While 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.
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