Monday, March 23, 2009

Seeing the Virtual Light, part one

First in a long-overdue series.

The Education of a Poker Blogger

Stubbornness is a character trait that has held me back at the virtual felt of the poker world. Like most amateur poker players of a certain age, I began playing the game before it gained popularity on television, and soon realized that the online poker experience demands a new set of habits and skills. Slowly but surely, through painful trial and error, I have learned some lessons about how to cope with the pitfalls of online poker. I hope this primer will help fellow amateur poker players of the non-genius variety avoid similar mistakes and improve the state of their bankrolls. In Part One, I’ll discuss some basic tools to help you in online play; in Part Two I’ll introduce the concepts of self-control and poker study; in Part Three I’ll discuss experimenting with all of the major variants of poker at low stakes, and do a paired walkthrough of a successful tournament satellite and main event final table run; and finally in Part Four I’ll introduce some advanced concepts for consideration – reciprocity and the skill of quitting, as well as the need to start balancing your own game against tougher opponents as you move up in stakes (optimal versus exploitive play).

Incomplete Information
Never bring a sword to a gunfight – Indiana Jones

A good working definition of poker is that it is a game where players wager on outcomes with incomplete information. The more skilled poker player develops an advantage by gathering more information than his or her opponents do, and leverages that advantage by making better, more informed decisions during the game. In live play, you simply make a mental note to yourself as you size up a player. Online play requires considerably more effort, because you usually won’t be playing against a relatively small number of regular opponents. I like taking a lot of notes on players. This means that you need to develop a system to organize your notes and label them for future use. Thankfully, FTP has a useful colour-coding system wedded to its note-taking feature, which is even visible in the lobby area now as a guide for game selection purposes. Developing your own personal system of note-taking on your opponents is a must; this is exactly what you would do in a traditional live game and you must find methods to learn and record information about your online opponents and gain valuable information to select good games to play in. For example, you can colour the toughest players in red; you’ll want to avoid them if at all possible. Weak calling stations can be coded a soft blue; truly clueless players can be bright pink; aggressive yet flawed players can be dark purple, and so on. Refine and develop your own system and you will soon reap the rewards.

FTP also permits the use of third-party software programs which can help supplement your own notes on players with statistical data (I strongly suggest looking at the EULA for the list of permitted programs), and examine your own play for flaws. PokerTracker & Hold’Em Manager are the two most well-known poker databases, which can be used to track your own play and look over trends and tendencies. Sample size issues apply, however; don’t overreact by drawing firm conclusions over a sample of just 500 hands. As any baseball fan can tell you, a major league baseball player can do just about anything in 100 at-bats. A similar variance applies to the world of poker. To evaluate the true talent level or predict the expected future performance of a player requires much more data. It is invaluable when you are at the table with someone to be able to know about how often they make continuation bets, how often they will check-raise you on the flop, and so forth. Playing without this level of information is a significant handicap, and there is no good reason to be unarmed in the battle of wits.

Other People’s Money

Any poker player worth their salt should want rakeback and bonuses for playing at an online poker site -- I happen to play the majority of my online poker at FullTilt. This is a direct and tangible contribution to the health of your bankroll which will significantly help your bankroll. Don’t pass it up. Simply put, before you set up an account at an online poker site you should do some research to find an affiliate who will typically offer you somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25% of the rake you pay for all the hands you play online. This is your money and there is no reason not to get it back. You can also get a sign-up bonus (typically 20% of your initial deposit, to a maximum of $100) for opening a new account which will usually be paid out as you play out a certain number of hands.

Coming soon, part two.


1Queens Up1 said...

Thanks PL, I can really benefit from this.

I can only imagine what color I am on your index. ;)

Shrike said...

It depends. -)

Fuel55 said...


lightning36 said...

Aha -- I now see the connection with stubbornness that you mentioned last night at Riverchasers. Just make sure that you don't confuse stubbornness with acumen.

Shrike said...

There's definitely a place for the 'stubborn' call. Playful comments in chat aside, this gets us to the topic of hand range analysis.

1Queens Up1 said...

82ss winner winner chicken dinner!