What Goes Around Comes Around

Following on from the very interesting article posted by Matthew Hilger a while back called “an endangered species” then I wanted to expand on that very thought provoking article and the thread that followed it with a few further thoughts and opinions of my own. I think there is a cyclical process at work in poker which has been rather difficult to observe simply because the lifespan of the online game is still very short and the process isn’t complete. However this cyclical effect has happened in other areas like financial trading for example which is a very fascinating topic to study because it highlights something very important.

This is that electronic day traders were experiencing this same “toughening” process that is being observed in online poker around 10-20 years before online poker was even conceived. I think there are clear and very important connections between the two fields because both trading and poker went through what can be called “technological revolutions” for want of a better term.

The older players in poker and by older I mean anyone who played the game prior to around 2003 used far simpler systems of operation than their offspring a few short years later. Young players with very strong academic backgrounds brought a whole new level of analytical expertise to the game and suddenly the older players were being left behind in large numbers. This led to a situation where if anyone could learn this now “modernised” form of poker and accept this new learning then they could make very good money.

For a while they did and some players were recording very impressive ptbb/100 figures over huge sample sizes at sizable limits. The modern players and the added complexity of their individual systems were giving them a huge edge in certain areas. But the key area here is in how complex systems shape up when too many other people are also using complex systems using similar or in many cases almost identical parameters.

This then leads to lower EV if you are no longer adjusting to what is happening. I think too many players became too preoccupied with multi-tabling as many tables as possible and getting as much rakeback as possible that they never really stopped to think about the potential consequences of the strategy and the longevity of it. I have been in and around gambling for over twenty years and not just poker. In that time I have spoken to, interviewed, worked with, analysed and come into contact with more professionals than I can care to remember.

The common denominators are striking and it is that to achieve longevity in an environment that is constantly shifting then you have to adjust and in some cases these adjustments need to be dramatic. This is why I am highly sceptical of anyone who has been in online poker for years who claims never to have had a bad year. It is next to impossible in the short term to identify the difference between variance and a style that is no longer working and this is a big problem for online players because the environment has undergone violent changes. But what is illuminating is that when complex systems are no longer working then simpler systems can actually increase in effectiveness simply because you are operating differently to the masses. Without this article turning into an encyclopaedia, I think there are numerous simple systems that are very effective but they do require playing in a completely different way. Whether these systems can translate to a full time career is debatable but to be honest I doubt it.

Of late I have been contemplating switching back to playing one table again in an effort to move back away from multi-tabling lower levels. Playing too many tables means that it is difficult to find EV away from ABC play but too many players are using a very close approximation of ABC these days to mean that 12-16 tabling may provide little potential for longevity. However NLHE isn’t even close to reaching a game theoretical optimised situation and so if you are a good player then single tabling when others are multi-tabling may just be one such viable option.