You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

Poker Beginners: Is it a bird, is it a plane...?

Poker Beginners"Even after over 30 years [of broadcasting baseball], every single day I come to the ballpark I see something new." -- Lindsay Nelson

The growing popularity of online poker not only is creating many brand new poker players around the world, itís enabling many semi-experienced players, who seldom get to a casino, to play much more often. While this phenomenon is good for poker in all its forms, there is an effect that can transform a lot of these players who could be winners into losers, and they then abandon poker out of frustration because they canít handle the fact that they have all the tools to win, and they should win, but do not.

Everyone who plays poker regularly sees a whole carnival of weirdness at the poker table day after day. People play bizarre hands for no apparent reason; odd flops happen back to back; some angleshooter manages to get away with a clearly out-of-line move; the three of clubs or the eight of hearts seems to be haunting you; some goofball decides to fall in love with 42o and pound your AA on a A53 flop. To someone who plays regularly, all this is ho-hum stuff. Someone who has played as much poker as I have simply is seldom going to be surprised by the stuff that happens at a poker table. But new players, even the ones who have put in some hours and play pretty decently, when they see runner-runner spades two hands in a row, especially online, they just find that surprising, shocking, fishy.

Lucky Kevin Wayne LamonicaI often read messages by newbie players expressing shock and amazement at genuinely run of the mill events. AA losing to 42o when it was three bets before the flop is a specific example. As a California player, Iíve seen this basic scenario many times times. Ho-hum. It is mildly interesting, but certainly not shocking. But this player sees a hand like that and, rather bizarrely, concludes online poker has to be rigged. This must be cheating -- nobody calls three bets before the flop with 42o. (He obviously never met Lucky Kevin.)

It should be evident that if an online casino wanted to cheat customers, they sure wouldnít do it by sending 42o against AA. They would send 77 against AK on an AK7 flop, something similar to that. But this player got too wrapped up in the mundane bizarre-ity of this run of the mill bad beat for AA to realize that.

These newbies playing online, who seldom play in brick-and-mortar casinos, are having an experience similar to what they would have if they sat down in a typical California $6/12 Holdem game. If you are used to relatively passive by-the-book poker, the first time you are in an aggressive, super-loose game, well, you are not going to know what the heck is going on! However, in a casino, you can see the players making all these bad plays. And frankly, usually when you can look at a person who calls three bets with 42o, it doesnít surprise you that much! You can visually see that this person embodies ďoh, I have two cards, I call.Ē Online you donít have that visual stimulus that kinda makes sense of it.

But these basically sensible newbies have neither the playing experience nor the visual aid of seeing the other players. So, when they have a losing stretch, either because they donít play well enough to win, or because of a bit of bad luck, they sometimes complain games arenít on the square.

I suggest the truth of the matter is much more basic: these newbie players simply donít know how to play loose game poker well (especially Holdem). If you play from a basic strategy geared for playing in a weak-tight game but happen to be in a loose-aggressive game, you are toast. And, you are especially doomed if you expect the variance you have in a weak-tight game to be the same variance that you have in a loose-aggressive game. Everything about online poker tends to make it more volatile than casino poker. That doesnít mean it is more or less profitable than casino poker, but it does mean that if you arenít expecting fluctuations, you are going to be surprised and disappointed when the big fluctuations do come.

My suggestion to these new players being created is to give your poker game time. Gain experience and learn to play better. Adapt to the type of game you are in. You'll see some new craziness every single day.

Also see Poker Experts and The Hazards of Being a Poker Role Model