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Russ Fox Poker Book Review

Matering No-Limit Hold'em

by Russell Fox & Scott T. Harker

Review by Scott Buono
Mastering No Limit Poker Book

Scott Harker

Mastering No LimitWhile the title may be a tad too ambitious (after all, everyone knows “it takes a minute to learn, but a lifetime to ‘master’”), authors Fox and Harker have done an excellent job in compiling a comprehensive guide to the “Cadillac” of poker games – No Limit Texas Hold’em. Actually, they should be granted a little poetic license in the christening of their work, as they are the first to admit that the book is not a one-time “casual read” by any means; rather a resource that should be referred to repeatedly in order to gain maximum benefit over time. In any event, it is quite obvious this team has done extensive homework at, and away from, the poker tables.

"Mastering No-Limit Hold'em: A Guide Cash Games" is not for beginners. There is a fair amount of assumed knowledge on the part of the reader that is expected in order to fully grasp the ideas and concepts presented. Regardless of the skill level of the reader, however, there is a “comfort level” sure to be appreciated by most in knowing that two knowledgeable and experienced players corroborate the thoughts and perceptions explained, backed up by real-life examples taken from actual play. (To that end, there is even a complete, easily skimmed and entertaining “Eight-Hour No-Limit Hold’em Session” documented hand by hand (as Appendix A).)

The authors explain and demonstrate in several passages how No Limit Hold’em is a very different game than Limit Hold’em. They point out how and why there are exploitable weaknesses in the “Limit player” making a transition into the No Limit arena. Also distinguished is the No Limit “cash game” compared to the No Limit “Tournament game”. They explore the problems that televised tournament action (“learned” and mimicked by new players) pose for the aspiring No Limit cash game specialist. In particular along those lines, they provide a useful evaluation on the subject of bluffing in small fixed buy-in cash games compared to the loose-aggressive moves seen on “Final-Table-TV”.

Technically speaking, one of the key themes Fox and Harker introduce is the “Matrix Theory” of NL Hold’em. No, this is not a lesson on how to play against Neo, Morpheus, Trinity and the Oracle! It is a bold approach to offering irrefutable suggestions on “good hand selection” that goes far beyond a mere list by position. It discusses starting hands, but includes many other determining factors that should be considered as well. An attempt at putting a dent in the “it depends” of poker schooling, the theory digs deeper into the subject of which hands to get involved with, and how far to take them.

Position, “relative position” (to the button or certain players) and even “looking at multiple dimensions” of position are driven home as the most important factor considered in the “Matrix Theory”. The authors expand upon the well known and understood concepts of Early, Middle and Late position by delving deeper into the several “situations” one will find themselves in at each. For example, they examine Middle Position when: one is “first to act”; there is “one limper before you”; “a limp and a raise”; “a raise and a re-raise”, etc.

Aside from a lengthy (but justified) emphasis on position, some of the other variables entered into the “Matrix” equation are: relative stack sizes; one’s image; the types of opponents one faces, and the skill levels of all players involved at a table. Each factor is considered in detail separately, and also interactively and relative to the others in the process of explaining the merits of the theory and it’s positive effect on decision-making.

Arguably better than the verbal/text explanation of the “Matrix” ideas, covered over many pages, is the convenient “Matrix Theory: Starting Hand Charts” shown as Appendix C. Fairly easy to follow, the charts can quickly translate - “I’m in the small blind with AQ suited and there have been two limpers and a raise to me. What should I do?” - into sound advice in the form of a simple boxed answer. Overall, the Matrix Theory is a unique, well thought out tool for helping to understand what (and how) hands should be played while contemplating many factors.

There are many other “basic” ideas to improving No Limit Hold’em cash game skills that are presented from a new perspective, with refreshing insight. Russ Fox and Harker put their spin on tried and true knowledge from different angles. From “Knowing Your Opponents” to “Odds and Betting Strategies” – their views on all the heretofore “conventional wisdom” are contemporary and served up with a “we paid our dues” confidence that lends much credibility to their views on a wide array of subjects.

Toward the end of "Mastering No-Limit Hold'em: A Guide Cash Games," the authors shift focus to a more personal, less technical, aspect of the game; touching upon topics that, while perhaps not as widely considered by others, have an influential impact on any poker player’s mindset, performance and forward progress. Pointing out that poker “is the science of decision making”, they stress the importance of “managing your mind” - by discussing (among other things) ways to avoid tilt, and the importance of maintaining a balance between one’s mental and physical states. They help us understand that “reading oneself” is conceivably a greater skill than picking up tells on opponents. In addition, they offer suggestions on “managing your game” away from the table as well – in the form of taking notes; thinking and reading about poker; keeping records and journals; bankroll considerations, and even when to take a break from poker.

While they do not purport to writing magical formulas, or possessing the “Holy Grail” of No Limit Hold’em cash game secrets, Fox and Harker undoubtedly present a solid map for novice and intermediate No Limit players seeking a higher level of understanding of this complex game. Also sure to benefit are experienced Limit Hold’em players considering the switch. Considering the amount of interrelated subjects covered, the authors have laid out significant material in an organized manner that lends itself to being a timeless reference for years to come.

Purchase this book at Amazon

Mastering No Limit Hold'em

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