This piece was written with the December 1 deadline in mind. As you probably know, December 1st was supposed to be the day when the full provisions of the UIGEA would be enforced. The entire online poker industry, players and poker room operators alike were holding their breath and wondering what a post Dec 1st world would be like.
Fortunately, amid all the bad news surrounding the industry and all the losses hitting it from every direction lately, a small glimmer of hope broke through the other day. Dec 1st won’t be such a crucial moment for the industry after all. The PPA together with Barney Frank and a host of other interested entities (like the folks from the thoroughbred association and the greyhound track owners association) managed to convince Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to offer the beleaguered poker and gambling industry a little bit of breathing space, postponing the implementation of the UIGEA’s provisions.
The time bought is not overly impressive: 6 months only, but that may well prove enough for Frank to push through one of his legal initiatives to legalize and to regulate online poker and gambling.
Lately, bad news tied to various aspects of the poker industry has abounded. The loss of Jeffrey Pollack as WSOP commissioner is one of these ominous signs. Pollack had been around for quite a while, and he turned poker into the main stream sport that it is today. Considering his accomplishments and the changes he’s brought to the poker industry (and implicitly to the online poker one as well), Pollack may well be the person who did the most for the game of poker over the last 7-8 years. To see such a character go doesn’t exactly instill any optimism in those – one way or another – linked to the industry. I mean I personally have the uneasy feeling that there must be something terribly wrong if a major actor like Pollack decides to leave the stage behind. Then again, I know nothing about his personal or otherwise reasons so the hunch may be exaggerated and just plain wrong.
Of course, it’s not all gloom and doom in online poker: good things have happened too. Isildur1 is one of those good things. This guy whose identity continues to be a mystery (and quite frankly I prefer it that way too) has breathed new life into the high stakes online scene. He has taken the tables by storm, winning and losing big and generally creating all sorts of headline-worthy havoc. Had it not been for Isildur1, railbirds would still be glued to the durrrr challenge tables, waiting for Antonius and Dwan to show up for one of their monthly 200-hand sessions. Just who is Isildur’s though? There are plenty of speculations about his identity. Some say he is not even one person, that he is in fact a conglomerate of Swedish players hell bent on making tons of money off the nosebleed tables at Full Tilt.
Others say it’s Victor Blom, a young Swede who’s not too keen on becoming a poker celebrity. Still others believe that he is in fact “martonas” the other mystery player who’d stormed the tables in August before dropping all his winnings and fading back into obscurity.
Those with a more active imagination will even tell you that Isildur1 is Todd Brunson… Whoever he is, one thing is certain: his continued presence at the high stakes tables is a blessing for the industry, although some of the professionals he’s managed to fleece will probably say otherwise (Tom Dwan).
The mystery man thing only adds to the hype surrounding this guy. Nobody really knows who he is and when he decides to fade into the sunset with the millions accumulated at Full Tilt. If he does do that eventually, the stint will probably go down as one of the biggest legal heists of the 21st century. A new DB Cooper in the making? Could be…
Another “thing” that happened to poker in November was Joe Cada. Whether he’s a good thing or a bad thing for the industry remains to be seen. Those who argue he’s bad for poker base their assertions on the fact that he got extremely lucky several times to get to the top. His being lucky is yet another proof that poker may in the end be a game of chance… Well, the thing is, this is what poker is about. There’s luck in it too.You wouldn’t want to convince authorities to legalize the game based on false claims…or would you?
Anyway, the skill element is a long term one. One tournament is by far not enough to provide proof of its prevalence over the luck factor. It has already been proven though, so sit back and relax. Cada’s win is not going to toss scientific proof out the window.
Those who say Cada is good for poker, say it’s so because he’s basically the second coming of Chris Moneymaker. That assertion may be off the mark too though. I personally think that the situation is way too ripe for another Moneymaker effect to take place. Depending on what Cada has in mind to do following his win and on how he’ll perform if he decides to keep on playing, he’ll either just fade away or he’ll stick around. I don’t think he’ll have any sort of a significant impact on the game’s worldwide popularity or on its chances of getting legalized in the US.
If you want to hear a pro’s take on this matter, take a look at the following video featuring Daniel Negreanu:
See what differences between live and online play he finds most significant. You’ll notice straight away that the matter of reading one’s opponents through live tells is what he’s most concerned about. Naturally, a pro who’s used to playing the player and who has built a career on reading people based on their gestures, will find it extremely difficult to get by without this extremely important piece of his poker weapons arsenal.
He says these days people muck poker tells, but he also iterates that they still have a place in live poker and that they will probably always have one.
The fact is, the most important poker tell is in a player’s betting pattern. That is one tell nobody can disguise because he just has to take certain actions in order to push his odds, and his opponents will be able to interpret those action in one way or another.
Professional live poker players however, have learned to correlate betting patterns with actual tells and a certain “feel” they get in a situation. Take away the ‘tells’ part and they’ll feel blindfolded even though they’ll still have the betting pattern to rely on.
An interesting thing that Negreanu discusses in the above article is about whether a good live player is a good enough online player too and vice versa. According to him, a good online poker player will be a good live player too, because in order to beat the increasingly competitive online tables, one needs to be adept at poker theory and needs to be a master of the mathematical aspect of the game. The ‘feel’ and ‘tells’ part is less important than being able to play a mathematically sound game in Negreanu’s opinion, as that part of poker proficiency can apparently be added on later. On the other hand – Negreanu opines – a good live player will not necessarily be an equally good online player too. There are good live players out there who rely on gut feelings and all sorts of little tricks to obtain information, who build their game around these strategy-elements. These guys are not so solid when it comes to the mathematical aspect, yet they compensate in other ways only available at the live table.
What does all this mean to you? That being good online is more of a function of learned skill than talent and that being good at a live table has more to do with talent than skill? You be the judge of it. One thing is certain though: there are other issues which drive a huge wedge between live and online poker, issues much easier to point out.
Take the problem of the poker rake for instance. Online poker rooms charge you rake and so do live tables. The difference is that while online rake is a function of the number of hands you play and it tends to be relatively small, live rake is usually taken on an hourly basis (we’re talking about cash games here) and it tends to be much bigger than the online rake.
Add to that the fact that there are a variety of ways to further diminish your online poker rake (like rakeback and poker propping), while there’s nothing you can do in this respect at a live table.
The number of hands played per hour is also an important difference. There’s no comparison between the number of hands you can squeeze into an hour online (especially if you play at several tables) and what you can achieve at a live table. This way, your hourly rate – one of the most important performance indicators – will also be heavily modified. You’ll be able to exploit smaller edges on a more systematic basis online and more often too, which means these edges will become much more lucrative than in live poker. With that in mind, if you’re a live player, it’s quite obvious that you’ll have to significantly adapt your strategy to online play in order to keep things optimal.