I’d posted a bit of a rant yesterday about donking off some cash almost from sheer frustration and boredom, and Dan at Poker and Peaking called me on it, that this was a type of tilt to be aware of. Upon closer examination, I think it may be more troubling than I first thought.
In some ways, online poker has been a cross between investing in NASDAQ stocks in ’98-00 and PacMan. During these heady times of the stock market, I was heavily invested in tech stocks like SEBL, MANU, and BVSN among others. I was using margin to maximize my returns, and it was all free money at the time. We all know how the story ended, with these stocks plumetting in value as margin calls were called in or investors’ perception of a slight correction and buying opportunity turning into literally fortunes lost.
During the 70′s and 80′s, PacMan was the rage in convenience stores around the US. I never played it much, but there were local superstars who could play the first several levels blindfolded as the game made no adjustments nor real randomization of play early on. You could play the same pattern and get fairly predictable responses.
Poker has been like both of these in the last few years. Players have made literally hundreds of thousands of dollars by taking advantage of poor players with a seemingly limitless supply of discretionary funds to reload their bankrolls. Yes, there have been a few horror stories along the way, but the vast majority of players and funds have been a simple reallocation of discretionary income. Would the US economy be stronger over the last couple years if online poker didn’t exist? That’s an interesting question. I would assume that indeed more plasma screen televisions and vacations and deck furniture would have been purchased if the $400/month that players sunk into poker instead went to purchases. This continual stream of new players have really been the best of both worlds for experienced players: they are by and large poor players at the beginning and play significantly above their bankrolls, often putting their entire account funds at a table. For the expert player, they realized that they could in fact make more money putting $1200 into action at a dozen $0.50/1 NLHE tables playing these neophytes than they could taking $1k to a $5/10 NLHE table at the Bellagio or the Mirage.
For these multi-tablers, much of the decision making of poker became like playing PacMan; many of the decisions were automatic, part of the muscle memory of the keyboard and the mouse and the darting eyes watching the tables and stats on players. They didn’t need to outplay those at the table, they simply could play ultra-tight and wait for their big hands to get paid off. Players with VP$IP’s of <10% sat at table upon table at these sites.
We are now entering a new era of poker where all of this changes. Players love talking about making the right decision, the +EV play, yet it changes dramatically when everyone else at the table is an expert like you, or in fact superior to you. Play a dozen tables and dropping a buy-in isn’t relevant, but playing live and rebuying after fifteen minutes or five hours is a tougher pill to swallow. The poker table of next month is starting to emerge, and the players who are left are those who don’t care how difficult it is to replenish their bankroll. They have money in their accounts, and they plan on keeping it. Whereas a bad table could be identified as two or three sharks, those will start to look promising after the norm becomes six or seven sharks at a table. Browse the 6-max high stakes tables at PokerStars, and you’ll see <10% of players seeing a flop as the norm. All of these stats have tightened in the last few weeks, and they will tighten even more as more poor players go busto.
Does this mean that a certain type of play will win the day in the future? Not necessarily. It doesn’t mean that tight/aggressive play is the only way to make money, and I’ll leave it to others to discuss this. No, what it does mean is that for the vast majority of us, our results are going to flatten out. I’ll see more sessions where I tread water for several hours without anything to really show for it. I’ll have more players who seem to call me down with underpairs yet don’t pay me off when I hit top set. Simply put, Poker 2007 is going to be a year that in essence returns to its roots.
Players have cheated at poker since the game was invented, and this is due primarily to hourly earn rate and finding good games. When the rounder would hit a new place, he or she needed to take down as much cash as possible before moving on. All of the great veterans talk about being good at multiple games because the rich fish might be a stud player so you needed to be good at that game to get the cash. In online poker, we didn’t have to really worry too much as the loose games filled with poor players have been very plentiful. More and more, the online poker rooms and the card rooms in Vegas, LA, and Atlantic City will be filled with good players. Preventing the big loss and booking the decent win are going to take the place of grabbing the huge score.
What are the new characteristics that we need to refine heading into this new era? Patience is right at the top of the list, as we’ll need to be content with not pressing when things aren’t working out for us. That may mean being card dead, but it also may mean being a card rack as well. Get AK or AQs or QQ or JJ a few times in the first two orbits, only to not hit the flop or having an ace hit the board. We’ll need to be level headed enough to weather these storms, as well as the time when K-10s and J-10s look like raising hands in early position for us.
We need to improve our math and advanced understanding of the game, because the elementary principles won’t be enough to sustain us anymore. It will be critical that we recognize when we have an edge then exploit it, just as it will be necessary to know when we don’t have an edge and need to walk away from a hand, as well as from a table.
We need to improve our bankroll management. I suggest that every one of us needs to drop down a level of play right now. This may seem silly, but it will be more important than ever to protect our bankrolls. Feel insulted playing in the kiddie games? Well, you should get over it. Variance is a part of poker, and it’s more critical than ever to protect your bankroll from variance.
We need to be more alert for cheats and scams. Lynette Chan and I were chatting last night, and she told me there are a ton of scam artists who have been posing as top pros to facilitate transfers of funds. As it gets tougher and tougher to stay successful, some players will get desperate and return to tried and true ways of coming out ahead. Angle shooting, active collusion, teams. I don’t expect that it will be poker in Tombstone, but we should be on our guard more than we have been.
We need to have more fun. Poker taps into our competitive natures, it gives us money, blah, blah, blah. If we aren’t enjoying it, we should look to something else. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we all need to play like maniacs, but it does mean you should be sure that collectively, this poker thing is a good time for you.
There probably is more out there, but I would be interested in the thoughts of others as well as if this resonates. If you have trouble commenting, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. No CC’s Thursday Bash tomorrow as I’ll be flying, so I’ll keep you posted on our next outing. Thanks for dropping by, and take care.