31/07/2008

At the Forefront of Adjustment

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

Having played online for the better part of eight years and seriously for six, then I have seen a few changes in online poker. But then again there are changes going on all around us and anyone who rejects change is simply going to be left behind in our fast paced onward moving world not just in poker but in life.

The gambling industry itself has undergone massive changes with the abolition of betting tax and the introduction of betting exchanges in the not too distant past. Even casinos look far different these days with some of them looking more like arcades and bingo stalls than casinos, I prefer the older style where you could actually have interaction with a croupier and get hold of the actual chips but the new breed of punter simply wont know any different.

I think that it is absolutely imperative that you not only change with your environment but also that you identify what those changes are and make those changes as quickly as possible. Most people will change given enough time but most also leave it too late or they make changes that are still almost out of date.

If there is one thing that is certain about online poker, this is that it will change. On a day to day basis it isn’t noticeable but everyone who has played online for several years will know what I mean. I mentioned last week that I had just started re-reading “On War” by Carl Von Clausewitz which is perhaps in my top three favourite books of all time.

But the similarities between warfare and poker are striking and numerous when you study war theory which for me makes it immensely fascinating. But Clausewitz talks in that book about the perils of using outdated theory as a way of making assumptions in war and whilst this may seem obvious, how many poker players make that same mistake and are reading or looking at material that is at least twelve months out of date or more?

I believe that it is critical to be at the forefront of theory which means to construct your own theory or to be active in discovering information that will lead to the update of current theory. Only a very small number of people actually take the time to do this for the simple reason that it takes time and hard work to find things out that few others know.

There are inherent dangers in using methods that are common knowledge. I learned this to my cost many years ago and vowed never to make the same mistake again irrespective of what I was doing. Sometimes as a novice or intermediate player then you have little choice but to go with what is accepted theory but you must strive at all times to construct your own successful style of play.

If you have a choice between two successful styles of play, one of which is widely known and the other is known only to you then the latter will likely be far better for the simple reason that it will have a longer shelf life. I read a good article in “Online Poker Pro” which is a magazine that I write for on the subject of continuation betting.
The guy writing that article (Bryan Devonshire) is a serious pro with a good history of success. When someone like him openly says that he doesn’t continuation bet anymore in the games that he plays in then this is a good indicator that things are changing (like they surely must).

Is this a statement that applies to all poker games and all situations…..certainly not? But if you are going to blindly auto continuation bet in a poker game then you had better make sure of two things. Firstly that your opponents don’t really understand what you are doing and secondly that they are passive and weak enough to stand for it.

Because the higher up the ladder you go then what advantage can you have when your play on the flop is known in advance by your opponent? Someone who I may add has the guts to do something about it unlike in small stakes games. But for me one of the best uses of tracking software is to explore the theoretical side of the game and to assess what plays are no longer working and to spot these as quickly as possible.

In poker what we are attempting to do at all times is to improve our decision making process as best we can. This means that we try and identify decisions and actions that are profitable and separate them from the ones that are not profitable. This is fine to a point but certain plays that may be profitable now may be no longer profitable this time next year or when you move up a level. Yet as soon as anyone discovers a successful way to play then they tend to stop working on their game and this means that given enough time, their game starts to stagnate.

In this aspect playing successful poker is a bit like a pendulum clock. The pendulum swings one way until it eventually loses all momentum and reaches an extreme point. At this point the direction shifts and the pendulum starts to move in the opposite direction. Poker strategies can be like this where you can use a certain strategy but only for a certain period of time. Then it stops working and the correct play can then be to do something that was either not previously considered or was in fashion years ago.

So let me point out, if you are a winning poker player and you don’t work on your game then you are in serious danger of not being a winning player at some future point in time. In fact I will go as far as to say that this is a certainty and the only question remaining is in how long this will take to happen. So try and jump off the pendulum before you start going backwards but don’t worry…..you can always jump back on again but going in the right direction.

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