer counts as half the $2 everyone else put in the pot). Bad players might see the button position as being identical to the small blind since in both cases you are forced to give up a $1 bet. The huge differnce is position. The small blind player should be prepared to throw away bad hands but the button player has great position so he can play hands that would not otherwise be considered. Note that this is not the way rakes are gathered at other holdem casinos. For example, later that day I played $2-$4 holdem at Commerce Casino where the button did not have the $1 forced bet but the rake seemed to be bigger than it was at Hollywood Park. At Commerce, it seemed like the dealer took at least $3 out of most every pot for the casino. I've played $4-$8 holdem at The Bellagio in Vegas and $2-$4 holdem at the Palms in Vegas. In both Vegas Casinos, the rake was not setup as a forced bet by the button player.
Hold'em Poker For Advanced Players(isbn:1880685221) by
David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth is one of the best
hold'em books I've seen. The authors assume that the reader understands the basics
behind general poker strategy and Texas Hold'em specifics.
Before reading the book I read Sklansky's The Theory of Poker (also reviewed on this site)
which is referenced many times throughout the book.
The book is like a Bible for Texas Hold'em. I have gone back to
it several times and used it as a reference.
Even though complex concepts are explained in plain English,
the book is not something that should be read too quickly the first time.
The book breaks starting hands into 8 different groups. The reader is told how each group of hands should be played in different situations.
Early in the book Sklansky does a good job of telling the reader when to play certain hands before the flop. He makes a special point of giving specific instructions for playing AQ, "beware of AQ. Even in a loose game, this hand does not play well against an early-position raiser if many players remain to act behind you. (Of course, if the AQ is suited, you definitely would play the hand.)" 
The author makes the point that big hands should not be slow played before the flop. "If no one has yet called, almost always raise with AA, KK, QQ, AK, and AQ. Part of the reason to raise with these hands is that they lose value as the pot gets more multiway (especially if your oponents see the flop for one bet rather than two). " 
The theme that raising if often better than calling is made throughout the book. "One strategy that begins to come into play in the middle positions is that you should almost always raise rather than call when:
1. No one has yet entered the pot.
2. You have a playable hand(generally Group 1-6).
3. You think there is a reasonable chance (perhaps as small as 25 percent), that all players behind you (including the blinds) will fold.
However, if criterion one or three is not met you should usually just call except with your best hands, and actually fold some of the weaker hands (basically Group 6) that you would have otherwise raised with." 
Late position offers many advantages. "Another reason to raise is if you think it may 'buy you the button.' Being able to act last on succeeding betting rounds is a major advantage. Thus with marginal hands it may be worth raising if you think it will take that raise to get the button to fold." 
The blinds often make players throw good money away after bad. "Over their careers, many players lose quite a bit of money from the blind positions. This is because they frequently overestimate the value of their hand in comparison to the partial bet that they are required to make to continue playing. Even though you can play looser in some situations, you still must play fairly tight if the pot has been raised and the raiser is not in a steal position." 
When you are in the big blind it is important not to let the small blind steal your blind. "Generally, if you are in the big blind, everyone passes to the small blind, and he raises, you normally need to make sure that you call enough so that the player in the little blind does not show an automatic profit. (Remember, this will be the case if you fold as little as 30 percent of the time.) On the other hand, if you know that this player has high raising standards, you should fold your weaker hands." 
Througout the book, Sklansky and Malmuth make the point that it is often better to raise or to fold than to call. "We would also like to stress again that unless you are in the blind, you should not be calling many raises, particularly if the pot is short-handed. you should usually reraise or fold, with folding being much more prevelent. To do otherwise is the classic 'weak player' mistake, and it is the easiest way to tell if an opponent does not understand the game as well as he should." 
Memorizing the correct starting hands is not enough to make the game profitable. Playing correctly after the flop is essential. "Most of the profitin hold'em comes from knowing how to play after the first round."  Topics like semi-bluffing and free cards are discussed after the flop.
Using semi-bluffing has several advantages. "If your hand is worth a call or even almost worth a call if you check, then it is better to bet it if there is some chance you can win the pot right there." [57-58] It is important to understand this first advantage and realizing that pots can be won without having the best hand in a showdown. A second advantage to semi-bluffing is that it can confuse your opponents. "A secondary advantage to semi-bluffing is that when you do make your hand, your opponents often will misread it."  Finally, the semi-bluff is key because it makes you seem unpredictable. "A third advantage to semi-bluffing is that it keeps your opponents guessing. If you never bluff, you are simply giving away too much information. Players in this category are referred to as 'weak tight.' They are easy to make money against since you virtually always know exactly where they are, but they have a great deal of trouble figuring out what your hand is. Semi-bluffing is a good way to mix up your play so you can't be 'read' as easily."  Given all the above advantages in making the semi-bluff play, it is strange to see some players not using it.
The free card concept involves making bets or raises in early rounds so that players will check to you later on. In discussing the concept, Sklansky states how not to play poker. "Checking and calling is rarely a correct strategy in hold'em, yet this is precisely the way that many weak opponents will play."  Failing to bet early can not only keep the pot too small, it can lead to your downfall, "if you check and allow someone who would not have called your bet to outdraw you, then you have allowed a 'mathematical catastrophe' to happen."  This philosphy is consistent throughout the book where Sklansky and Malmuth show that it is often better to raise or bet than to call or check.
Stone cold bluffing on the river is differnt from semi-bluffing because with a stone cold bluff there are no more cards to help your hand improve. Bluffing on the river often boils down to pot odds, "if there is $50 in the pot and the bet is $10, you are getting 5-to-1 odds on your bluff. In this situation, if you think your opponent will fold more than one time in six, bluffing would be correct."  In calculating the odds that your opponent will fold it is important to factor in whether you have been the bettor or the caller up until the river. Also, it is crucial to know whether or not your opponent is advanced enough to know how to get away from hands.
I have had intersting flops where I flop an open ended straight draw but there are 2 cards of the same suit on the flop as well. It is interesting to decide how to play the hand because you could be betting into someone who has a flush draw. If the flush player gets his card and you get your straight card then you could be in big trouble if you don't recognize that your hand is beat. Sklansky reveals that it is ok to bet the straight draw on the flop because there will be six cards that can make your straight without helping the flush, "suppose you flop an open-end straight draw and two flush cards are also on board. Is it correct to bet? Some 'authorities' claim that this hand should be thrown away. They argue that you can make your hand and still lose the pot. However, they fail to understand that you can bet as a semi-bluff." 
Another interesting flop is when there is a pair on board. Ironically, Sklansky says this can be a good situation to bet when you are not holding one of these cards. "Although it's a little-known fact, it is often profitable to bluff when a pair flops, especially if the flop does not include a straight or flush draw." 
I have lost a lot of pots while holding pairs in the hole. When holding a pair you usually will not flop a set and from that point on you can be in trouble. Sklansky has some words on this topic. "Incorrectly playing pairs in the hole is a major error that causes many players to lose thier money. You must keep in mind that if you do not make trips when an overcard flops--particuliarly if the overcard is an ace -- you are in trouble. This is especially true in a multiway pot." He goes on to address specific hands. "If your pair is JJ, TT, or smaller, it is extremely important to bet into most flops, since there are many overcards that can beat you. However, if an overcard is present on the flop and you are check-raised, you ususally should give it up."  In no-limit tournaments players will sometimes move all-in before the flop when they are holding a pair. This is partially because a pair will be a slight to large favorite over any other 2 card combination in a showdown unless the other 2 cards are a higher pair.
Not everyone plays poker the same way. Sometimes a table will have one or more players who are reckless. Sklansky explains that if the other players get involved when you play agains a maniac then it might be best to be on the right of the maniac so that you can act after they do. If the other players let you go up against the maniac one on one then it might be better to be on the left of the maniac. Sklansky explains what hands to add to your aresenal in this situation. "So let's assume that a maniac is in your game, he's raising almost every hand, and you are seated to his left. What hands do you play? The answer is that you should play those hands that can win showdowns without improving. This includes hands like A9 and KT, and you'll reraise with them providing that your reraise will almost always get you heads-up. If you do, you should see most of these hands to the end unless it 'comes down real bad'" [131-132] One not of caution is in tournaments where the same player can play like a maniac until comfortable with his chip stack where he may shift gears and tighten up considerably. It is important to recognize if a player is good enough to switch up his game within a single session.
Making the correct play on fourth street is important for many reasons, one of which is that the bets are bigger than those on the flop. "There are two important concepts that will aid you when playing on fourth street. The first of these is that you should tend to check hands with outs and to bet hands that, if already beaten, have no outs."  Sklansky uses an example of holding Ace of Clubs and Ace of Spades against a non-club, non-space three-suited board on fourth street. He says you can usually bet the Aces but fold them if re-raised. He goes on to explain another important aspect of fourth street. "The second important concept concerning fourth-street play is that you should be betting good hands on the flop, but then frequently check-raising with them on the turn. In fact, this should be routine strategy since you will be giving up on many hands on fourth street."  Sklansky goes on to clarify that this is important because it helps to balance out the semi-bluff flop bets that don't pan out.
Sklansky and Malmuth make sure to cover different situations throughout the book. He addresses how to handle bad players in a general way. "Here's just one example of what we are talking about that doesn't involve specific strategy. When you are against bad players it is probably detrimental to mull over your decisions. When you sit there and think, you encourage bad players to play better against you."  It is significant to note that the book was written for limit hold'em where players tend to make decisions in a timely manner. In no-limit tournaments decisions are often made slower and the above advice may not apply in the same fashion.
Sometimes games are too loose and passive. In other words too many players call the blinds to see the flop but there is hardly any pre-flop raising. Sklansky and Malmuth discuss how to handle this situation. "So how do you apply the previous concepts to a very good hold'em game? That is, in a loose, passive game where many people see the flop and then play poorly after that. you should:
1. Play more hands than you would if the players were better, especially if you can get in for a single bet.
2. Frequently keep it to a single bet before the flop more than most people think because you gain a lot when bad players make incorrect calls on the flop and beyond, as long as the pot is kept small."  Suited hole cards while not a great advantage in heads-up play, can be a big advantage in multi-way pots. They can also be key in loose games. "If your hand is suited in these loose games it is a giant advantage. One of the nice things about raising with suited cards before the flop (especially the ace suited), is that when you flop a flush, or for that matter a four-flush, you welcome all the bottom pairs calling. They may be right to call, but it doesn't hurt you. They may be making money by calling on the flop because there are other people involved. But they are not taking money from you. They are making you money."  Sklansky goes on to explain that you are making the pot bigger and people now play hands that cannot win if you hit your flush (when holding the ace of the flush, you will have the nut flush if there is no straight-flush on board and no pair on board). Often the correct play in loose games is counter-intuitive. "The right strategy to beat loose games is very different than what many people think. The idea is not to immediately punish someone because you happen to have an edge. It is often correct to wait till a later round where your edge might be bigger to make your move. On the other hand, you may discover that your advantage has disappeared and you will be happy that you did not put in those extra bets earlier. Bad players who play too many hands and go too far with their hands are ideal opponents."  Keep an eye out for players who start to get bored and impatient and then start falling into the pattern of playing too many hands and not getting away from them.
Most everything in the book is based on a 10 player limit game. There is a special section on playing short-handed. As one might expect, it doesn't always take premium hands to win when there are less players so adjustments need to be made and the correct strategy is to play looser than on a 10 player table. "To prove this point let's look at a heads-up game. Suppose just you and another player were playing and you don't adjust after noticing how he is playing. You play your fairly tight game and he has a strategy of always betting. He must beat you."  Stopping players from stealing blinds is not your responsibility alone on a 10 player table. However, if it is just you and one opponent head-up then you have to make adjustments such as taking the sole responsibility of protecting your blinds. When playing head-up in hold'em in the big blind, Sklansky explains that one should play more hands than in 10 player games, "Thus it appears that in a heads-up match in the big blind you need to call(or reraise) at least 40 percent of the time against an aggressive opponent. So what hands should you play?
Any pair, is 6 percent;
any ace, is about 15 percent;
any other two cards that are both nine or higher, is about 12 percent,
any other straight flush combination with no gaps or just one gap (except for 42s and 32s), is about 4 percent;
and any king little suited that's not already covered, is about 2 percent.
This comes to approximately 39 percent. That's basically what we are talking about. (You might add in a few more hands such as J8s,98 or 97.)
(We do want to caution you about playing hands that contain a deuce or a trey. The trouble with these cards is that if you flop a pair and your hand is best at the moment, virtually any other card that comes can beat you. In addition, if you flop nothing and your opponent flops a pair, you frequently find yourself bluffing or calling with only three outs. This doesn't mean that you can't play a hand if it contains a deuce or a trey. But beware that it has some additional problems and these hands may not be as good as they appear.)" 
Sklansky goes on to explain that the betting should continue after the flop,
"Assuming you reraised, be prepared to do a lot of betting on the flop. You should bet most every time except for your weakest hands, and perhaps your best hands. Good advice might be to check the weakest 20 percent and the best 20 percent of your hands. And, with your best 20 percent, you should usually check-raise on the flop.
Here's an example. If you reraise with J of Hearts, T of Hearts and the flop is 9 of Hearts, 4 of Spades, 2 of Diamonds you go ahead and bet. Only check those hands that have almost no chance to win. Bet anything that has a chance." 
Sklansky gives an afterthought on short-handed games that sums things up nicely,
"Most successful hold'em players learn to play in a style that can be characterized as tight and aggressive. This is sometimes referred to as solid poker. In fact, it is the way that we usually recomment to play, and in most games it is the way that we play. But short-handed poker is very different. The tight players don't stand a chance against the live ones who seem to bet and call with anything. Unless you are able to make the adjustments that we described, you will be another loser in the short-handed games, and will be forced to avoid some of the most lucrative situations in all of poker.
The great advantage of short-handed hold'em, assuming you play it well, is that you get to play many more hands. Thus, if your decisions are better than your opponents, since you will be making many more of these decisions than normal, you can expect to produce a higher win rate in the short-handed games than you would in a regular ring game. This is particularly true if you are against one or more players who only understands how to play at a full table.
Most of the best hold'em players will tell you that they would rather play short-handed. This is the reason why. They find it far more profitable and actually enjoy it more than at a full table." 
The end of the book has a comprehensive section on the psychology of poker. One should now always base decisions purely on mathematics because other players can recognize this and take advantage of your predictability. "At the expert level of hold'em, the 'skill' of trying to outwit your opponent sometimes can extend to so many levels tht your judgment may begin to fail. However, in ordinary play against good players, you should think at least up to the third level. First, think about what your opponent has. Second, think about what your opponent thinks you have. And third, think about what your opponent thinks you think he has. Only when you are playing against weak players, who might not bother to think about what you have and who almost certainly don't think about what you think they have, does it not necessarily pay to go through such thought processes. Against all others, this is crucial to successful play, since deception is a big part of the game."  In border line situation it can be valuable to note tells for other players. Caro's Book of Tells (also reviewed on this site) has some useful information on the science of tells.
This book has a tremendous amount of information to digest. It is a handy reference to keep around and I have gone back to it many, many times. It is assumes the reader already has a firm grip of the strategy behind Hold'em. It is not a good book for those new to the game.
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