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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Bob Ciaffone's Middle Limit Holdem Poker
Seeing as how my last order of poker books arrived about a month ago, and seeing as how I've already read most of them, I figured I should post about the oh-so-interesting thoughts I had on them before I forget.

The book that I was most looking forward to reading was Bob Ciaffone's Middle Limit Holdem Poker. Some of the reviews that persuaded me to buy this book were at Poker Chronicles--"Looking to beat games $15/$30 and above? Here is the best book on the subject."--and winningonlinepoker.com:
This book is geared at $10/$20 or higher games, but the advice can be very useful for lower limits as well. It is divided into chapters based on situation (betting round, action to you) and each chapter includes a short strategy section before launching into a series of questions where they describe your hand and how the betting has proceeded, and ask you to make a decision to check, bet, fold, call or raise in that situation. Although several of the plays are debateable, the book gives a lot of useful advice, which in many of the situations contradicts with how the typical player would play the hand.
I seem to remember more good reviews on other sites, but you get the idea.

I admit that I ordered this book as part of my overall move from .50/$1 to $2/$4. Many of the .50/$1 players on Paradise are way better than the $2/$4 players at Foxwoods, so I figured that maybe the $2/$4 games online might be comparable to live $10/$20 games. Of course, this was me being paranoid about the caliber of player I would encounter at $2/$4 online. In retrospect, it was silly of me to be thinking of $2/$4 as anything close to middle limits.

That said, I think the traditional categories of low, middle, and high limits are not that useful in the modern, post-WPT poker world. Lower limits at some online sites are comparable to higher limits at other sites, and lower limits online are generally comparable to higher limits in B&M cardrooms. I was talking to someone who recently moved up to $10/$20 at Foxwoods, and he said that the most suprising thing about moving up in limits is how little the quality of play changes. The fact is that you can find a wide variety of games conditions at most limits.

I have noticed some differences between .50/$1 and $2/$4. While there are plenty of loose $2/$4 games to be found online, there are also more tight-aggressive players in these games. There are fewer people seeing the pot and more people folding, and because of this there is more bluffing and blind-stealing. Ciaffone's book (actually co-authored with Jim Brier) helped me deal with these things.

Middle Limit Holdem Poker is more usefully described as a guide to playing in reasonably tight, somewhat aggressive games. In contrast, the book that many players consider to be the bible of Hold'em--Sklansky's Texas Hold'em for Advanced Players--seems to be geared toward very tight, very aggressive games, and the most beginner's books--including the one that I relied on most as a guide to .50/$1, Lee Jones's Winning Low-Limit Hold'em--are geared toward loose, somewhat passive games.

I found Ciaffone's book to be a great refresher course on how to play tight, solid poker. He covers the usual fundamentals--position, pot odds, etc.--but with more emphasis on reading your opponent's hand. One idea of his that I don't think has been developed elsewhere is his theory of flop play. Basically he says that a lot of players like to play deceptively on the flop, but they reveal how they really feel about their hands on the turn. This is in contrast to the straightforward style of play that he recommends and that I generally follow. Ciaffone's "trust the turn action more than the flop action" advice helped me recognize this type of trickster and stop a couple leaks in my game, such as giving too much credit to a flop raiser and being too willing to go to a showdown if I do stay past the flop (which is more usually correct in looser games where the pot sizes are larger). Of course these are things I'm still working on, but I like that Ciaffone gave me a new perspective on them.

Another section that stood out for me was the advice on playing from the blinds. It's a poker maxim that good players lose less money from the blinds, but most beginner's books give relatively short shrift to the subject (partly because defeding against blind steals isn't such a big part of loose games). Ciaffone devotes 5 pages to the subject, and those 5 pages have helped me immensely.

I would describe Middle Limit Holdem Poker as a practical, straightforward type of book. The tone throughout the book is "here's how I play this type of situation." This is in contrast to the Sklansky/2+2 books, which I would decribe as being more theoretical and complicated. Their tone is "you should make this play 40% of the time under these three conditions . . . " As their titles state, the 2+2 books are quite advanced, and I feel that Ciaffone's approach--which sticks to the fundamentals without treating the reader like a beginner--to be more appropriate for the stage I'm at.

Just a couple more notes on the format of the book. There are no subheads or white spaces breaking up the text, which is very unusual these days. Sometimes the authors switch topics with nothing but a paragraph break to indicate the change. It makes for very dense-looking pages, but fortunately the straightforward writing style offsets this.

A major feature of the book is the many test questions that follow each chapter. Whereas the 2+2 books mostly quiz you on the major themes covered in each section, Ciaffone gives you the hole cards, pot size, previous action, and board cards for a given situation, and asks you whether you should bet, call, raise, or fold. To my mind this is the best way for a how-to poker book to impart its teachings.

Finally, if it seems like most of my poker book reviews are very positive, it's true. My reviews are essentially recommendations, since I figure no one wants to read about a book that's mediocre or downright bad. Still, maybe sometime I'll post a quick list of all the books in my poker library that turned out to be disappointments, just for some perspective.

Not that they'd make that list, but I don't know if I'll be posting about Gary Carson's The Complete Book of Texas Hold'em and Skansky et al.'s Seven-Card Stud for Advanced Players. I enjoyed both books but they just didn't grab me the way that Ciaffone's did. It'll also take me a while to digest the 2+2 book. I'm halfway through Ciaffone and Reuben's Pot Limit & No Limit Poker, but the no-limit bug just hasn't bitten me yet.

Ed Miller's Small Stakes Texas Hold'em arrived last Friday, so that's what I'll be reading next.

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