As you begin to peel away the surface of no-limit Hold’em and in particular, no-limit Hold’em cash games, it becomes apparent that the game itself has design problems. What in heavens name do I mean? Well to put it in plain English, what other field of activity or game is a world class performer seriously handicapped when going up against total novices?

How can this be so? The fact of the matter is that a strong no-limit Hold’em player has numerous weapons at his disposal. But the reality of the situation is that in many cases, against a novice player who buys-in for the minimum, the weapons of the strong player are more or less useless.

In this instance we can make a very strong analogy here with warfare. For a numerically and technologically superior army to succeed it needs to have certain operational conditions in place. If these are not in place then a far smaller and less equipped army could match them stride for stride.

This is the case with guerrilla warfare tactics and has enabled tiny and far less equipped forces to go toe-to-toe with some of the biggest and most powerful armed forces on earth. In poker you basically have four main weapons at your disposal – your chip stack, your position, your hand strength and your level of knowledge and skill.

If you factor in that everyone over time gets dealt the same cards and also gets the same positional advantages then this leaves us with just chip stacks and skill as the two remaining weapons. But skill is highly dependent on being able to do certain things. Most of the skill in no-limit play is in how you play after the flop and not before it. A strong no-limit player will sit with the maximum number of chips allowed as this stack size will afford him the highest number of options.

He can go after other big stacks and use the leverage of these stacks to instil fear into his opponents. His skill lays in how he can play street by street poker after the flop and the deeper the hand gets, the more our expert likes it. He likes nothing more than to have novices on his table who cannot play a deep stack well.

So it can be said then that having a deep chip stack is strongly connected to skill and having a decent sized stack allows that strong player to utilise those skills even more. But if a novice player decided to buy in for the table minimum, then the weapons that the expert has at his disposal are suddenly useless. It would almost be like having armoured tanks in a jungle, if we want to make another analogy with warfare.

Suddenly the big stack cannot attack the minimum stack so easily because the minimum stack is no longer a juicy target. The short stacker will probably be coming into the hand with a decent hand to begin with and the expert player will be looking to widen his range at every possible opportunity.

If a novice player with very little knowledge of no-limit Hold’em plays a minimum stack well, then essentially what they are doing is reducing the game so that it now has only two rounds of betting instead of four. The minimum stackers true objective is to get all-in either before the flop or on the flop. This then eliminates the strong player’s ability to outplay him deeper into the hand.

Another analogy can be made with casino blackjack. If a casino suspects a player of card counting then one of the counter measures that they employ is to cut shallow shoes. This reduces the counters edge because the ratio of good cards to bad cards never gets high enough for the edge to be worthwhile. The depth at which the dealer inserts the cutting card is called “penetration”.

So in the act of inserting this cutting card shallower, it is thus denying the counter good penetration. This is exactly what the minimum stacker is doing to our expert by buying in for the minimum, they are denying him the opportunity to drag them deep into a hand…..they are thus denying him penetration.

Strong players like to attack blinds. They like to punish limpers. They like to raise with deceptive hands so that they can hit concealed monsters. They like to make pressure plays like floating and use the leverage of deep stacks to instil folds on later rounds. What they don’t like is to be put into situations where they are racing against a short stacker for 20 big blinds or less. What they don’t like is having short stacks move in over the top of them with re-raises when they are trying to pinch the blinds or attack limpers.

Only last week, I attempted to sit down in a heads-up contest against six different players with a short stack. I didn’t actually want to play; I just did it out of pure devilment to see if any of them would play me. The stakes were NL600 and NL400 and I bought in for $120 and $80 respectively. Not one player played with me. They either sat there silently or typed some comment into the chat box indicating that they would only play if I got more money. That basically says it all.

Carl “The Dean” Sampson can be seen at his blog at

Carl Sampson

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No-Limit Hold'em... A Flaw in Design
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