My 50 cents on the raging debate on the matter of skills in live poker games versus online games.
The oldtimers often see online players as inexperienced and naive. The new breed of online players often see the oldtimers as, well you guessed it, old.
I actually think that both sides are right!
How can that be? Let me explain…
In general I believe that the good online players are better at analysing the game and have a more thorough understanding of the mathematics of poker.
And in general I believe the oldtimers have a keener sense for characteristics of different players and “feel” for how they are going to play.
On the matter of experience I actually think that it is not uncommon that a 23 year old online poker wiz kid has as much poker under his belt as a 60 year old vet.
If you started playing online at the age of 18 and have been playing 4 tables 10 hours per day a couple of years – at at least double the pace of a live game you will actually gather a lot of experience fast.
In general I believe the oldtimers underestimate the skill of analysis and mathematics.
In general I believe the online players underestimate the skill of reading tells.
I actually even believe many of the oldtimers underestimate the skill of reading tells themselves.
When you read for example Harrington on Hold ‘em Expert Strategy or Gus Hansen’s Every Hand Revealed or Warwick Dunnet’s Poker Wizards most of the pros say that tells are a very small part of their game.
But I believe they are wrong.
Sure, when it comes to situations where they can say “I know he had pocket 7′s, I could just feel it” I agree that it is very rare.
But I do believe that they can often get a sense of strength or weakness or a bluff.
The reason I think they underestimate the skill is that all of us underestimate the power of the subconscious.
The power of “gutfeeling”, female intuition and such is very strong. There are so many things going on under the surface that never reaches the conscious parts of the brain.
If you don’t believe me you should read the great book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking about intuition (not a poker book).
Now, when I talk about the ability to read tells, I am not mainly referring to “when he put’s the money in the pot like that he has a strong hand” kind of read. I would agree that those kind of reads are fairly rare. I am talking about the feeling you get that something is a certain way, but you can’t really put your finger on it. It is just a feeling. You can’t explain it, and you can’t teach it to someone else. Why? Because you don’t know yourself how you do it! In Blink there is an example of the examination of a supposedly old greek statue. All the physical testing shows that it should be the real deal. But the experts were united, something was wrong with it. They just couldn’t figure out what. After a while it turned out, if I remember correctly, that it was something with the proportions that were slightly off. And after a while they were able to prove it physically also.
Another reason I believe intuition and tells are truly important part of the great live players game is that when you read most of the really good live players analysis of hands they are not too impressive.
Most of them are doing decent or good analysis. The only exception that I’ve seen so far is Harrington who is really impressive. But most other great live players are not doing mindblowing poker analysis.
I still think most of them are not just lucky, they are great players. I believe a combination of good analysis skills together with outstanding “reading” skills can take you very far in live games.
An excellent example is Mike “the mouth” Matusow who has lost tremendous amounts in online poker. If I remember correctly he has said that he has never had a winning month online! And his analysis and plays sometimes feels kind of weird. I believe he is a bad online player but a great live player. He seems to have excellent feel for when he can get away with a crazy bluff and he seems capable of manipulating people to do what he want. But he is not able to do that online, so he is loosing there.
So why then are online players better at analysis and mathematics? Because of the use of online tools like Pokertracker and Pokerstove. 20 hours with tools like those might give you more information and more accurate information than 30 years of speculation with your peers.
To conclude I think both sides of specialists have a lot to learn from each other!