Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Review of Percentage Hold’em

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This book holds a nostalgic place in my heart as one of the first really solid products to come out of discussions held on the newsgroup {\tt rec.gambling.poker}, although at that time it was just {\tt rec.gambling}. Percentage Hold’em, subtitled “The Book of Numbers”, is a set of explanations around an enormous number of simulations of how various Hold’em two card starting hands play against other starting hands, in situations ranging from heads-up play to eleven player tables.

The computing power available to the author at the time the book was written was a tiny fraction (probably less than 1/100) of what’s available on the desktop of the average reader of this review. Nonetheless, Case (a pseudonym, although the name the author reveals in the book, Will Hyde, seems almost equally improbable to me) performs enough calculations so that the results are trustworthy. The methodologies are clearly explained so that all but the most math-phobic reader can easily understand how the author arrives at his results.

The bulk of the book is made up of tables. These tables take a given two card starting hand in Texas Hold’em, for example, QJ suited, and ran it against from 1 to 10 random other starting hands 500,000 times each and determined what percentage of the time the given hand won. Of course, a hand that wins 37% of the time against 3 other opponents is probably worth playing. Therefore, Case also adjusts each hand based on the number of opponents playing, with any hand recording a positive number being a positive expectation play. There are additional tables detailing in each of these situations what the distribution of the values of the winning hands are (e.g., two pair, straight) among other information.

Case even goes so far as to advocate this Slot Gacor information as a (the) criterion for starting hand selection, a strategy he calls “Percentage Play”. Other authors have suggested that computer simulations are dangerous because they can lead one to make incorrect inferences about the value of certain hands and how they should be played. While I believe simulations are very valuable, I agree that though easy, the link between simulation and a live game can be tenuous at best, and I have to say that “Percentage Play” is a prime example of taking simulations too far. I don’t advocate players actually use this strategy in favor of methods advocated by other authors as I don’t think it’s very strong at all as a complete strategy. Even though it may be sufficient to overcome the house drop at the very weakest games, for example the infamous low limit no fold’em hold’em games found in California (among other places) where some games actually come startlingly close to approximating this naive style of play, I believe that playing in the manner described by the better poker authors in other books will be more profitable for the reader.

However, that doesn’t mean that this book is without value. On the contrary, I consider my copy to be a crucial part of my poker library. I found that how the relative values of hands change as the number of players in the game changes to be quite interesting. I also found insight in the hand rankings for short handed games, and one can easily infer how much more valuable suited hands become as the number of players in the game increases by looking at these charts. Further, from the data in this book one can derive what the chances that one flush might get beat by another given any two suited cards and assuming that one’s opposition always plays their suited cards to the river. While these numbers can’t be taken as gospel, they can be used to provide an upper bound on how often one can expect to be beat by a flush-over-flush situation assume one plays a specific hand.

The book also contains 50 page section at the end of the book called “The Lowball Book” which, as one might expect, includes Case’s “Percentage” strategy for beating the game of five card draw for low as it used to be played (and still is, in tiny pockets) in the card rooms of California. Even though this game is rarely played any more this section is still at interesting. While there are considerable subtleties to Lowball, I suspect that with the straightforward mathematics of making draws and only two betting rounds that this game is more susceptible to being beaten by a percentage strategy.

This book had been out of print for quite some time. At the time of this writing, though, it’s available again directly from Whitestone Books. It can be ordered from their web site at: http://www.whitestone.com/. While I don’t recommend that the strategies advocated in this book should be adopted rote by serious players, there is easily enough highly valuable information contained in its pages to make it an important reference in any poker library.

Capsule:
Percentage Hold’em advocates a Texas Hold’em playing strategy based upon computer simulations that have determined which starting hands have a positive expectation against opponents’ random hands. I don’t think very much of this as a strategy, but the data the book contains is exceptional. The advice in this book should not be taken as gospel but there is a lot of information here that most players should find valuable if they take the time to explore its depths. The book also contains a section called “The Lowball Book” which applies a similar strategy to the game of Lowball. I recommend this book as a worthwhile addition to any poker library.

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