28/02/2008

Are You a Live One?

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

Over the past few years or so I have been asked and approached by a good few people if I would be interested in staking them or in having a piece of them in tournament poker as well as cash games. Some of these players have been very good players in their own particular environment both online and in live play.

I have backed players in the past but will only do so under certain conditions and what other people do with their money is up to them. But I have a golden rule that I will never back or stake a player to play poker in an environment that they have little experience of. I know people personally who were very successful poker players in live play who totally bummed out in online play.

But it is folly to also assume that a successful online player can automatically transfer that success to live play and especially at the higher limits and bigger tournaments. I have not played live poker (in a casino setting anyway) for some considerable time but the people who do play live and online inform me that live games are far softer on average than online games.

This makes sense and the reasons why online play is tougher seem blatantly obvious. But any online player irrespective of the success is taking a major step into the unknown when they go up against streetwise live players and especially the top players.

For instance, lets take a top tournament pro who has a first class record which has been proven over a considerable length of time. I will not mention any names so I will leave that up to you to insert your own top class pro here.

Now compare him or her to a successful online tournament pro. The player who is being successful online is doing so in a totally different way to the live player. Will the big named live player have a technically superior game to the online pro... unlikely! So now we have to look at how the live player is achieving his +EV (or some of it) to how the online player achieves his.

Phil Hellmuth once stated that he had earned $20 million dollars in poker on the back of his reads... I believe him! If he means that his reads have accounted for around this figure in the pots that he has played where he has based his decision on a read then that figure may be on the conservative side based on the number of events that Phil has played coupled with the prize money that was at stake. Personally I think that this figure based on Phil’s 20+ years in poker is too low as this only equates to $1 million a year or so.

Having studied human behaviour and psychology for some considerable time, I can fully understand why Hellmuth has been so successful in tournament play and it has nothing to do with the fact that he is technically better than his opponents. His recent tournament victories have seen him wade through large fields and you don’t fluke 11 WSOP wins.

I have also studied many of Phil’s comments and work in this area and I have only recently come to fully appreciate just how good he is in this particular part of the game. But the point that I am trying to make here is that online players on average are going to be very vulnerable in this area when they play live poker against experienced professionals.

Fine... so how often is this going to happen? An online player who plays at his local casino in a small stakes game is hardly going to be going up against a table full of human lie detectors and top class players. This means that much of what I have just said will probably fail to apply.

But if you are considering going up against good players in a live poker setting then you must at least be aware of the possibility that incessant online poker has softened you up with regards other players being able to read you. The problem is that many responses stem from the limbic part of the brain and are difficult to prevent and conceal. I have plans this year to try and fit some GUKPT and GCBPT events into my schedule during the second half of the year (I plan a lot of things that never get done) and I am working on this side of my game in preparation for it.

But when your cards are dead and you need to get chips from other sources to keep you alive then what are you going to do when you cannot detect bluffs and your steal attempts are getting re-raised and players are betting into you with nothing because your entire body language speaks of “no hand”?

Let me tell you something, I hear the term “card dead” quoted quite a lot and mainly by tournament players who have busted out. In most cases they are telling the truth but the fact of the matter is that saying you were “card dead” is masking the real reason why you are now sitting on the rail in most cases.

Good professionals cash and get to final tables when they are card dead. Being card dead tends to be an excuse and not the reason for failure. I have numerous winning cash game sessions where I have not held a single decent hand. You don’t necessarily need good cards, you don’t always need fold equity or outs before you can launch a bluff, you need to be able to play poker. As usual I welcome any comments good or bad through the forum.

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