05/01/2009

A Parallel Universe

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

Do you recall the scene in the movie Stargate where the soldiers led by Kurt Russell first arrive on the other side of the gate? They are in an environment that looks a lot like Earth, feels like Earth and even smells like Earth... but yet it isn’t as they are on the opposite side of the known universe. There was a big thread last week about online poker and some people as tends to happen on forums get rather passionate about their views regarding this subject.

If I had a hundred pound in my pocket for every player who I have heard cry foul about online poker then I would have retired ages ago. But quoting the movie Stargate leads me onto what I want to say in this weeks article.

We are all aware of the fundamental differences between online poker and live poker... or are we? It seems to me that there are many players out there and even ones who are very successful live game players and successful players in general who are incredibly naïve about the online game.

Its terribly easy to start laying the blame at other peoples door and crying foul but yet in my mind, losing money continually in poker is a bit like having a car crash... highly likely that’s its caused by human error and not by pure accident. Of course we are all aware that there is a dark side to online poker and the fact that numerous negative news items have come to light recently only serve to add fuel to the fire and to cloud the issue even more and prevent people from seeing the true reality.

But one of the major underlying reasons for why players (even very good players) lose online is that we are looking at a totally different dynamic here when it comes to playing poker. I mentioned trading in last weeks article and trading as I mentioned last week shares many characteristics with online poker.

Electronic day trading and trading in general and online poker are part of the same family in my opinion. It is no accident that many successful traders on the betting exchanges have come from working in the city in various financial capacities. A trader needs two things to operate successfully, liquidity and as much volatility as possible.

But the similarities between trading and online poker are further enhanced by one very important dynamic...they are both performed and executed electronically. This fact was lost on me some years ago when everything was going well... until my profits dried up and I had to look for a reason for it.

I remember a very famous quote from the trader and author Joe Ross in the book Trading by the minute where he advised traders to “trade what you see, not what you think”. This one statement had a very profound effect on me because it can be applied to online poker perfectly. In live play, you can gather information on a subconscious level and you can frequently get away without having to pay anything for that information.

But there is very little by the way of visual information in online poker and most of the time you need to let the betting and the betting patterns do the talking. But this ability to “see” is magnified many fold by using tracking software. It allows you to “see” situations that under normal circumstances you simply would not have seen had you been playing normally.

In these instances the software allows you to trade (play poker) far more effectively and accurately! I am not being a turncoat here as I still do not like tracking software... I am merely telling it as it is. But there are further advantages to using these software items that may not be readily apparent to many people and are not spoken about in any literature to my knowledge.

We all know that poker is played by humans and we humans have emotions. Poker like trading is an emotional past time and the wins and losses make it even more so. But yet to play poker effectively then you really need to lose this emotional side to your game... easier said than done.

But one of the primary reasons for why people get emotional in poker is to do with the fact that their overall methodology of playing is not conducive to their personality and to playing successfully in general. This leads to many poker decisions being made by the old “seat of the pants method” and whether the player realises it or not... many of their decisions are emotional ones. By the way, when I say emotion here... in no way am I referring to something as blatant as tilt!

This method may work in live play and in the online days of old but not now. The use of something like PAHUD not only helps you to understand your own game and that of your opponents but it also helps you to make decisions. This process helps players to devise a methodology who did not previously have one (once they can correctly use the data that is).

Whether you are in the “poker is about intuition and creativity” camp or “poker is purely mathematical” camp is irrelevant. The fact is that tracking software and HUD’s assist players in many ways but the most important one is that it helps them to create or to fine tune their methodology. This also has the knock on effect of increasing discipline as they are interrelated.

There is no doubt that software has created many more successful poker players simply because it has provided them with a workable methodology and a track to run on. But it is these dynamics that has altered the face of online poker but yet it is the same with any field that is run electronically. The automation of the financial markets led to many previously successful traders losing money but the same is also true of online poker. So just because you have been successful down your local card room and you really “know the game”... remember that when you log on that you are now on the other side of the known poker universe where the common laws of poker physics no longer apply.

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