Book Review: ‘Strategies to Beat Small Stakes Pot-Limit Omaha’

A New Kind of Omaha Book

With the height of the poker boom came the height of the poker book boom. As television producers and poker rooms turned their attention towards Hold ‘Em, so too did authors and publishers.

Only a handful of Omaha books were released during those golden years – among them were volumes by legends like TJ Cloutier, Sammy Farha, and Tom McEvoy. But these books all had something in common: they were all written with a broad stroke. They served to teach the game as a whole to the common player.

But just as poker players have had to step up their games at the table, so too have poker authors. And D&B Publishing has recently released something new. A book that puts Omaha under a microscope and dissects every aspect of the game for a specific arena.

It’s all in the title with Matthias Pum’s ‘Strategies to Beat Small Stakes Pot-Limit Omaha.’ And the book does exactly that. The book is not designed or written to teach you the rules of Omaha. It’s not designed for live play or tournaments (although many concepts will obviously lend themselves to both). The book has tunnel vision solely for one area of the game: it is written specifically for beating small-stakes Pot Limit Omaha cash games on the internet. And a young European pro is at its helm.

We need not look further than the book’s first page for a solid description of the Austrian pro: “Matthias Pum is a coach on pokerstrategy.com focusing on public coaching sessions and professional hand analysis. He also produces training videos for pokerstrategy.com and coaches students privately. Matthias has just completed a Masters degree in Computer Science. He has been playing poker at a high level for over 5 years.”

For what it’s worth, this is the most thorough, meticulous poker volume I’ve ever read as far as diving into the minutia of the game is concerned. Whereas I could read Mike Sexton’s autobiography in a day, ‘Strategies’ took me well over two months to finish and that was while reading it every day. Several sections required re-reading and practice before moving on. Pum makes the reader do their homework, so if you’re looking for something light and breezy, this simply isn’t the book for you. It’s too intensive.

A Book That’s a Training Exercise

One need only to look at the chapter titles to get a sense of how focused Pum is on each aspect of the game: “Out of Position on the Flop,” “Playing Double Pairs,” “Four-Betting Non-A-A-x-x Hands.” These headers and more fill the pages.

The book is laid out perfectly, and Pum doesn’t waste any time by telling you to go learn the rules of PLO somewhere else. He knows his audience. With that information so readily available on the internet, any pages devoted to covering the rules would be a waste of both time and ink.

The aspect that I absolutely loved most about ‘Strategies’ was that he treats his book like a training exercise. The book is broken down into four one-week courses. His goal is to teach the player his successful, winning method within a month (although it may take much longer for some to grasp some of his ideas, as was my case). Pum’s goal is to take a losing PLO player, and through a vigorous month-long training course turn him or her into a PLO machine.

Week One is simply titled ‘The Journey Begins’ and teaches the player more about position, starting hands, a good mindset, pot odds, and more.

Week Two is entitled “Analyzing More Deeply.” Personally this was where I had to begin re-reading and re-learning some concepts. With subtitles like “Choosing the Right Bet Size” and “Equities in PLO,” you can imagine that a lot of math was beginning to emerge. It’s this presence of math, stats, and HUDs that make the reading so thought-provoking and meticulous. Though I worry it may all be off-putting to any old-school players who come across the book.

Week Three is more of the same with “Refining Your Game.” That week’s concepts include “Light Three-Betting” and the vital section on “Stack-to-Pot Ratio.”

And finally Week Four is all about “Advanced Concepts” including an in-depth section on wraps, fold equity, and an even further breakdown of the HUD.

Matthias Makes You Work For the Results

This is not light reading. I made an actual discernible effort to absorb and apply Pum’s teachings. As far as poker literature goes, this is the closest thing to a textbook I’ve ever read besides “Let There Be Range.” And therefore I must give potential readers this simple warning: if you hate stat-tracking and the Heads-Up Display, this may not be the book for you. The pages are chock full of stats, percentages, and ratios. Almost every move and bet is explained using the math of the hero’s statistics and determining the best play against the opponent’s stats.

However, as someone who likes math just fine, I had no problem with many of these sections. And with my already decent understanding of pot odds, raise percentages, and VPIPs, I wasn’t as overwhelmed as someone new to online poker might feel.

Still, some of the best parts were sections where Pum breaks away from the math. When Pum talks about mindset, bad beats, and tilt, he really shines. Pum has played A LOT of Pot Limit Omaha hands, so it stands to reason he’s seen the worst of the worst. Every bad beat. Every one-outer. And as someone who has withstood the volatility and swingy nature of PLO, his words about the importance of mindset and distancing yourself from the results were great. They are words that apply to all poker variants and not just the one he’s teaching.

I appreciated those sections which I felt had some crossover value into other variants of poker. One such crossover section was the one on bet-sizing. As so many of us come from a No Limit background, our concepts of sizing are a little different. Sure, a bet is rarely larger than pot in most games; however, with the pre-flop constraints in PLO, sizing becomes much more important, and its effects trickle down to later streets. And because the odds and equities run closer in PLO, knowing correct sizing is tantamount to success. His sizing section was vital to my game and one that I re-read twice.

Pum also talks in-depth about SPR (Stack to Pot Ratio). In fact the SPR chart on Page 139 was so helpful that I made a copy of it. It’s a chart worth memorizing because knowing what your equity is in a hand versus the pot odds is crucial to all poker variants. This concept is nearly irrelevant in fixed limit games, but has increased importance in the big bet games. Learning more about it vastly improved my own sizing in live Hold ‘Em games. There is also an excellent section about note-taking, its importance, and how much potential money that’s worth.

And while his use of HUDs and stats can be overwhelming, Pum’s personal breakdown of what he likes to see in his own HUD was great. It’s advice that can translate easily into other poker games online.

Some Concerns

The book, of course, is not without some drawbacks. One of my initial frustrations with ‘Strategies’ was how quickly Pum makes use of the shorthand vernacular so common on the internet. For novice poker players not terribly familiar with the online world, shorthand terms like FE (Fold Equity), SPR (Stack-to-Pot Ratio), and VPIP (Voluntary Put in Pot) may feel overwhelming. Yet Pum begins using these terms and acronyms right out of the gate without much breakdown or explanation. This can be a double-edged sword. While the reader feels more immersed in the PLO world, it can also turn away less eager readers.

There is also an extensive use of third party tools and sites within his pages. Pum makes use of PokerStove, EquilabOmaha, and Hold Em Manager in his playing, and encourages his readers to do the same. I can see this again overwhelming some readers, but I didn’t mind it. I would say roughly 80% of the teachings in the book make use of HUDs, online charts, and the like.

With sites like Ignition Poker and others going to anonymous screen names and PokerStars cracking down on stat-keeping, I worry that some of Pum’s teachings may become unusable in the years to come. The same goes for his sections on note-taking. Although for now they’re fine.

Pum also suffers from a lack of name-recognition; I was unaware of him before picking up his book. He, like many talented online players, is very young. And most of his success appears to come from online. He has no HendonMob scores of which to speak, and therefore won’t be recognizable from television.

And while many of D&B’s authors are famous online superstars like Chris Moorman, Jonathan Little, and Alex Fitzgerald, they are players that still have a live presence and more name recognition to help their sales.

‘Harrington on Hold ‘Em’ flew off the shelves when it was released, but Harrington’s recent television appearances in the 2003 and 2004 WSOP greatly helped those sales. I can’t help but feel Pum’s lack of name recognition will hurt his sales even though his work is just as well-written as Harrington’s.

Theories Put Into Practice

As a resident of one of the few states with regulated online poker, I was able to put Pum’s theories into practice right away. In fact, I re-deposited to one of New Jersey’s sites and was able to grind only micro-stakes PLO as I tried to experiment with Pum’s concepts.

And I can safely say that Pum is definitely onto something here with his strategy. Now these were microstakes games (10-20 cent and 15-30 cent), so I can’t be sure that I wouldn’t have beaten them anyway since the players were… bad.

That being said in the 3 months (and 30 sessions) I played, I still turned my $20 into $250. And I think multiplying one’s investment by 12.5x is a good result microstakes or no. However, I couldn’t help but feel that some of Pum’s advice was unnecessary at these stakes. Nearly 90% of the pots I played involved all players limping in pre-flop. Maybe the microstakes games are more aggressive worldwide, but in New Jersey, Pum’s three-betting advice was unnecessary. And there was remarkably little bluffing or so it seemed.

Fortunately for me, this book offered solutions to deal with both limpers and nits. And with a better understanding of blockers and wraps, these games were just like printing money. Although small bills, of course.

Some Final Thoughts

At 224 pages, ‘Strategies’ isn’t overly wordy, but it may feel longer since there is very little fluff and the math and numbers are so prevalent. Personally, I would also have liked to see a little color in the pages. The book is entirely in black and white, and some color might have added not only to the vibrancy, but also to how some of the pictures of HUDs looked (with different colors as different labels for players).

For those that actually purchase a physical copy of the book (there is also an e-book option), a link to a downloadable 24-page PDF is also available. That PDF includes helpful charts, a glossary, and a further breakdown of some ideas and terminology. This PDF fills the role that an appendix for the book might have. But given the book’s already solid size, I think D&B were correct in only offering it as downloadable content.

I’ll add that for someone who is a native German speaker, Pum’s written English is exceptional. No doubt his editors and publishers would have helped him with that, but if not for his name and backstory, I would have had no idea that English wasn’t his first language.

Lastly, the specificity in ‘Strategies’ is simultaneously the book’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. The material is specifically for small-stakes, online, pot-limit Omaha cash games. That’s a very niche market. However, Matthias writes about his topic with such knowledge and passion, that you can’t help but be motivated to try his theories. I haven’t read many Omaha books, but this is the best of the bunch thus far.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for something light and fun, ‘Strategies’ is not going to be your cup of tea. But if you’re looking for something specific, insightful, and well-researched, then this may the book for you. ‘Strategies’ is not easy, but neither is the game of PLO. And if you’re in an area where online poker thrives, and the small stakes PLO games are good, then this book is a must-buy. I simply wish it had been released ten years earlier.

Final Review: 8.5/10

D&B Publishing seems to be making its mark as the go-to publisher for poker literature. They are set to release Phil Hellmuth’s autobiography this summer, as well as Chris Moorman’s new book and another Jonathan Little volume. In addition, reigning WSOP champion Qui Nguyen’s autobiography is on the docket for next November.

‘Strategies to Beat Small Stakes Pot-Limit Omaha, is published by D&B Poker

(www.dandbpoker.com) and is available in paperback and ebook.

Keith Woernle is a writer, comedian, and semi-pro poker player based out of New Jersey. He was a producer for season 10 of the World Poker Tour. He won a WSOP circuit ring in 2011. He likes poker a lot. Follow or contact him on twitter @WoernlePoker.

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