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The Poker Cynic

by Ashley Alterman |  Published: Nov 01, 2005


Jekyll and Hyde

As a player, I fluctuate between playing like a rock and playing like a maniac. The key factor that determines which way I play is fear. Once outside my comfort zone, I feel constricted, and the fear factor comes in. Instead of trying to win, I spend my time trying not to lose. Once that happens, I may as well leave the table while I still have any money left. The competition will run all over me when they sense that unwillingness to commit my money to the pot.

The problem is finding a balance between the two extremes. Playing too tight makes it difficult to win enough in most games, and playing too aggressively or loose makes it hard to win consistently, and increases the level of fluctuation in one's game. In theory, raising the level of fluctuation is not a problem; in practice, however, it can easily make the game in which you're playing too big for you. So, you end up losing in a game in which you expect to win, because you aren't comfortable with the expected swings. In an ideal world, the fact that you may have to wait longer to consummate your edge would not be a problem. What actually happens, though, is that losing affects the way you play. The ability to play your best game when you are losing is one of the attributes of a great player. Even when the money isn't the main issue, very few players retain their equilibrium in the face of a losing streak, even a relatively brief one. It is hard to remain confident and unconcerned when you keep losing, unless you possess that level of self-confidence that represents either genius or idiocy.

Like most players, I find it so much easier to play fast and loose online, so I am looking forward to this year's World Championship of Online Poker – the equivalent of the World Series online. Well, it's nearly the equivalent. You can't win $7.5 million in one competition, and you won't get the recognition accorded to World Series bracelet winners, however, you can play up to 15 tournaments from the comfort of your living room. The smallest guaranteed prize pool is $200,000 for a $200 entry fee, all the way up to a prize pool of $2.5 million for the main event, the entrance fee for which is $2,500. With no traveling expenses, no whining losers, no waiting, and no queuing, it's hard to find a better spot for your money.

To keep up with the pace of poker online, which can make live play seem like it's underwater, speed poker is one of the newer attempts at making televised poker entertaining. The pressure of 15-second decisions should be enough to shake up the players. Most of the time, 15 seconds is plenty, but it may seem brief when faced with life or death decisions. It will be played shorthanded – six to a table. I can only assume that someone bought a job lot of sixhanded tables, because I rarely see anything else on TV. I have to admit that I already think sixhanded play with a 30-minute clock is speed poker, so this is going to feel like playing your old singles at 78 rpm. (For anybody born in the post-vinyl age, just picture your parents on Ecstasy).

The World Speed Poker Open has a prize pool of £180,000, with a £50,000 first prize. There's a qualifier, then two semifinals and a final, the qualifier providing one player for the semifinals. I can only assume that the rest of the semifinalists are invited, as the organizers have not been guilty of advertising the competitors, even to the qualifiers. Perhaps they believe the mystique created by releasing no information will work in their favor. It does look as though there aren't that many players involved, maybe as few as 17, so the prize pool has suddenly appeared larger to me than when I first saw it. OK, I'm only a 50-1 shot, as I'm in the qualifier, but for a $20 entry, I've shown a $280 profit, and the rest is a freeroll. That's better than a poke in the eye.

Ashley Alterman is a British professional poker player who lived and worked in Paris before returning to London.