If you’ve played online poker for any length of time, you’ve surely become familiar with third-party poker software. The type of software that is designed to offer you instant mathematical and opponent profile data for your online tables – whether they be tournaments, sit and go tables, or cash tables.
An underlying problem with using poker calculator software is becoming so dependent on it, that a player cannot actually play effectively without it. This may not be a factor for the casual Friday night online low limit player. However, if you harbor dreams of making a TV final table or stacking chips in a live NL hold’em cash game casino, then this could be a major issue.
I know this, because it was me.
Rarely do I play live games, but a few years back during an overnight trip to Niagara, I decided to sit at a NL cash table in the hotel I was staying at. I bought in for a measly $300, and boldly taking into account my own online experience, I figured I would call it a night when I doubled my stack.
That did not happen. But I doubled others up. Not once, not twice, but three times!
Okay. So that was when I called it a night.
Let me be clear here – I was not only outplayed, but completely out of my element even though I’ve played online for years. The noise, the conversation, the nervousness, the feel of real chips, the real dealer, the boredom…. It all took a toll on my game, but the worst of it was when I realized I had no idea WHO I was playing against. With my software at home I would have none of the above distractions and feel completely confident (for the most part) of my big decisions because I had a read. A complete digital profile as well as odds displays right in front of me.
Needless to say, I was humbled and downright embarrassed that night.
After playing profitable poker online for years now, I knew I had the stuff to fix this. I think that is common with many good players. Something happens to them when they’ve been humbled. They dig deeper, study their errors, they make adjustments, and then try again. I strive to always be in the group of poker players that actually make money. To me, that is the “good player” standard. After reflecting on this horrific night of poker, I realized the lack of software was my crutch – during live poker.
The good news is that my live game improved rapidly after that incident, only because I was self-aware enough to know how bad a live player I really was. I might as well have been one of those tourists in the movie “Rounders” getting sucked up by the whole gang at the “Taj”. But – determined to be a good live player as well, here is what I did to make up for my frightening high level of poker software dependence.
First of all I went back to the basics and reviewed some classic books. Dan Harrington’s trilogy on tournament poker. Gus Hansen’s “Every Hand Revealed” of his Aussie Millions tournament take down. Also the trio of online players Rizen, Apestyles and Pearljammer who co-wrote “Winning Poker Tournaments – One Hand at a Time”. These books were excellent examples of how to approach hand-to-hand situations utilizing any information you had. And in the case of Harrington’s and Hansen’s books, they had no poker software to help them. Regardless, they still had great reads and a solid foundation of odds that could pretty much stack up against any third-party software.
Keep it simple. In reading these books, I was acutely reminded of how each author weighed the good and the bad of each situation – the pros and cons. This is what software does for you, but at a live table you have to keep it simple. Too much data tracking with your own brain can prove ineffective at least for slow minds like my own. What I started doing better was simply noting position, VPIP and PFR – which can be done surprisingly easily, even when in conversation. Just from those three things – and what hands opponents uncovered at showdown was a world of valuable information. Practicing this data collection is important, but it really does become very easy after some practice.
Replace profiles with colours. Many programs offer profiling features, but at a live table that is rather impossible. What I do instead is associate one of two colours to an opponents’ face. Green is for fishy or prone to error. Red is for book player or protective of stack. Most players lean towards one or the other and having this color association offers up different warning flags that I use to make table decisions. I can change a player’s color (in my mind) anytime I see him making a different type of play.
Basic odds practice. At the table, I mentally run the odds of every hand I am NOT in as well as those I am playing. In doing this I became proficient in knowing the pot and bet sizes of opponents, and it too was another glaring tell into their skills, or lack of them. Again, it allows for a lot of practice in your down-time, and also reducing the boredom that live table play can be.
What would I do online here. I am now far more comfortable tanking in live play. I don’t feel under pressure to be speedy and will use any available time that is granted to me. Since my table awareness has increased with the above strategies, it is easier to navigate through hand action, profiles and odds while taking just a moment to think about the hand.
Now I look back on that money losing experience with a twisted fondness, as once again I remember that if you’re serious about your game – then tough experiences will always lead to a better player.