01/10/2005

A Touch of Cynicism

Ashley Alterman 'The Poker Cynic'

The sceptic claims that if he can't see it, he isn't convinced, but as a card carrying cynic, I would like to warn everyone of the possible dangers to their health, and their wallets if they allow themselves to be unduly influenced by what they see. Observing others is a natural activity, even for those who don't want to learn, but when you are trying to improve your game, watching other players seems like a great opportunity to learn something new.

The problem is when you watch other players, you only get a partial view. This can lead to you misunderstanding the subtlety of what's happening.Even if you could see all the cards, you would still need to be able to under the wider context of what was going on. Most winning players are using a strategy which takes so may different factors into account, that isolating one hand does not always teach you anything valuable. The game changes from day to day, even hour by hour, according to the line up, who's winning and losing, who tilts easily amongst other factors. Given these difficulties, you should not take everything you see at face value.

Reading the experts printed word is more likely to help your game, although you will still need to think hard about what they say. Mostly they will have an impressive track record, that reassures you they know what they are talking about. The fact that writing a book telling others how to play is about as stupid as you can get doesn't mean there will be nothing of value there. You already knew the guy had a big ego as a pro poker player, you just didn't realise how big. Of course, some of the pro's who write books are no longer as good as their reputations proclaim. Winning tournaments 15 or 20 years ago is all very well, but are they still winning today, or are they dining out on the memories from before. Is their sponsorship as a result of past glories and excellent self promotion? Or are they really experts in todays game, hoping to make alot of money by writing, or perhaps hoping to immortalise themselves as the writer of the new poker bible (see Doyle Brunson's Super System as one of the original poker bibles).

One byproduct of this ego-maniacal desire to write a book, is that when the book is very good, it has a significant influence on the game, thus feeding the ego of the author further. Brunson's book changed the way the majority thought about the game, especially hold'em. Action Dan Harrington has recently written a book in two volumes, covering 800 pages, on the subject of NoLimitHold'em tournaments, live and online. Harrington's record speaks for itself, and it is current, so he is certainly an expert in the field with a string of successes behind him.I don't really care why he wrote the book, I just figured he must have something to say of value, so I bought it and I'm plowing my way through it. Everyone has been telling me how wonderful the book is and how much ground it covers. My inital reaction, is that the reason alot of the people I have spoken to like the book, is that they are lazy. Instead of having to think things through for themselves, they can let Action Dan do it for them. They were more than capable of reaching the same conclusions, but preferred to wait until someone else layed it all out for them. There is no doubt that you will learn something from a book as comprehensive as Harringtons, but you will be better served by the knowledge you gain from playing and your own observations. If Harringtons book has a significant effect on tournaments, professionals will adapt their play to allow for this new general knowledge. If your play is determined by your own experience and only supplimented by the writings of various experts, you will be able to adjust it no matter how the landsape changes.

I better go, cause I'm busy writing my book called "Its not enough to win all the money and be thought a great player, but Im writing it down in case anyone forgets" Volume Two will be called "I am an expert and you are not, so buy my book". Volume Three in the trilogy will be "You too can be as smart as me." Yes they will all be works of fiction, and some of my best friends are authors, or at least they were before this column.