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Going Live – Reversal of Player Transition

by Jennifer Mason |  Published: May 01, 2010

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When online poker was hitting its pre-U.S.-ban peak, I was working as a dealer at the Gutshot card club in Farringdon, London, half the week, and trying out online poker like a lot of English people for the first time. The experience was less technical than it is now, and, it’s true, the games weren’t as tough (although the way people who were still in school at the time wistfully look back at the clueless pioneers is a little unfair, in my opinion).

The use of data mining, tracking software, and table selection tools was pretty much unheard of, and if you said “ICM” to someone they were likely to ask you if those guys made computers. There were people ahead of the trend, working at online poker as a job even then, keeping meticulous records and generating graphs and unpublicised profit galore, but the multiple-monitored, Heads Up Display (HUD)-sporting online pro as he or she is recognised today didn’t exist.

I was in a prime position to listen to changing attitudes towards online poker during those formative years in the early nineties. A good number of the regular players at the Gutshot started off highly sceptical of the game played by the segregated, mostly younger players who spent their visits glued to one of six monitors in the separate online area, renting online time.

There was plenty of suspicion concerning credit card security, sites’ ability to freeze accounts, and especially, random number generators. The number generation programmes frankly always seemed more reliable than the shuffling of the self-dealers on the pony (£25) tables whose dexterity with the hardware of the game was roughly that of penguins in oven gloves. Someone at one of those tables, after two half-hearted overhand shuffles, would pitch the cards high, and show the ace of spades on the bottom while telling you that they were positive it wasn’t kosher when players won online because there wasn’t a real person in charge of real cards.

Attitudes at the Gutshot changed dramatically over the 2004-05 period. More and more of the live players started to open online accounts. Crowds started to form nightly around the more successful or higher stakes players (I remember Nik Persaud going deep in a tournament with a 20-strong shouting entourage gathered around the screen for hours) and “Internet player” stopped being used as an insult around 2006. It’s common nowadays for the winner of a prestigious tournament to have little live experience — a sign that the transition most players go through is now reversed from a decade ago — they start on the virtual felt, and head for the live type in one of two ways.

The first way is that used to such success by European sites like Unibet, Betsson, and Black Belt — a heavily promoted mid-priced live event which gives a shot to hundreds of players, most of whom qualify for very little and are given a slick, professionally-run experience of a deep-stacked event with a prize pool way above anything most have played for before. Having grown used to interviewing jaded pros, to get a final table buzzing with two or more super satellite qualifiers who’ve never come close to winning three figures before, let alone six, and are truly excited about the live experience, is refreshing.

The second way players make their transition to live events is to have been fast-tracked by the tools and information available on the Internet. Some of the unknowns who can’t do any chip tricks are hugely successful online cash game or tournament players already, and pop up infrequently at high buy-in events to try their hand at a title or two. Some have been very high profile — Annette Obrestad, for example, or half the line-up for the European Poker Tour grand final in 2008.

Players start with freerolls, often only picking up real cards when they either get a shot at a tournament via a satellite, or when they’re already tearing up the virtual arena.

This leads to some interesting behaviour — everything from folding out of turn to acting as if they’d missed the chapter on table etiquette in the poker handbook. I’ve also seen, on the flip side, live cash players especially using newcomers’ inexperience for some eyebrow-raising angle-shooting. Threw in the wrong chip? Ruling. Showed his hand when he wasn’t allowed to? Declare it dead. Dealt the turn too early? Say the ruling which is most beneficial to my hand.

The attitude a lot of people seem to have to new live players is probably patronising and aggressive when it should be wary or welcoming, and the whole argument over which is the better form of the game is now by and large irrelevant. Some people are firmly in one camp or the other (“Live is so slow and boring” or “Internet poker is still rigged”) but the growth of live poker in this country is inextricably linked to the rise of the virtual game and will continue to benefit from it. Spade Suit

Jen Mason is a part of BlackBeltPoker.com. She is responsible for its live tournament coverage in the UK and abroad.