On page 86 of Poker Essays, master strategist Mason Malmuth writes the following:
What has happened to the no-limit games? I don’t know of any that are regularly spread in Las Vegas cardrooms or in the Los Angeles area, although some no-limit still gets played in the side action at a few major tournaments….these games have died out. No-limit was too easy to play well (at least many situations seem to me to be very straighforward), and if you didn’t play well, you were quickly cleaned out.
Today, Malmuth’s opinion may seem absurdly wrong, especially given how no-limit has not only exploded worldwide in popularly, but come to dominate the poker landscape over the past decade. No-limit has become so widely accepted, that it’s now limit games which are in danger of dying out. Essentially, the modern poker scene is a complete reverse of the scenario Malmuth once described.
The intent here isn’t to ridicule Malmuth, nor take his opinions out of context (which I admittedly have done). What he wrote in the paragraph above was actually published back in 1991, and was right on the money. Malmuth, nor anyone else, could have possibly predicted what would happen to poker in the future. Moreoever, I’m convinced history has actually proven him right. In this essay, I’ll try to explain why.
Malmuth continued with the following opinion:
Limit play, of course, is not like this. Although it’s true that poor players will go broke in the long run, they can have some fun on the way. The edge that the expert no-limit player had on weak opponents was just too great, because often little doubt exists as to what the corect decision is, and when a weak opponent does not make the correct decision, he has only a slight chance and is usually severely punished for his error.
We can debate whether limit or no-limit is a more skillful game. Years ago, judging by the general reaction among players and strategists to Malmuth’s opinion, most believed no-limit required more skill. Popular opinion probably sides even more strongly with the no-limit side of the argument today. In fact, many of today’s poker players have no experience playing limit at all. This dated game variant seems destined for the same fate as five-card draw and seven-card stud.
Plenty of evidence suggests poker’s doing just fine right now, despite some negatives. Still, I wonder how much bigger the game might be if we returned to the conditions that were prevalent back in 1991. In other words, what if everyone was playing limit, instead of no-limit?
At least a couple of things would be different. First, there would be more players and games. The weaker players who gradually went bust over the past decade, many of whom never came back again, would have played longer and perhaps even burrowed themselves into the poker community for life. After all, limit involves sheering the sheep, while no-limit means slaughtering lambs.
Second, and perhaps more important, I’m convinced players would have more fun playing limit poker. Limit games tend to be more social. There are good reasons for this. One mistake in no-limit can cost a player his/her entire stack. So, the atmosphere in no-limit games tends to be more intense (there are exceptions, of course). The gravity of an error isn’t nearly so big playing limit, what amounts to only the size of a standard big bet. Accordingly, more people talk in limit games. They get to know each other better. The make friends. More table socialization enhances the enjoyment of most players. So, they would want to play longer and sit down at the tables more often.
My background as a player confirms this. I’ve gone through at least three periods in my life when I played massive numbers of hours, and by this I mean 50-70 hours a week. Two of these periods occured before the poker boom. One occured right afterward, during the heyday of online poker’s explosion, when the games at most sites were dynamite.
Looking back now, it was interesting that poker didn’t grow much between 1993 and 2003, when limit was king. But even though there wasn’t much expansion, players didn’t drop out of the game either. After all, they could only lose so much. And, they had fun while playing. The poker market remained stable for solid decade, and this was without any new markets opening up, or the benefit of any hit television shows, or any other means of promotion for the game. In essense, the poker universe was considerably smaller, but also less volitile. People stuck around cardrooms year-to-year.
Because limit games were more fun, that’s why. Those of us who played lots of poker during the 1980s and 1990s remember the huge multi-way pots in typical live-action games. We remember the vast sea of $3-6, $4-8, and $5-10 games going around the clock wherever casino poker was spread. In the games I spent most of my time, playing $10-20 up to $40-80, this was also true. We remember lots of post-flop action, which made the games far more entertaining to play and watch while being at the table. We remember players acting quickly and not grandstanding with time-wasting delays, agonizing over whether or not to call an all-in raise. Indeed, poker was more interesting and enjoyable when limit dominated.
If that’s not convincing enough, then consider the future of no-limit, which calls for skepticism. Are present conditions sustainable? Probably not. We’ve already begun to see a falloff in some poker markets where weaker players go bust too quickly, and then never come back. While poker, in general, remains capable of expansion (especially online), the fish pool is limited because of the higher ”kill off” factor. In short, it’s far better to have a player lose $5,000-per-year to the poker economy over a ten-year span, than $50,000 within a single year. That’s because the loser feels little or no pain from donating that sum of money each year. And so, he’ll probably play another ten years, or more. Contrast this with the pain of losing $50,000 in a year, which still stings. Even though it’s the same loss, this experience not only turns him against the game forever but aslo prevents him for being an advocate for poker among his freinds and colleagues (i.e., recruiting more players).
When this year’s World Series of Poker official schedule was released, I took some serious heat from a few longtime poker veterans who criticized fewer limit events on the schedule (particularly limit hold’em). While I had little to do with that decision, the numbers don’t lie. Participation in limit tournaments is down. Limit hold’em used to draw the biggest fields of any event (even bigger than the Main Event Championship). But those days are long gone. There just aren’t that many limit players around anymore, and they’re only a small fraction of the overall global market which remains unwaveringly loyal to no-limit.
My personal view is that I’d like to see limit make a major comeback. I’d like to see far more limit games spread, because I think that’s better for the overall health of the game. I’m also convinced the skills necessary to win are just as critical in limit as no-limit, as Malmuth once said. But that’s a debate for another time.
What would a mass conversion from no-limit back to limit mean for the average poker player? I believe a significant expansion of limit poker would give a greater number of players a chance to share what I believe would be a greater pool of wealth. It would take longer to get the money, for sure — which benefits the house (more games going longer means a bigger drop). The game would be better for most people, even the losers because they wouldn’t lose as much, as fast.
In summary, my conclusions are as follows:
(1) Limit requires a different skill set than no-limit. It’s strategies are just as complex. Limit arguably may even be more of a skill game than no-limit.
(2) While no-limit is ideally suited for televised events, limit poker is better for most players who play cash games, both in cardrooms and online.
(3) A substantial increase in the percentage of limit hold’em games in most cardrooms and online would be far better for most players and the long-term growth of poker.
Today, I’d like to tell you about the most important person in the world to me. Her name is Marieta. We were married 23 years ago on this day.
I wonder. How did the time pass so quickly? Where did the years go?
I remember the first time Marieta came to my eyes, that unexpected instant of perfect clarity, that fleeting moment of pure bliss. She was too beautiful, I thought. I had no shot. I didn’t stand a chance.
But the stars do align sometimes. Lightning strikes.
That first date was awkward. The first kiss even more awkward. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing, not even for an instant. Instead, I’d joyously re-live it over and over, again and again, if only I could. If only I had the power.
These past 23 years haven’t been merely extraordinary. They’ve been unimaginable. Were they always easy? No. Were there challenges? Yes. Finding buried treasure usually requires some serious digging, some personal sacrifice. But in the end, it’s worth it.
Remember the places we went? Remember the things we saw and the people we met over the years? Some remain, and some are gone now. Remember the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the smells, and the soft embrace of our hands joined together so many times as we soaked in the rest of the world?
Those memories remain alive.
Not because of me, but because of you.
Teenage Marieta sometime during the late 1970s
Marieta and I first met in March 1990. We went on a blind date which was arranged by a mutual freind. Since then, she’s been on my mind every day of my life. From that very first gaze.
But long before I came into the picture, Marieta had a wonderfully interesting life in Bucharest, Romania. She spoke four languages. She graduated from college with an engineering degree in structure and design.
The photo below is my favorite one of Marieta. It was taken just before we met. She’s standing on the balcony of her apartment, gazing over the city on a cold winter day. There’s a sweet innocence infused with strength that really comes through in this picture, don’t you agree?
My favorite photograph of Marieta, taken about the time of the Romanian Revolution, in 1989
The story of how Marieta and I met bears tellng.
One afternoon, I was driving by myself in central Bucharest. I accidentally struck a pedestrian who dashed illegally across the middle of the street (he was injured, but recovered). While filling out the offical police report of the incident, another man about my age (I was 27 at the time) assisted me. Because my Romanian language skills weren’t precise enough given this was a serious legal matter, the man was very helpful when dealing with the authorities. After that, the man and I became good freinds.
Soon thereafter, he asked if I wanted to go out on the date with the freind of his girlfreind. We would go on a double date. How could I resist?
The four of us met and ended up going out to a restaurant called “Pesca Rus.” This was an exciting time to be living in Eastern Europe. The revolution had just happened and communism had ended, which means things were suddenly open. Just about everywhere you went in those days people were eager to go out in public and talk for the first time in decades, especially to foreigners. But if I was interesting to her, Marieta was far more so to me.
On one of our first dates, along the famous Blvd. Casa Republicii, and the grand palace (Barely visible in rear), which was then the largest government building in the world
Marieta and I enjoyed a most unusual courtship period. We didn’t do the usual boyfriend-girlfreind routine. I think that’s what made our relationship a little more special. We were even part of history.
This was an intense time of political upheaval. There were protests and demonstrations everywhere. Marieta and I went to the demonstrations every day for three months straight. We sang songs and listened to speeches. Sometimes, things turned violent and got dangerous. I even got arrested once. And Marieta was with me at all times, right there on the front lines. She became my barricade.
I wanted to marry her, if only she’d accept. First, I asked for her father’s hand in marriage, because that was the Romanian custom and the way things were done back then. Fortunately, he said “yes.” Even more fortunate, Marieta said “yes.”
Marieta becomes an American citizen
Five years later, Marieta and I were living in Washington, D.C. The photo above shows the day she became a proud new citizen of the United States.
I remember the days leading up to the test and the ceremony. I rememeber Marieta studying her citizenship guide and memorizing the Pledge of Allegiance, the words to the National Anthem, and even certain articles of the U.S. Constitution. She took her responsibilities and new citizenry seriously. Coming from her background perhaps, gave her a special appreciation for what we have here, those things that many of us often take for granted.
Here’s another of my favorite photos of Marieta (below). About 20 years ago, we were driving through Brussells one afternoon and this just seemed like the perfect place to stop and snap a photograph.
It turned out pretty good, I think.
Marieta in a city park in Brussells, Belgium during the mid-1990s
One sees lots of different things in the span of time that we’ve been married. One sees the other person as they really are. One sees the changes that inevitably come with the passing of time. One also experiences changes within.
Sadly, because of the inevitability of change in life, some people grow apart over the years. Others grow closer together.
I think in our case, we’ve grown closer together. Some trees grow and end up standing apart. Others grow and their branches become intertwined.
A few years ago, somewhere nice
Marieta works harder than anyone else I know. She has a number of interesting hobbies. She also does volunteer work, putting in many hours a week. I would tell you more about all the things Marieta does, but she forbids me to do so.
You see, Marieta is a private person. She prefers to keep the things she does for others to herself. But I know very well about them. She’s made living much easier for so many. Trust me. If only you knew.
Marieta in our backyard, photo taken last year
When I dream of what I want in the future, I sometimes have doubts. How can anyone truly know what they will want years from now? How can anyone know what will make them happy? Will we be interested in the same things? Will be have the same dreams and desires?
For many, the worst tragedy of life is making a goal, working hard to get there, and then acheiving it — only to find it wasn’t worth the sacrifice. I think most of us do that with some things. We can’t help it, really. It just happens. And that leads to sadness and to disappointment.
But some things remain constant. Love may change. But devotion does not. Devotion never wavers. Devotion never changes.
Together in New Orleans a few months ago
Since we said “I do,” several years have passed since those magical words of matrimony. Twenty-three years, which amounts to 8,395 days seems like such a long time.
I sometimes wonder – wouldn’t it be nice to start all over again?
Imagine the joy of starting fresh, like this was our very first day together — the first day of the rest of our lives.
And so, let us begin anew. Starting today. Starting right now.
I’ve been asked lots of questions recently about the new television production I’ve been working on with Todd Anderson and Rush Street Productions called, “Poker Night in America.” Recall that we’ve already filmed and completed three successful events (in New York, Reno, and Pittsburgh) and are preparing for more shows in the coming months.
There’s lots of breaking news ahead, including a major announcement coming up about when and where the new show will air. I know many poker players and fans are eager to see what we’re doing, and the debut show should get a lot of people talking. We hope and expect this to be a real game-changer.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in being up-to-date with all the latest news and developments at “Poker Night in America,’ then sure and sign up for our free newsletter, which is sent out by e-mail. This is a way to make sure you know what’s ahead for our television show and the locations where we plan to film. Maybe you can come and be a part of the action and fun.
To subscribe, go to: pokernight.com/mailinglist
Our next stop is near Baltimore at the Maryland Live Casino. The tournament begins next week. We start filming in two weeks. Here’s the latest press release which tells you more:
Sorry to disappoint everyone, but today’s post isn’t about sex.
It’s about dogs, namely two cutesy canines I saw yesterday while driving on the streets of Las Vegas.
These weren’t your typical mutts. To the contrary, these dogs know how to travel in style.
The photograph below is a close up-shot of a doggie driver who looks like he’s about ready to start the engine and drive away. Gee, I wonder if he flashes his middle paw out the window and barks when other drivers cut him off in traffic? And, how come he’s not wearing a seat belt?
Russia needs to get out of the Ukraine!
Who does Russian President Valdimir Putin think he is — invading a nation divided amongst itself and caught up in the midst of a revolution?
The United Sates of America would never do such a thing — except when it came to fighting wars in Korea (1950-1953) and Vietnam (1964-1975).
What does Russia expect to accomplish – crossing international borders and intervening directly into the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation?
The United States would never do such a thing — except when it came to lauching invasion forces multiple times within our own hemisphere, in Cuba (1961), the Dominican Republic (1965), Grenada (1983), Panama (1989-1990), and Haiti (1995).
Russia needs to learn to mind its own business and not meddle in the affairs other nations, no matter how justified military action might seem to be.
The United States would never do such a thing — except in places such as Syria (1949), Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Cambodia (1970-1975), Chile (1973), El Salvador (1982-1986), Nicaragua (1981-1987), and Libya (2011).
Russia is dead wrong to use its powerful military force to restore order. Russian troops have no right to be anywhere on the ground within the Ukraine/Crimea.
The United States would never do such a thing — except in war-torn regions like Kuwait/Iraq (1990-1991), Somalia (1992-1994), and Bosnia-Kosovo (1993-1995).
Russia is staging an unprovoked, pre-emptive attack against a foreign nation, which showed no discernable intent whatsoever to threaten or intervene in Russian affairs in any way.
The United States would never do such a thing — except when it came to going to war under false pretenses in Iraq (2003-2012, with ongoing occupation in the form of military bases) and Afghanistan (2002 to present).