Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fun Poker & Boring Poker

Poker is a very different card game than most others. Let’s compare a non-drawing poker game like Holdem to a card game like hearts, spades, or gin. With Holdem you get two cards to start, and you need to decide right there if those two cards have enough value to continue on with. Because money is the measuring stick in poker, and it generally costs money to go deeper into a hand, a lot of times you will need to quit the hand right there after the starting hole cards show up. Other than possibly being able to bet your opponent off of a better hand, there is nothing you can do to improve your chances to win this hand when the board is complete. With other card games, the starting hand is important, but there is no penalty to continue on with the hand, and through the use of strategy/skill you can improve your poor starting hand into a winner. So in other card games even if you are dealt a horrible hand, you still get to play it to the end. Playing a hand is more fun than sitting out watching other people play. Poker actually comes down to who is willing to limit their amount of fun more. The people having the least fun are the ones who win, and those out to have fun are the losers. It is almost as simple as that.

The correct way to play NL Holdem live is to not try to have fun ever. If you can do that you will take money away from those at the table trying to have fun. Think about a typical ½ NL Holdem game in Vegas. To play a profitable tight aggressive strategy, you will need to fold 80+% of your hands preflop, and ditch about half of those hands you do play by the flop. You will get to the turn once per orbit on average if you are lucky. In live poker you get about 30 hands/hour if you have a good dealer. So with correct play, you will only be playing three hands per hour to any depth of the board. Boring! Now watch what actually happens at a live ½ NL Holdem table. You typically get about ½ the table limping or limp calling preflop. You get calling stations going deeper into the board than they should. You have big bluffs being made. What you have is a bunch of people out to have some fun playing poker. Seeing the flop is more fun than not. Calling down to see more of the board, and see what the other guy does is fun to. Making a monster bluff is fun. Fun, fun, fun. The guys out to have fun are not playing correctly. Every time they make a decision to have fun, they are giving up EV. Having fun at the poker tables is a big leak. It is most apparent live where people simply do not have the patience to play boring poker. The play at similar stakes online is much, much better than live because you get twice as many hands per hour, and can multitable. It is not nearly as painful to play correct, boring poker online vs. live. Playing live poker correctly is way too boring for 90% of those who play it, so they play incorrectly as a result.

This concept is nothing new. It takes a ton of discipline to play poker correct. Some people have it and some don’t. Even those that can play with discipline may still stray due to sheer boredom from time to time. The money flows from those without disciple to those with. The money flows from those having fun to those that are not. Play a boring brand of poker and collect your winnings. This is something that I picked up on early when I started playing poker, but it is pretty easy to lose track of.

The reason I started thinking this way again, is I just picked up the NL Holdem Application for the iphone (There are several, but the one by Apple is best). It is the number one selling application or the iphone, and is a very well thought out game. The problem is there is no money involved. I have not played poker without money on the line in years. You are so tempted to see every flop, because you can for free (virtual chips). You are tempted to play fun poker (bluffing, calling down…). I decided to go ahead and resist the temptation and try to play my normal game anyway. The first MTT is a single player S&G in a garage. I folded into heads-up, and then started catching cards, and overcame a 10-1 chip deficit. I am not sure if the cards are completely random, or they are trying to teach you to fold your starting cards early in MTTs, but it was an interesting first tournament. The cool thing about the game is your opponents are video taped people with real tells. Also, it is so much fun to flick your crap hole cards into the muck with your finger, and to check by tapping on the felt. You can also play real MTTs over wifi if all of your buddy’s have an iphone which could be pretty sick. Check this app out if you have an iphone, and remember to play as boring of poker as possible next time you sit down. That’s if you want to win. Otherwise, I will be out to take your money if I catch you trying to have fun.



At 10:52 AM, Blogger bastinptc said...

You're pretty much spot on, but a 1/2 table is still a mine field with the calling stations out for a little gambol. I have the prosthetic legs to prove it. K6 and Q8 off must be stronger hands than I thought.

The other part of the equation/argument for playing boring, solid poker, that of eventually winning back that which others have taken with less than stellar hands, goes out the window when the cooler racks up or the money you have brought is gone.

If you'd care to take a look, my blog is littered with such excursions to Disney Poker.

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Lucypher said...

Nice post. So true.

At 4:31 PM, Blogger Pascale Soleil said...

"Fun" in poker must be the topic of the hour. A lot of it depends on what counts as fun... but I take your point.

At 2:45 PM, Blogger Henno Vermeulen said...

Wow you are so right. I was having fun the last two months with playing free poker against the computer. So I decided to go online and play for free. Wow did these people play reckless... But it was still fun to do, but it didn't teach me proper poker play.

So I finally took the step and went with real money. I wanted to have some fun, didn't play badly in my eyes but I still slowly lost my money...

So I dropped the size of the stake plus started to play more conservatively. Now I can play for a few hours and stay at around the same amount of money. Which is quite boring if I don't do something else at the same time!


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