There’s not a single recently published poker book, with the possible exception of Super / System 2, that has created as much buzz as this one. When it was released, a whole lot of people were truly delighted yes even ecstatic. This was not just the good players but also quite a few below-average small-stakes players who because of this book could now find a reason to a) play more hands and b) take them further. Quite often, it was claimed that Lee Jones’ Winning Low-Limit Hold’em had become worthless now that SSH was here, and on more than one occasion a separation had been made between the “bad”, “weak-tight” hold’em advice by Slotboom and Ciaffone on one hand, and the “good”, “loose-aggressive” approach by Miller on the other. At the same time, some critics of SSH claimed that the book actually assumed game conditions that almost never exist, not even at the small stakes (very loose, extremely passive, almost no players who have a clue), and that Miller just didn’t take his opponents seriously.
The truth is: all of the above statements are wrong. Small Stakes Hold’em is simply a very good book, that is focusing on how to beat the clueless, but that at the same time does take into account the habits of thinking players. Also, Mr. Miller is not promoting extremely loose play – his approach is indeed an aggressive one, but always from the basis of starting with solid values. He is just warning against either too timid play with hands that need to be defended, or against folding hands on the turn and river that a) get good enough odds to call, or b) that may in fact be best. All of this makes for an excellent book that may be easy to misinterpret though, as some of the advice may give the readers an incentive to call or raise with hands that don’t really warrant it. But for those who don’t fall into that trap, SSH is simply a superb book, with a wealth of great advice.
So, don’t I have any criticism then – are there no bad things about this book at all? Well, of course there are. Here are three things that I didn’t like:
· I found the section on tells rather disappointing. If what the author says is indeed true (“Small stakes games are usually rife with tells”, p. 244), then he should have discussed this more into depth, rather than just saying that there’s plenty of information on this subject available elsewhere.
· In the beginning of the book, Mr. Miller had an excellent analysis of calculating outs, where he gave a great description of the concept of partial outs. On page 101, he wrote: “You must account for partial outs when you are counting. If you count them for full value, you will overvalue your hand and call too often. If you discount them entirely, you will undervalue your hand and fold too much.” His description of how to do this is truly excellent, and is indeed exactly the way most pros calculate their odds, despite the fact that to my knowledge no one before Mr. Miller had ever discussed it in print. Therefore, I was genuinely disappointed when in the remainder of the book, in situations where drawing hands were behind and it was time to analyze their possible strength, the author himself used the old system of just counting the number of cards that could improve your hand, and not the odds of making your hand and then winning! For instance, on page 123, in a multiway pot (assumption from page 114), Miller estimates the 3♣2♣ on a flop Q♣8♣2♥ (i.e. bottom pair / low kicker / three high flush draw) as a “strong” hand, a “robust holding”, and most importantly: as a fourteen-out draw. Now, in a multiway pot, this can almost never be correct. Even if you are not up against a higher flush draw (and in a multiway pot, you should take this possibility into consideration at all times, especially with your suited cards this small) you still can’t count this hand as fourteen pure outs – exactly because of the reasons the author himself had given in earlier sections. Quoting from page 106: “Decide how likely each card is to make you a winner. Some cards give you the nuts and are full outs. Others like overcards, that may not be enough to win if hit, or any card that may cause a split pot, should be discounted as partial outs.” And, from the same page: “Decide how likely redraws are if you make your hand on the turn: potential redraws devaluate your hand.” Now, in this situation, because every turn card that improves your hand will still offer a whole lot of redraws, with not a single nut card in the deck and with the (albeit remote) possibility of even be drawing entirely dead (in the case of being up against a higher flush draw and a set), I think it is unforgivable to rate this hand as a fourteen-out draw. It is a hand that has fourteen cards to improve – but as the author has written himself, that is not the same. By counting outs in two manners (the “wrong” manner not just in this hand but also in a few others, and the “correct” manner like in the entire “Counting outs” section and also in hands like the one described on p. 241), he makes things unnecessary complicated for the readers who almost certainly get confused, for no other reason than that the author simply hasn’t stayed consistent with his counting methods throughout the book.
· Mr. Sklansky’s comment in the introduction that “making well over $50,000 per year playing $3-6 hold’em is now no big deal” (p. 2). In addition to the obvious question “How would he know – he probably has never played $3-6 in his entire life in a normal casino, let alone by multitabling on the Internet”, there is this: it is simply not true. Very few players are capable of making an average of, say, $25 per hour by multitabling at this level; in fact, a lot of decent to good players would be very happy to make anywhere from $12 to $16. Even if players could have an hourly rate of $25 over a prolonged period of time, they would have to log in 2,000 hours a year to make 50 grand, and even 2,800 hours to make “well over $50,000”, for 70 grand total. First of all, this doesn’t sound like much of a life to me, and second, just as importantly, when logging in so many hours playing three or four tables at the same time, it will be almost impossible to maintain this kind of hourly rate over time. This is because of the unavoidable boredom and fatigue, and also the danger of getting burned out is immense. (For instance, ever since I have started playing for a living I have never logged in more than 1,600 per year, in order to stay fresh at all times. And for me, this was almost always by playing at one table in a slow game in a B&M casino, not by playing four tables at the same time in fast games on the Net. Staying on top of your game at all times in these kinds of game conditions, is something that very few players will be able to do.) And if in fact there are people who don’t need to log in this many hours to make this kind of money, simply because they play so well that they can make much more than the $25 mentioned here even over time, then they would be such good players that they could almost certainly make even more money by focusing on the middle limits – as Mr. Miller himself has done. So, I do think it is a big deal for someone to make well over $50,000 by playing $3-6 – in fact, I think it is a very big deal.
· The book assumes extremely loose play and rather clueless opponents. While these games may have still existed when this book was released, nowadays even at the lower limits the games have become much tougher, tighter and more aggressive. This is especially true online, where the level of play has gone up significantly in recent years. For this reason, the book often assumes game conditions that may have become practically non-existent.
All in all, despite these four serious points of criticism, I still rate the book at an 8.5 out of 10, a rating higher than any other book barring David Sklansky’s monumental The Theory of Poker. This should make clear that I think that this book is of very high quality, and a must-read for anyone who is serious about being a successful limit hold’em player not just at the small, but also at the medium limits.