No Limit Hold'em Tournaments

Changing of the Guard

No Limit Holdem"Next time you're in the end zone, act like you've been there before, and that you're going to be there again." -- Vince Lombardi

The 2004 World Series of Poker Championship event was a key moment in poker history. Three times the number of players entered compared to 2003. The 2576 players made it at the time the largest brick and mortar poker tournament ever held, despite the $10,000 entry cost. Close to 1000 of these players won seats into the event via preliminary tournaments at one of the online poker card rooms. PokerStars sent 316 players alone, including the eventual champion, Greg "Fossilman" Raymer.

An historic tournament just for the turnout alone, I believe this event will be looked back in years to come as a historically defining moment, similar to how the first World Series in 1970 is thought about now. No Limit Hold'em tournaments changed forever.

To win a No Limit Hold'em event with thousands of players, you need to have played well and gotten extremely lucky, simply because that is the nature of Hold'em, but also because that is how a generation of players are learned how to play the game: "I go all-in". Race after race, virtual coin flip after coin flip... even if you play outstanding poker, and regularly get significant edges over your opponents, for example every hand you play you are a 2-1 favorite, to continually not lose requires loads of luck. This is unavoidable if your opponents force you to commit all your chips or fold. Folding 2-1 edges is not the road to Oz.

And some previously successful players HATE this way to play, this "Internet way" to play. Phil Hellmuth is notorious for not wanting to commit all his chips. He wants to see flops, make reads, and outplay his opponents. That is a great skill he has. But bad news for Phil, lots of the new breed of players don't want to let him use his skills. They will shove all-in. If they don't get called they win a smallish pot. If they do get called, they will take their chances with 50/50 or 60/40 or 30/70 races.

Frankly, No Limit Hold'em is just about the worst game to play with huge tournament fields. Skill will contribute to victory, but luck will be the greater influence. Again, this is the way Hold'em is designed. It is a game of small edges. Even "dominating" situations like AcKs versus Ah7d are less than 3-1. Imagine you playing 3-1 situations fifty times for all your chips. Eventually you will lose, unless you get outlandishly lucky. Of course, in the real world often times in all-in situations you will have more chips than your opponent, and thus won't be eliminated when you lose, but still it is a humbling reality to understand that even the greatest player will need a huge amount of luck to win a large No Limit Holdem event. (Luck is not nearly so central to Limit poker, or other games like Draw poker, where dominating situations are 100% to zero, like a pat full house versus a pat flush.)

Lots of people play poorly, and will gladly shove all their chips in as 1-3 underdogs. Part of their poor play is they have no clue that they are such dogs!

In major No Limit Holdem tournaments a large chunk of the skill required to win is very basic and simple, but it is absolute, pure skill where you consistently take the best of it into showdown situations and absorb fluctuations when you have bad luck. Some skills that work in tougher games are useless, and the way to win is fairly mechanical, but over time it is enormously profitable... even if the psychic pain of often losing to goofball play is hard for almost everyone to stomach.

See also Limit Texas Holdem and Making Money Playing Tournament Poker