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Most of us play poker for recreation – as do I. So do all of the 200-plus members of our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group and the CalVet Poker Group at the VA/West L.A. And, I would wager, so do most of the millions of poker players throughout the world.

There are two basic varieties of the game of Texas hold’em: (1) Limit – with well defined stakes; and (2) No-limit (NL) – where the only restriction on betting (or raising) is how many chips you have stacked in front of you.

NL has taken over more tables than ever and is the preferred game by far for tournaments. So, why do I prefer limit over no limit hold’em? And I am not alone. In a few words, it is because limit games are much less stressful and more fun. And that’s what recreation is all about.

All varieties of poker provide mental challenge and social interaction. In addition, recreational players seek pleasure and relaxation (as distinct from work).

After learning the basics of the game, we then proceed to develop our poker skills. The more skilled we become, the more we win. “And winning is always great fun!” (I quote my wife, deceased.) That’s it in a nutshell: Limit hold’em is more enjoyable, and less stressful; and it’s easier to win at it. It’s more fun than NL games!

Let me explain. The skills demanded in achieving success in NL games are considerably greater than in limit games, so making the right decisions is much more difficult. This all adds up to more stress – less pleasure and relaxation – less fun.

In this regard, in a column published a few years ago in another publication, renowned poker psychologist Dr. Alan Schoonmaker offered several key, significant differences, to which I have added my own thoughts. In each case, the net effect is to make NL more stressful – less fun:

Poker expertise involves selective math competence. Because time is short (about two minutes for a typical hand), a good player must think quickly as he estimates the card odds and pot odds, and other relevant mathematical concepts. As Dr. Schoonmaker points out, there are far more variables in NL math, making it even more difficult.

“A good memory is important in both limit and NL games. Remember what kind of player each opponent is – tight or loose; passive or aggressive; a maniac who loves to raise it up; a calling-station who never folds; or a timid player who is easily bluffed out. But “you need a better memory for NL because the (playing) patterns are more complicated.”

More work, more effort, and more difficult for the players. This is further exacerbated in NL because you get to see your opponents’ cards at the showdown much less often. Memory becomes more critical as we age. To some extent, we can reduce this stress by learning how to take notes as the game is played. I teach note-taking to my Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group.

In both games, you need to see the big picture, and plan future steps, accordingly. Planning in NL games is more intricate, making for a more stressful playing experience. Because there are so many more variables and factors to be considered, NL requires more intense concentration – more stress.

Logical thinking helps you to make the best decisions. In limit games, bet size and stack size are not major decision-making factors, as they are in NL games. This severely confuses the player’s logical thinking, necessitating greater reliance on one’s intuition to make decisions, making the occasion much more stressful.

Furthermore, because of the disparity in bet sizing as a hand progresses in NL, the implied pot odds take on major consideration in deciding whether to call with a drawing hand. This is much more difficult and far less accurate than when the bets are fixed in size. More stress!

To this I might add, because of the higher stakes (and greater risk to poker budgets), NL hold’em players are bound to be more skilled. Playing against tougher opponents, certainly, is more stressful – less fun.

So, all in all, I’ll stick with limit hold’em.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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