01/04/2006 1:00AM

Name's the same but strategy isn't


From what I have seen in my first two years of playing poker, there are several hundred terms that pertain to Texas hold'em and another few hundred that relate to poker in general.

Obviously, anyone hoping to discuss the nuances of poker strategy should take the time to learn these terms. A complete glossary of these terms can be found on partypoker.com and other poker-related web sites, including the poker discussion site rec.gambling.poker, where ideas and hand situations are readily argued and analyzed.

But, before you take another step forward in your own learning experience, I suggest coming to grips with the game's most misunderstood term: Texas hold'em.

Texas hold'em actually is the generic term for at least four different kinds of Texas hold'em poker. Moreover, the differences between these deceptively similar games and their variations should lead to radically different strategic choices.

Low-limit hold'em is distinguished by one simple fact: Relatively cheap betting levels. This would include the blinds, which are the forced bets required by the two players to the left of the imaginary dealer button. Thus the best winning strategy in low-limit hold'em is to forget about bluffing and wait for premium starting hands and pounce on promiscuous players who can't stay out of pots even when they have mediocre two-card holdings. These same pigeons also tend to pay off with ill-advised calls (matching wagers) when the flop (the first three community cards) gives them weak flush and straight draws, or insignificant pairs.

In high-limit hold'em, an early raise can pick up the blinds without a fight or give players pause before they put more chips into a pot with a weak holding. Playing tight, or getting involved only with solid or very promising hole cards, still is a good high-limit strategy, but only if you are capable of varying your play from time to time. Otherwise you will find players folding when you raise with a good hand. This will win you small pots and lose your best opportunities to take down serious money.

No-limit hold'em is not the game you see on TV. That's tournament no limit, which is another form of this game, one of several, in fact.

Whereas regular no-limit hold'em or pot-limit hold'em can be played with relatively low or relatively high blinds that do not change during the course of 10 or 1,000 hands, tournament hold'em - be it limit TH, no-limit TH, or pot-limit TH - has an accelerating blind structure. Thus, the minimum bets and forced blinds will increase as the game moves along according to time-stamped schedules.

This programmed acceleration to higher and higher blinds puts enormous pressure on players with dwindling chip stacks. Such players are going to be forced into overbetting mediocre holdings out of desperation to get into contention. In such cases, players who accumulate large chip stacks can bully weak players out of hands they might otherwise play.

The all-in bet, of course, is the weapon that players use in regular and tournament no-limit hold'em to drive potential competition out of pots. It is an equally powerful tool to take down players who misjudge their relative strength compared to yours. Yet, the all-in bet is the high-wire act of this frequently diabolical game because it can properly be used by weak or short-stacked players seeking a puncher's chance to double up their dwindling chip stacks to keep their hopes alive.

All this may seem rudimentary to some, but I have found that the vast majority of players seem oblivious to the subtle differences in strategy that revolve around the blind structures in these different forms of hold'em poker. At the same time, there is a strategic concept that relates to the blinds in all forms of hold'em that is helping me improve my game step by step.

Because the player sitting at the imaginary dealer button acts last in all rounds of betting except the first, it usually is the best position at the table for that hand. Yet, it is wrong to think that the blinds, which act first in all rounds of betting except the first round, are a terrible place to be. Fact is, the blinds - which act last before the flop - are great hiding places for strong hands, or hands that have excellent potential, pending the flop. This is because you do not have to reveal the quality of your holding via a wager after having already placed a bet (big blind) or partial bet (small blind) in the pot.

Should someone place a raise in the pot before the flop, even a modest call by you from one of the blinds will not give away much if any information. Although playing slow or underplaying your hand is sometimes a big mistake, learning how to shield information is just as important as knowing the mathematical odds of making the nuts (the best possible hand).

Being able to disguise a strong or promising holding at a discounted price is an advantage that can make the blinds very profitable. There is a parallel to this in horseracing. In racing, the object of the game is not to win a lot of cinch races with small payoffs, but to make big scores with well designed plays. In poker, the object is not to win a lot of easy hands with small pots, but to win big pots when others think they have you beat. Sometimes being stuck in the blinds is not being stuck at all.

Steven Davidowitz plays as "StevenLD" on various Internet poker sites and is the author of the classic handicapping book "Betting Thoroughbreds."