A crucial but difficult thing for all advanced poker players to do, sooner rather than later, is to figure out which poker game they play best and why. Of course, for some people it’s obvious, but for others it can be tough. You’ve had success at a variety of games. You like different games for different reasons. Sometimes you’re better at one game than you are at another. All of those things are fine, but you’re still going to have to wean it down to one “best” game. It will only help you in the long run. Different games and betting structures require different skills, of course, and winning at poker means having a higher level of skill in some areas than your opponents. In the end, however, it’s important to understand WHY you are winning a certain game (or losing a different game), in order to maximize your advantage over your opposition.
Unfortunately, we can’t tell you which game you’re best at. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we’ve noticed some trends and, if you can take an objective look at yourself and your game, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to decide which game you’re personally best at, based on the trends we’ve noticed. Before that, though, we must remind you that we have a general description of a “winning poker player.” A winning poker player—which should include many of you who are reading this section of the website—has mastered the four key skills of poker (see strategy for beginners. A winning poker player also has an advantage with technical or personal aspects of poker. By “technical aspects” we are referring to the necessity of poker math, such as mastering pot odds and playing tight. By “personal aspects,” meanwhile, we’re talking about non-technical skills like bluffing and changing up your style of play. Bearing these things in mind, here is an overview of what we believe certain poker games reward the most:
Longhand limit Hold’em
Limit Hold’em rewards technical skills, especially patience and an understanding of hand value. Since many hands go to a showdown, reading one’s opponent only helps a little bit because it’s harder to bluff. Also, pot odds will often make a river-fold highly risky.
Shorthand limit Hold’em
Shorthand requires a mix of people and technical skills. People skills are important at analyzing a shorthanded game. You must understand your players and figure out which type of game to play. Often, a very aggressive form is best. However, in a loose game, you should revert to standard poker strategy. Thus, once you’ve analyzed the game using people skills, technical skills will be rewarded because one type of “technique” should be employed to beat the game.
No limit Hold’em also requires both technical profiency and people skills. Technical skills will help you understand how much you should bet and how much you can stand to call. People skills will help you in a hand (by putting an opponent on his cards) and determine your general strategy. No limit Hold’em fundamentally comes down to how people utilize aggressive betting. If people are meek, you should steal a lot of pots, but fold if stern resistance meets your bluffing. If people are very loose, be patient and trap them. You should often be able to wipe them out in one hand.
So…which one’s for me?
As you can see, poker is about a combination of technical and personal proficiency. If you’re very good at staying patient, playing quality hands and playing pot odds, stick to limit Hold’em. If you excel at poker because you know how to deal with opponents, you should go for a shorthand or no-limit game. Always keep re-assessing your play as you get better and better at poker; that’s one sure way to stay on top of which game is best for you.