Monday, February 20, 2006

Book Review: How Good Is Your Pot-Limit Omaha?

In his book How Good Is You Pot-Limit Omaha, Stewart Reuben guides the reader through over fifty hands played out in various casinos throughout his extensive poker career.

Each hand is discussed and evaluated, with a range of options presented at each decision point, and an overall rating awarded to the reader based on their points tally.

The focus is very much on cash games, and some hands will find very thin edges being pushed by the author.

As readers progress through the book, they will become familiar not only with Reuben's aggressive, and slightly hyperactive playing style, but also with that of several of his regular adversaries and their varied approaches to the game.

To understand the lessons proferred, it is important to recognise a few differences between the games Reuben plays, and those most 'normal' players will encounter online.

In general the stakes are much higher. Blinds of £10 or even £25 are not uncommon - roughly $17 or $43.

The stacks tend to be very deep too, with 500 or 600 big blinds often to be found in front of each participant in a hand. Combative play is often in evidence, with raising and reraising both pre and post-flop.

Such deep stacks offer big implied odds, and may make drawing hands more powerful than in smaller games.

By contrast, most online games are smaller stakes, generally the max buy-in is capped at 100BB and, at the lower stakes, players will be predominantly looser and more passive.

That said, Reuben is anything but tight, and is willing to see some very speculative flops.

Where the book excels is the detailed hand analysis, based not only on cards in hand, but on the board, the nature of opponents, and the relative stack sizes.

Some actual situations are varied for the purposes of comparison.

Relative stack sizes are changed, alternative turn or river cards are proposed, and Reuben explains how this would change his approach.

Almost every hand is played from inception to showdown, and points are awarded dependent not on actual result, but on quality of decision making at each stage of the hand.

Often the actual decisions made by Reuben are not those which he awards full points to in a theoretical sense. In the heat of the moment, everyone makes mistakes it seems.

In truth, the point scoring was almost an irrelevance to me. Of much more interest was the train of thought which guided Reuben to each decision. This is the most interesting aspect of the book.

On the negative side, I was somewhat concerned that the nature of the book meant a lot of fairly speculative starting hands were taken to showdown.

In another of Reuben's publications Pot-Limit and No-Limit Poker(with Bob Ciaffone), he is described as 'attacking' and 'fierce' by no less an authority than Mr Ciaffone.

As might be expected, many of his starting hands are not those which would be recommended to a novice.

If a multitude of chapters started out with loose pre-flop calls, and insta-folds on unhelpful flops, there would hardly be a strong page turning imperative.

Therefore it follows that we tend to see only the successful calls, without a representative sample of whiffed flops.

This led me to be concerned that a novice might interpret the starting hand requirements to be recommendations, when Reuben himself would presumably agree it is the way the hand develops which should be instructive.

A degree of prior knowledge is assumed, and for someone entirely new to Omaha, this is perhaps not the ideal starting point.

This is very much the Porsche of poker books. Great fun when you have the skill and environment to exercise it to the max, but unsuited to learners navigating the slower poker lanes.

For those with prior experience, wishing to move their game onto a higher plane, this is a worthwhile read, but not an essential buy.

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