(Apparently there are a few of you who read these… feel free to comment on them and tell me why I’m wrong or right or just plain nuts).
Free Poker vs. Online Poker vs. “Real Poker”
Anyone who plays Free poker regularly eventually gets into a discussion regarding the differences between Free Poker and other poker which usually refers to live poker, or poker for money. Recently I’ve had a lot of discussions regarding online poker too.
Inevitably someone states “You have to play different”. While on the surface that’s true, I don’t agree with the statement.
My theory is this: I don’t play different, but I *always* adjust my play to the situation around me. Yes, that means I often end up playing different because of the situation, but I don’t adjust my style *just* because it’s a real cash game, or an online game. Rather, I adjust to how the people are playing around me.
It’s true that free players often play looser, and will see more hands with lesser holdings. I think the same thing is true of low buy-in/low-stakes online poker. This indeed makes things *much* harder for you as a poker player because the more people there are in a hand, the more decisions you have to make.
After playing for years, you also hear some common phrases repeated over and over:
“Man, if this was a cash game, he would have never called/played that way”. Ya, that might be true… but then again, a cash game is different then a tournament. Once you’ve put your money in a buy-in for a tournament, it’s gone, and you are just playing for placement, whereas in a cash-game, that money is in front of you, and you can leave at any time with what you have… it’s always at risk. At the same time, the same psychology is working against your opponent. Good cash game players tend to be a bit looser in their starting hand calls/raises because they can buy back in if they make a bad play. Not generally true in a tournament.
Along with the last statement, comes the angrier version “Try that #$!% against me in a cash game”. That just says “I’m on tilt, and I think I’m better than you”. There’s a fun person to play against, if they haven’t already lost, they are about to.
“Online poker is rigged”. This is one of my favorites. The problem with the statement is that it *has* been true in the past, and on some sites, it might still be true. But, the major sites (Full Tilt, PokerStars, etc) are quite legitimate and their hands are random. You do run the risk of collusion, but even that is watched for systematically and spotted pretty readily. The thing that convinces people the most is the large amount of bad beats they see. I contend that mathematical variance and the sheer number of hands, along with the loose calls that often comes with online poker accounts for this. Each time you see it also fits into something called “confirmation bias”. (The term comes from a book I read called Killer Poker Online 2 by John Vorhaus. I highly recommend it, as there are a lot of lessons for online play that work just as well for live play.) Confirmation bias simply is the psychology of remembering the bad things that happen to you more readily than the good ones. How many bad beats that you’ve taken can you remember off the top of your head… now how many bad beats have you given to someone else that you can remember? I don’t know about you, but I can quickly think of at least 5 that took me out of a tournament, or crippled me (one of them I remember from over 2 years ago), but I’m struggling to remember one where I was on the positive side of the beat.
But back to my original point… I say play *your* game every time. If you are playing in a cash game where everyone is scared to lose money, then you should definitely take advantage of it. If you are playing in a loose online game where there are far too many callers… loosen up and take it when you have them dominated. But in the same regard, it’s possible to play online against a bunch of scared people, and against a bunch of loose players in a cash game. The type of game doesn’t guarantee a specific style of play from anyone… remember that and don’t get caught in any set “rules” for game play. Let the psychology of the situation effect everyone else… while you keep a cool head.