Poker Thoughts – The Future of Poker

Poker Thoughts with Doug Polk What is up, everyone! Doug Polk here and we’re back for another episode of Poker Thoughts. And today we’re going to discuss something a little bit more “advanced.” I want to talk about the ecosystem of poker. I want to talk about where I think poker is headed, and I want to dispel some general “poker is dead” type theories/rumors that are going on. Now… before we talk about those things, I want to say one thing first, which is…

There is absolutely no doubt. Poker is getting HARDER. And BECAUSE poker is getting harder, there are going to be less and less people coming up in the game that win a ton of money.

Okay? Those are both just facts. I’m not going to sugarcoat it and be like, ‘Well EVERYONE can still win!’

No. That is totally not true. You have to work MUCH harder to get the same results you could 5-10 years ago. But the people that are saying, ‘Oh it can’t be done! There’s no way! It just CAN’T happen anymore!’

That’s also simply not true. Now just because an individual person themselves, like THEY couldn’t do it… does NOT mean that the population can’t, or that certain people cannot. There are a lot of smart people out there who even in the last 5-10 years… you know, particularly in the last 5 years have managed to work their way up to the top. And I think if you look at someone like “OtB_RedBaron” I believe… And I might be wrong here but I think it was either 4 or 5 years ago.

I want to say 4 years ago. He had a thread on TwoPlusTwo where he played NL $500 Zoom and talked about hands, and posted graphs and whatever. And that was 4 years ago and he’s become the single-best player online today! He went from mid-stakes all the way to being number one at 6-max.

So… I know that even nowadays it’s harder than it was then. But what I’m trying to show is that there are examples of people coming up in these difficult climates. And being able to make their way to the top. So we need to divide this conversation into TWO separate areas.

We need to talk about Live Poker and we need to talk about Online Poker. And being that I know more about online poker, I’m going to start off with that. Online poker has become a LOT tougher in the last few years for a variety of reasons. But the first and probably most important reason is that information is able to pass-along so quickly.

There are SO many ways to get better. You can go to TwoPlusTwo and read the high stakes threads and see all the big hands. You can pull up PokerStars and see what the best players are doing. You can go over to Upswing Poker and learn how to play! There are SO many ways for players to get better at the game nowadays, that…

It’s not like it was 5-10 years ago. Maybe there was CardRunners and yeah, you could learn those things… But people weren’t so ACTIVELY in it. They weren’t trying to improve, because… The game was so much easier.

It was so much easier to just learn some basic “strat” and have a big upswing. But as edges get smaller and as things become more competitive, people are more incentivized to try and become better and learn. So a lot of these things have been out there for a long time, but i think people are taking more advantage of them now, which makes the game harder. Additionally, there are things like “Solvers” which help people play a much stronger game… than they would be able to play on their own. And as we see software develop, it will become better and better to the point where it can beat humans.

I personally don’t think it’s at that point right now, and I look back a year ago when I played the “Bot Challenge.” Me, Donger Kim, Jason Les, and Bjorn Li… we beat the [Carnegie Mellon University] computer team. But these things are only going to get stronger.

Poker is a game of information. It’s a game where you make decisions based on information. And computers are really good at that stuff! So… Long term, I think that as players get better and learn more, it will continue to make the game worse. Now… There is also the existence of Scripts.

I think that hurts a bit at the higher stakes. And then of course, the last BIG reason I think Online Poker is getting tougher is RAKE INCREASES. Particularly at small-to-mid stakes, I think its effects are most exaggerated, because players that might be winning at 2, or 3, or 4 Big Blinds with low rake could be break-even otherwise. But the effects of rake increases are felt all the way up to the top, where… a lot of times what can make a good $25/$50 game run is a “Reg” who thinks they’re winning, that’s NOT winning. Or maybe they’re barely losing. And in order for that player to have their 0 Big Blind winrate, or their -0.5 BB winrate.

They need RAKEBACK to make that a reality, right? To be able to play larger samples, so… What having no rakeback at those stakes does is, it makes that player pool more competitive. And it removes the ability for a lot of these kind of mediocre to bad regs… [Less rakeback removes] their ability to play in those games. So… Rake increase is also a negative effect on Online Poker. But now that we have ALL the negative stuff out of the way, let’s talk about some positive things still going on in Online Poker. There still are a variety of places you can play.

And it seems like even more places gearing up to allow you to play in the future. Additionally, there still are stories of people coming up in the game and having success. Like “OtB_RedBaron” 4 or 5 years ago.

So, there ARE players still doing it. There ARE still a lot of new faces. I played in the $10/$20 and $25/$50 games recently, and there’s a bunch of new guys that came up that I hadn’t seen before. You know, really in the past year or two, right? So I don’t think it’s impossible, and there are people currently doing it.

It’s just harder. You have to be on more sites. You have to be picking your games better. You have to be finding better rake. You know, we talk a lot about a lot of stuff in the ‘How to Win at Poker’ Poker Thoughts, but those elements become more and more important as the environment becomes more competitive.

Now I think the single-most scary thing about Online Poker is the “nosebleed” games. Are they just gonna become bots? And at some point, you know… I have to imagine they will, because there’s too much incentive for people to cheat and have programs play for them for that much money.

And that’s really the SCARY thing I think about high stakes online, and why I think THAT particular element in poker will eventually die out. Because the people that are going to play on their own and not have programs, or Dream Machines, or whatever. They’re going to be at a disadvantage from the people that have those things. And the problem is, a disadvantage multiplied by like a $1,000 Big Blind is like a LOT of money.

So I think the days of ‘Rail Heaven’ of ‘MalACEsia’ and all that stuff, I think those days are kind of behind us. I’m not saying there wouldn’t be maybe a mini-boom or maybe if one or two players really jump in… I know that ‘Aron0621’ guy has been playing a bunch on PokerStars, so I’m not saying there wouldn’t be little things that can happen to spark up the games. And maybe if America comes back to poker in a big way (particularly California), that could really, really boom the high stakes games. But long-run, you know you CAN’T have games played for a lot of money that are based around using data to interpret things.

I mean, think about Chess. What if there was like Super High Stakes Chess on the Internet. What would that really…?

You know? It just doesn’t really make sense unless it’s Speed Chess, right? SPEED POKER! There ya’ go! We’re gonna play poker really fast! No.

Anyway, the point is… Online Poker is still fine. The effects are negative. I dislike where high stakes is going, but there still is a great opportunity for people to be able to learn, play better, improve… support a site with good rake with a good system of treating their players by playing there.

And finding the best spots to play. Finding the best games to play and build your bankroll. Because THAT can still be done in Online Poker.

Maybe we’re not going to have all these million-dollar winners like we did back in the day.┬áBut I guarantee you there are going to be players that are going to come up from this day forward, who are going to be making $200k, $300k, $400k or $500k a year in online poker. And they’re just going to have to work harder and be better players than the people that came before them. Next up, we’re going to talk about Live Poker. And frankly, I think Live Poker is going in a POSITIVE direction. If you look at a lot of the recent High Roller field sizes, if you look at a lot of the recent Main Event field sizes, a lot of them are growing.

Which is great. It shows a lot of people are interested. A lot of people are getting in there that haven’t before. A lot of people are maybe pooling their money together to get into these events.

And “The Dream” is alive and well. I mean, look at the World Series of Poker. It’s been BLASTING OFF for the last few years. Particularly because they are including events like the “Colossus” or the “Millionaire Maker”… (great marketing there by the way, WSOP — GREAT) But anyway, the point is… Live Poker is increasingly growing in field size and in money in-the-mix.

Now, are the games getting a little harder? Yes. The games HAVE gotten harder and there’s also a lot more private games now compared to before… so you can’t just hop-on-down to Bobby’s Room and jump into the biggest thing running. There are private games, specifically at the ARIA or at home games, etc. So I’m not saying it’s AS GOOD as before, BUT… I would say that Tournaments overall and really Live Cash.

These areas are growing in how many players are playing them. And even if the skill level might be increasing with the current player pool, The addition of new players and pulling-in these people that don’t know how to play, That will make them softer. So I don’t really see Live Poker going anywhere for the foreseeable future. I think that Tournaments are going to be a great way, for some time to come, to make money.

The downside with Live Poker really is that you play 30 hands an hour in a game with a lot of variance. So you’re going to have to play MUCH longer hours to get the same return in terms of your Deviation. Or rather, to have the consistent-type winnings you would have online if you’re good, might take you much more time live. So it might take you months or maybe even a year or two to go through the same sample as you get online… in like a month, or a couple of weeks. So, I’m happy with that direction and in the last couple of years, if you look at where my play has been, I have shifted it from an online focus. You know, I still play a decent chunk online, but I shifted it from an online focus to more of a live focus.

Besides the fact that I couldn’t actually get action in Heads-Up No Limit Hold’em back then, also, when I looked at the Tournaments. I looked at how soft they were. I looked at all the mistakes that were being made. I really thought that was a spot that I could jump in there and make more money. And these last two-and-a-half years I think I’ve probably had about $5 million USD earnings. So you know, it’s gone well, right?

But the point is… Poker as a whole, when we look at both sections, You know, it IS getting tougher. No one’s denying that. If someone says that it’s not getting tougher, they’re lying to you.

But the game is still growing in some areas. And there are still many opportunities to move up in stakes, learn, and improve. And the other great thing is that if you ARE a hard worker, there are so many more opportunities for you to learn, and for you to get better… than there was back in the day. You know, really there was just like Taylor Caby vids.

That was it. Now there’s so much more. And there are so many ways to learn.

And, I would say overall the future of poker is much more optimistic than most people are making it out to be. But still worse than it was in years past. Alright. Thank you for joining me here for Poker Thoughts, and I’ll see you next week!