In Harrington on Online Cash Games, Harrington and two-time World Backgammon Champion Bill Robertie have written the definitive books on no-limit cash games in the online world. This books will teach you what you need to know to be a winner playing on the Internet. Recently, however, players have been gravitating to another, even more complex form of hold 'em - no-limit cash games. Harrington on Cash Games: Volume II continues where Volume I left off. In sections on turn and river play, Harrington explains why these are the most important streets in no-limit hold 'em, and shows how to decide when to bet or check, when to call or fold, and when to commit all your chips.
- In Harrington on Cash Games, Harrington and two-time World Backgammon Champion Bill Robertie have written the definitive books on no-limit cash games.
- A must read for tournament players User Review - mslibbyo - Borders. If you are a tournament specialist struggling with your cash game, this is the read for you. I found the book to be very well written and understandable, even better than Harrington on Hold'Em.
My One Minute Recommendation:
Harrington on Cash Games Volume One scores a 5/10. Players who are new to NLHE cash games will find it initially helpful, especially if they are interested in full ring play. Those who are already moderately successful at cash games will find little of use, especially if they are trying to improve at short-handed online games.
The original Harrington on Hold ‘Em revolutionized tournament poker, introducing tens of thousands of amateur players to what were then advanced moves and concepts: the continuation bet, the squeeze play, and M, the now-famous ratio of a player’s stack to the blinds and antes. This legacy created unrivaled anticipation for the Harrington on Cash Games (HOC) series, the first two volumes of which were released simultaneously last week.
So are they worth the hype? As with so many questions in no-limit hold ’em (NLHE), the answer is, “It depends.” Players who are new to NLHE cash games will have the most to gain, especially if they are interested in full ring play. Those who are already moderately successful at cash games will find few springboards to improvement, especially if they are interested in short-handed online games.
The books are wisely geared towards fans of tournament books who want to venture into no-limit cash games. Harrington writes primarily about full ring (i.e. 9- or 10-handed) games, and though his examples sometimes suggest otherwise, his advice is most applicable in smaller stakes, passive live games. Again, this makes sense given the implicitly intended audience, but it ought to have been made more clear.
Reading HOC Volume 1 should certainly make cash game novices safer and more confident at the tables. Harrington’s advice steers them clear of common and expensive pitfalls, particularly the perils of playing out of position and overvaluing one-pair hands. Armed with this advice, new players will be able to protect their bankrolls and avoid hemorrhaging money while they learn from the best teacher of all: experience.
This is a double-edged sword, however. Because so much of the advice in HOC Volume I borders on the formulaic and overly cautious, it carries the very real danger of delaying, if not stunting, the growth of advanced no-limit hold ’em skills. Reading an opponent’s hand and manipulating his range, which even 2+2’s David Sklansky has acknowledged as the most important and profitable NLHE skills, are not only lacking from but positively devalued by HOC Volume I.
The result is a manual that, though very good for turning a new player into a reasonably good player, may actually delay that same player’s transition to becoming very good or great. More experienced, higher stakes players, particularly those accustomed to more aggressive short-handed online games, will find little of use, at least in the first volume of the series.
Concepts and Theory
Harrington gets a lot of tricky bits of poker theory right, explaining them concisely but clearly and convincingly. He suggests some analogies and thought experiments that should be very helpful to players who lack a clear understanding of metagame, implied odds, equity, and the way stack sizes affect proper play. Reading these sections of HOC Volume I before starting a session could easily double or triple the educational value of the experience accumulated during that session.
Unfortunately, it will be necessary for the player to supply the experience himself, because Harrington’s practical advice and examples, though numerous, are often misleading and sometimes painfully bad. In his Introduction, for instance, the author analyzes a hand from High Stakes Poker where the players brutally bungle nearly every key decision point. They even violate Harrington’s oft-repeated warnings against overvaluing one pair, not giving opponents enough credit in multi-way pots, and bloating the pot from out of position. Despite all of this, the author concludes that, “This was a great hand, with a lot of excellent decisions by the three main players.”
Part of the problem stems from the fact that Harrington seems confused about the central objectives of the NLHE cash game player and how they differ from those of the tournament player. In the Introduction, he nonsensically asserts that, “in tournament poker, your time horizon is very limited. You need to seize every opportunity as it presents itself or risk getting blinded away. Cash games don’t have that same kind of pressure. They’re much more a game of patience. You don’t need to swing at balls that just graze the strike zone; you can wait for the fat ones that you can blast out of the park.”
To the extent that there’s any truth to this claim, it is owing to the deeper stacks generally found in cash game play, not to any kind of time limitation. A tournament player can gladly felt an overpair in many situations simply because the money already in the pot is so large relative to the money remaining in his stack, not because he won’t have time to find a better opportunity. A cash game player with a similar stack would have no reason to pass on this opportunity, and a deep-stacked tournament player would need to be more cautious with all of his chips that have not yet been wagered.
In the very next section, Harrington offers a much more helpful summary of the key principles at work in NLHE cash games, which he calls “The Strength Principle” (bet strong hands, check middling ones, fold or bluff weak ones), “The Aggression Principle” (betting and raising is generally better than checking and calling), “The Betting Principle” (most good bets will either force better hands to fold, weaker hands to call, or drawing hands to pay too high a price), and “The Deception Principle” (“Never do anything all of the time.”) This is a pretty good introduction to deep-stacked NLHE play, and only the fourth principle is a bit incomplete. After all, many good players manage to be very deceptive while always playing a certain hand the same way simply because they also play very different hands in an identical fashion.
Though Harrington does an admirable job with these “Basic Concepts”, his explorations of these key concepts is ultimately shallow and rudimentary. This is part of what makes it good for beginners, but it is also the reason why more advanced players will have little to gain from this volume. Implied odds, for instance, are absolutely critical to NLHE and ripe for in-depth analysis, but HOC Volume I never gets beyond the elementary definition of ‘how much you stand to win if you hit your hand.’
But implied odds are about more than winning additional bets. They are about equity that can be accumulated on later streets, whether from value betting, bluffing, or all around out-playing an opponent because of a certain card that flopped, turned, or rivered Yet Harrington has little to say about how factors like position and bluff outs can influence the calculation of pot odds.
The second major part of the book focuses on “The Elements of No-Limit Hold ‘Em Cash”, topics like hand selection, pot commitment, and hand reading. Once again, Harrington explains these quite well and occasionally even rises to the level of insightful. A few of his gems may enlighten even some relatively knowledeable readers, as when he rather succintly states that, “By playing a mix of hands, you’re actually reducing your opponent’s implied odds on his speculative hands” or when he says, “you need to be sure that any betting action by you is capable of multiple interpretations by an observant opponent.”
The Tight-Aggressive Strategy
The bulk of the book outlines what Harrington names his “Tight-Aggressive Strategy”. Harrington’s emphasis on practical advice was a much-appreciated hallmark of his tournament series, but there is a reason why the better cash game books of late have focused on theory and principles. Even played full ring, deep-stack NLHE allows for a huge amount of flexibility in the play of any given hand. Nebulous factors such as history, table image, and meta-game can swing a call into a fold or a fold into a raise, but they are notoriously difficult to encapsulate in a playbook.
Harrington is on the right track by introducing a coherent strategy that demonstrates a possible mix of hand ranges in the situations he examines. However, readers rarely get more than a glimpse of the reasoning behind the particular frequencies and combinations he recommends. The author himself admits the haphazard nature of his strategy when he resorts to justifying a certain mix of checks and bets because it “feels about right.” Granted this is not going to be an exact science, but without a much more thorough explanation of how various plays and hands complement each other, the reader gets a recipe rather than a learning tool.
When Harrington does share his reasoning, it’s often disappointing. The fundamental problem is that he rarely argues in terms of equity. He prefers instead to talk about information, pot control, and “taking down the pot”, all of which ought to be subordinate to manipulating an opponent’s range so as to maximize your equity. Presumably hand-reading and equity analysis lie somewhere below the surface when the author indicates that a bet “smells like a bluff” or that it is “too soon to give up”, but he never reveals the warrants for his extra-sensory perceptions.
This flawed reasoning is evident when the author says things like, “A pot-sized bet is large enough to accomplish anything that a bigger bet could accomplish.” Although an overbet may provide as much information as a pot-sized bet and charge draws a good price, the one thing it does not accomplish as well ought to be obvious: putting more money into the pot when you have the best hand! Similarly, there is no intrinsic need to take a moderate but likely best hand to showdown. A bet that exposes you to a raise is not a liability if only hands that have you crushed will make that raise.
Harrington’s reasoning also tends to rely on assumptions about his opponents that will ring false to most players. They are people who fold AQ to a single raise on dry Ace-high flops and let the first person to bet at a paired board take it down, no matter how implausible his line.
As for the strategy itself, it isn’t bad. Pre-flop, Harrington makes some good points about how and why to diversify your ranges. His central premise, that NLHE is about seeing a lot of cheap flops, can’t be true for everyone at the table, but it’s true enough if you’re one of the best. This section also debunks some common myths about pot odds and what hands should be played out of position for a discount.
The section on flop play in heads up pots is the longest in the book, and undeservedly so. Flop play has at least as much to do with how the board texture fits your opponent’s pre-flop range as it does with your own hand, yet Harrington’s analysis always proceeds from the latter. And despite its length, this section barely scratches the surface of possible flop situations. It’s an admirable attempt, but offering practical advice for every situation is simply impossible. Explanation of the decision-making process, which is so much more important, is the inevitable casualty.
This isn’t to say that there is no explanation of the decision-making process- quite the contrary. But as explained above, a lot of important stuff is left out. Covering those details would have been much more useful than a engaging in a precise and minute analysis of a few select flop situations from every angle.
The section on flop play in multi-way pots is both shorter and better. Rather than analyzing examples ad nauseum, Harrington concentrates on the big picture. He repeatedly hammers home his central thesis that play generally should and will be more straight-forward. For this reason, position is especially valuable. And despite what Harrington says, your bets should often be smaller, since the mere act of betting will command more respect.
Harrington reserves turn and river play for Volume II, which severely limits the stand-alone value of this book. Tournament converts will need the most help on these streets, and the fact that these sections complete the Tight-Aggressive strategy, HOC Volume I does not contain a fully playable strategy, even though the outlining of such occupies the bulk of the book.
Ultimately, the author’s preference for practical advice over theoretical discussion makes Harrington on Cash Volume I something of a crutch for beginning players, with all of the good and bad that that implies. It will surely plug some common leaks and keep them out of trouble, which means that smaller stakes games will probably start to get a bit tougher. Because the material on winning NLHE thought processes is so sporadic and flawed, however, this book may actually stunt a reader’s growth at some point and will certainly be of little use to experienced players seeking to improve or to short-handed players of any stripe. They might do well to read it anyway, however, simply to be up on the latest formulaic play likely to invade the NLHE scene.
How to Win at No-Limit Hold ‘Em Money Games Volume II
by Dan Harrington
Harrington on Cash Games Volume II covers turn and river play as well as playing loose and aggressive, dealing with others who play that way, bankroll management, and other topics. Harrington explains complex poker theory well, but when it comes to putting it into practice, his advice is hit-or-miss. His recommendations for playing the turn are solid enough, but he badly misunderstands river play, and his advice for beating loose-aggressive players and weak games is a little lacking. Small-stakes players and those new to cash games will get a lot from this book, especially if they know what to ignore, but more experienced players will find many of the advanced topics misguided and unhelpful.
Harrington on Cash Games Volume II (HOC2) is subtitled “How to Win at No-Limit Hold ‘em Money Games” but it might well have been subtitled “Cash Game Poker For Second-Level Thinkers” instead. Harrington’s advice is useful up to a point, but he rarely gets past his own hand and his opponent’s possible hands to think about what his opponent believes he has, let alone what she thinks she has represented to him.
As in Volume I, Harrington gets a lot of poker theory right, often finding helpful and insightful ways to explain complex ideas, but generally fails in his attempts to illustrate how these concepts should be put into practice. This is particularly unfortunate because so much of the Harrington on Cash Games series focuses on practical application (for turn and river play and a loose aggressive strategy, in this volume) over the theoretical explanation that is really the author’s strong suit.
Harrington On Cash Games Review
Tight-Aggressive Turn Play
HOC2 picks up right where the first volume left off, detailing how Harrington’s tight-aggressive (TAG) strategy works on the turn. The second volume is much superior to the first, but because they are so mutually dependent in this way, it would be difficult to purchase and read only the better book.
The section on turn play is one of the highlights of the book. Abandoning the tedious minutiae of dozens of examples, Harrington wisely focuses on the broader principles of turn play. He clearly and comprehensively lays out the reasons why you would want to bet or check the turn and concludes with some very valuable and important advice: “If you have shown consistent strength throughout the hand, and on the turn your opponent either bets into you or raises your bet, top pair is very unlikely to be good.”
The sample problems that follow are also stronger than previous problem sets have been, in no small part because Harrington delves deeply into the thought process behind each play. He puts his opponent on a range of hands, considers his equity, speculates about likely river action, and usually arrives at a good play.
After a strong section on turn play, Harrington quickly loses his momentum. He’s right that the river is the most important street in deep-stacked no-limit hold ‘em (NLHE) for a variety of reasons, but his advice on how to play it is some of the weakest in the book. His suggestions for playing the nuts and other strong hands are solid, but he exposes one of the central flaws in his strategy when he argues that, “When you have some value in your hand, you’d like to see the showdown as cheaply as possible.” In fact, the ability to turn such a hand into a bluff or to get away from it under the right conditions is key to playing the river well. Yet the author goes so far as to say that “Bluffing with middling-strength value hands like middle pair is a waste because those hands might actually win the pot in a showdown.”
When it comes to catching bluffs, Harrington’s theory is lacking as well. He is correct that you must sometimes, for game theoretical purposes, call big bets when you can only beat a bluff. Otherwise, savvy opponents can bluff you mercilessly on the river. Harrington doesn’t seem to understand what this really means, though. He claims that you can “review the hand and see if your opponent’s betting fits the hand he’s representing. If there’s a good fit, let the hand go. Save your calls for the hands where there are obvious betting discrepancies between the betting history and the hand that’s being represented.”
This is a perfect example of Harrington’s failure to get past second level thinking. An opponent who realizes that you are very unlikely to have a hand stronger than one pair can easily bluff with a betting pattern that is perfectly consistent a strong hand. The point of game theory in this spot is that you have to call some percentage of the time when you can only beat a bluff, even though nothing about your opponent’s line suggests a bluff. Only calling when there is some inconsistency in an opponent’s story is not sufficient to counteract this bluffing strategy. In fact, savvy opponents are more likely to value bet when they know they have represented a weak hand and to bluff when they have shown strength consistently.
Harrington’s other strategy for stopping a bluff, the blocking bet, is nearly as ineffective. In most cases, a blocking bet has to have some chance of getting called by a worse hand to have value. Otherwise, it simply folds out worse hands (or worse, entices them to bluff) and gets called or raised by better. The author claims that a small blocking bet is difficult to bluff raise because it looks like a “suck bet” with a big hand, but he correctly argues that you should very rarely make such small bets with big hands on the river. Thus, in Harrington’s tight-aggressive strategy, a blocking bet will look exactly like what it is: a hand that doesn’t want to get raised.
Harrington On Cash Games Pdf
When it comes to bluffs of his own, Harrington is similarly weak. He claims it is obvious that you shouldn’t bluff a calling station, but plenty of situations exist where a calling station gets to the river with a hand that won’t call a big bet. I’ve written an entire article on this point.
His advice to “Bluff players who’ve shown weakness somewhere along the way,” once again falls into the trap of low-level thinking. Smarter opponents are more likely to call on the river when they know they’ve shown weakness. They may even show weakness for the purpose of inducing a bluff.
Most importantly, Harrington never mentions that a river bluff still needs to be based on an analysis of an opponent’s range and the hands he is likely to fold. It isn’t enough to bluff because you can’t win any other way. You need to know which hands you expect your opponent to fold, what percentage of his range they comprise, and how much you’ll need to bet to take him off of those holdings.
Tells and Observations
This section brings the book back to poker theory, where it is strongest. The author does a nice job of dispelling certain misconceptions about is and is not worth noticing about one’s opponents. He rightly downplays the importance of physical tells and suggests instead that you focus on concealing your own tells and place opponents on a spectrum from loose to tight, passive to aggressive, and straightforward to tricky.
Playing the Loose-Aggressive Style
Despite his tongue-in-cheek nickname of “Action Dan”, the famously tight Harrington has a good grasp on what makes loose-aggressive (LAG) play successful. He clearly and concisely explains how LAG play loses value by entering pots with weak hands but regains that value through deception, frustrating opponents, and generally taking them out of their comfort zone.
It’s generally good that he avoids the minutiae that bogs down his explanation of his TAG style, but if anything he provides too little information about how exactly to play as a LAG. The text includes a nice little summary of some plays that LAGs can make but offers little advice on when to attempt them. Harrington also has too little to say about how to maintain a LAG style when smart players start playing back at you. His response, that, “There is no ‘correct’ answer to the problem; it’s endemic to the loose-aggressive style,” while not exactly wrong, is a bit of a cop out. There are things that LAG players do to deal with opponents who play back them, and Harrington would have done well to learn about and discuss some of them.
Harrington’s strategy for countering LAG play is not without its strengths, but it has some glaring weaknesses as well. He correctly points out that you must raise and re-raise a LAG more often than you would a TAG, but doesn’t provide much insight into when or with which hands. When he does talk about changing hand values, he misses an important point: although it’s true that broadway hands medium pairs have better equity against a LAG’s pre-flop hand range, they are not necessarily easier to play post-flop. An aggressive player forces you to hit the flop, and Harrington underestimates the value of suited connectors that can hit the flop strongly enough to play back at the nettlesome LAG.
Most surprisingly, Harrington insists that he would prefer to sit to the right rather than the left of a LAG player. His assumption is that the LAG is the “fulcrum” of the table and action tends to revolve around him: other players check strong hands waiting for him to bet, they re-raise him light, etc. Harrington assumes that since the LAG will predictably bet or raise anyway, there’s little informational value to be had from sitting on his left and it’s better to see how other players respond to his action.
There’s something to this at a full ring table, where pots are more likely to go multi-way, but it really only works against a LAG who is not particularly good. A player who understands his own image will often frustrate you by checking when you were hoping he would bet and re-raising you when you really wanted to see the next card for cheap. The simple fact that he is loose means you’ll play more pots with him than you otherwise would, and for that reason alone you should want to have position on him.
Beating Weak Games
When I saw this section heading, I thought to myself, “Isn’t that what this whole book is about?” But now we’re talking about really weak games: $1/$2 live tables and internet games where bets are made with decimal points. Harrington’s advice to play solid, straightforward poker and bet more hands for value is correct, and he explains the reasoning behind it well. If anything, he’s a little too conservative. Against weak players, you should welcome the chance to take cheap flops in position with very speculative hands, not for deception purposes, but simply for implied odds.
Harrington On Cash Games Review
The advice in this section is so simple and straight-forward that the author probably devotes too much space to it. Then again, the majority of his readership probably plays in these games, so he probably has his reasons.
Igt slots play free online for fun. Bankroll Management and Other Topics
Harrington On Cash Games Pdf
The obligatory hodge-podge chapter reminds us that this is a Two Plus Two publication. Harrington briefly discusses non-strategy topics such as bankroll management, avoiding tilt, and paying taxes, but doesn’t devote enough space to these topics to say much of substance. Anyone who actually needs an answer to one of these questions is unlikely to find this book very satisfying.
Harrington On Cash Games Volume 2 Pdf
An Interview With Bobby Hoff
I’m generally skeptical of these “let’s talk to a venerate old pro and pretend that whatever he says is brilliant”-style interviews, but Hoff actually comes across very well here. He still plays high stakes games live and online and seems to have a good feel for the current poker climate, which a lot of the old-school guys lack. He certainly plays a different style than many contemporary professionals, but for the most part it makes sense and he has good answers to some tough questions. He seems to understand both the math and the psychology of very deep stacked live no limit hold ‘em very well, and I found the interview entertaining and educational.
Harrington on Cash Games Volume II is a much more diverse book than its predecessor, which focused almost exclusively on tight-aggressive play. The second volume, which covers turn and river play as well as playing loose and aggressive, dealing with others who play that way, bankroll management, and other topics, is more of a mixed bag. The author continues to explain complex poker theory well, but when it comes to putting it into practice, his advice is hit-or-miss. His recommendations for playing the turn are solid enough, but he badly misunderstands river play, and his advice for beating loose-aggressive players and beating weak games is a little lacking. Small-stakes players and those new to cash games will get a lot from this book, especially if they know what to ignore, but more experienced players will find the more advanced topics are often misguided and unhelpful.