Amarillo Slim, the greatest proposition gambler of all time, held to his father’s maxim, ‘You can shear a sheep many times, but skin him only once.’
- Michael McDermott in Rounders
In the first half of this entry, I explored some of the logistical effects apparent in the world of tracking sites and online software. In this second half conclusion, I will focus more on the theoretical and lasting ramifications that come as a result of this technology.
Because that’s what playing on autopilot does. It takes out all the art and replaces it with math. There are a number of successful live players who are just hopeless online because the math and GTO simply overwhelm them. But the inverse holds true as well. Some of the internet’s prodigies just get destroyed when they play live (especially at the beginning) because live play often requires a little more than a mastering of game theory.
HUDs and script-seating software sort of create robots out of the professionals who have mastered them. Everyone talks about poker being solved, and when some of these great, brilliant players have solved the game, all they have to do is play the numbers.
But isn’t that boring? Isn’t that a little depressing to think about for a game that we all felt had so many nuances? So many possibilities?
On the poker table (both live and online) math beats art in the long run every time.
But art is so much prettier than math. And it certainly attracts more players.
I’m a HendonMob junkie (a Hendon-Snob?), and I go on that website almost every day. I love seeing who has won what, who’s on a heater, and who has fallen from grace. I enjoy seeing how all the big names got their starts in tournaments. I love seeing people who made huge final tables now playing the $50 dailies in Oklahoma. And I would be absolutely delighted to see the complete list of tournaments entered for all players. We would finally get the whole story and see just how good these players really are. Maybe someone has millions in earnings, but maybe millions more in entries. We could see just exactly who is the most profitable. Just who exactly is truly the best!
But you can’t publish that.
Obviously, you can’t. Logistically, that information isn’t even available, but more importantly even if you could publish it, that doesn’t mean that you should.
About five years ago, a friend of mine who was a break-even player started asking me about my results. I told him about my stats while heavily encouraging him to start keeping track of his own. Well, he did… and found out that he wasn’t nearly the winning player he thought he was. He hasn’t played in three years! That’s how discouraged he was and still is.
I have heard it said from a number of sources that Guy Laliberté stopped playing online in part because he was embarrassed that his losses were made public. And sure, I enjoyed elbowing my buddies laughing about how someone has lost tens of millions online. But now Guy doesn’t play online anymore. Is that good for the poker economy? Are Phil Galfond and Patrik Antonius happy that Guy is no longer playing? Obviously not. When stats are made public like this, losing players can be both shamed away from the game or be made aware of just how much they have lost. It’s absurdly detrimental to the poker economy.
How many losing players do you think would sit down at a live poker table if each time they did there was a sign above their head reading “-5k lifetime” or “lost $35,00 over three years.”
No one would play with that kind of embarrassment or shame.
In addition, winning players have plenty of reasons to not want their career stats displayed either. I can’t imagine it’s easy to get action when everyone knows just how much you crush it.
Belittlement is an amazingly negative force. And an infuriating feeling. Making a losing player at the table feel inferior is one of the easiest ways to get him or her to never play again. Yet plenty of losing players still receive this treatment. I know this is related to point 5, but script-seating and mile-long seating lists and stats and stats of losses do nothing to help the losing amateur player stay in the game.
I think poker players are smart. The best are some of the smartest, most analytical people I know. As such, they can be very arrogant and proud of their own abilities. (http://www.fullcontactpoker.com/poker-journal.php?subaction=showfull&id=1456222594&archive=&start_from=&ucat=& )
But the opposite isn’t true for losing players. Just because someone isn’t a winning player doesn’t mean they aren’t smart. Or that they can’t pick up on language or situations implying that they are inferior players. I’m a reasonably intelligent guy, but obviously I would be a losing player at high stakes Stud Hi-Low. But that’s not because I’m dumb; I’m just inexperienced playing it.
And script-seating can embarrass and shame your customer base. It rubs their noses in the fact that pros are dying to play them.
Results showing losses can shame them too.
And frankly, so can HUDs if it lets the pros mercilessly beat the amateurs too quickly.
I don’t want this article to come across as negative. Or anti-online poker. That’s not my intention and I don’t feel that way. And I don’t mean to say that HUDs or HighStakesDB or PokerTracker or Hold ‘Em Manager or any of those things are wrong or immoral or anything close to that. They are not. They are simply mechanisms available to anyone, and smart people should use them if available. I’m 100% in favor of software that allows a player to track their own progress and see their own stats so that they may analyze their own game better. What I’m trying to explain is how some tools can negatively affect the economy of poker in the long run (at least in my opinion).
Running at the pool when you are a toddler is against the rules. But the rule is there for your protection. Running itself isn’t wrong. And these sites, these tools… there’s nothing wrong with them fundamentally. But in my opinion, in practice, they hurt the long term economy of the game.
When I played in my home game in college, my friend Tommy and I had a friendly saying any time a new player decided to join us.
“I hope he gets second,” we would say while winking at one another.
We wanted that player to succeed in the tournament so that they would be inspired to make return trips. But we still wanted to win the tournament ourselves of course.
This is what all professionals should want in new players. For them to win a little and keep coming back, but for your own profits to still be good. And that seems simple enough.
It should come as no surprise if you’ve battled through all the articles in this series that this one aligns once again with my general rule of thumb: appeal to the amateur. Do that, and I believe everything else falls into place. Again, I know many will disagree with this article. It’s a very polarizing subject even within my own mind. So as always, feel free to let me know what you guys think and where we overlap or disagree on ideas. Thanks again for reading. And as always, good luck out there.
Keith Woernle is a writer, comedian, and semi-pro poker player based out of New Jersey. He was a producer for season 10 of the World Poker Tour. He won a WSOP circuit ring in 2011. He likes poker a lot. Follow or contact him on twitter @WoernlePoker.
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