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Fan Letter

A reader’s rant

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Feb 01, 2011

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I recently wrote a column in Vol. 23/No. 23 (“Don’t Think About Turning Pro if You Have Ever Thought …”) in which I picked out certain common costly misconceptions that I frequently hear stated by poker players. I usually don’t like to repeat things without allowing some time to pass, so that newer players are exposed to some of my older ideas, but I think the concept I’m about to repeat is important enough that it’s OK.
In part, that column said the following:
If you think, I can’t win in games where everyone plays badly, this idea is usually accompanied by some additional statements: They play terrible hands and always get lucky against me. I can’t figure out what they’re doing. I do better when there are a few good players in the game.
I can assure you that it is much better to play in a game with all bad players. Other good players are earning money, and what they can win from the losers reduces what’s left for you. Perhaps you haven’t learned how to win the maximum from really bad players. In general, you must be more patient and play better hands — and play those hands strongly. Don’t worry about being tricky and running some cunning bluffs. There is a good chance that your opponents will miss the inferences that prove that you must have a big hand, and will continue to call with mediocre holdings. If you’re bluffing, you’ll lose. If you’re betting for value, you’ll win.
Now, this seemed to me to be some relatively good advice that wasn’t subject to misinterpretation.
Dennis, one of my readers, wrote back [presented as written, totally unedited]: “here is a rant i have been trying to get out of my head since i read this article. when is the last time zolotow played in a .25/.50 rush poker game? ask zolotow to play 5000 hands of .25/.50 rush poker and see if he can beat all those players playing badly. ask zolotow to post his results so we can all see how he beats all the players playing badly……well mr. pro, put what you wrote to the rush poker test. how did this article make it to publication? …. now thats flawed thinking.”
I’m not sure exactly what he is trying to say. (Perhaps it is that I suck as a writer and the Card Player editors are just as bad for printing the nonsense I write.) If he understood what I was saying, could he be suggesting that all of the 25¢-50¢ Rush Poker players are bad, and it is therefore impossible to beat them? Or, perhaps he means that even though they play for small stakes, they play so well that it is hard to beat them and I shouldn’t have been dismissive of their skills just because they play for small stakes. Or, is he just suggesting that my online no-limit hold’em skills are so weak that I can’t beat anyone, no matter how badly they play? I suspect that the real truth is that he couldn’t beat them, and therefore thinks that no one can. Whatever he is saying, he clearly misses the point that I was making, which is that your results will improve if you avoid games with good players and seek games with bad players.
He also misses a very important point in his challenge. The percentage of good players in Full Tilt’s Rush Poker games is lower than in regular online games. To show why this is so, let’s look at a case in which there is only one good player playing. Let’s also assume that there are 10 regular tables and 10 tables of players playing Rush Poker. In the regular games, this good player might play at all 10 tables. This means that no matter where you sit, he is at your table. In the Rush Poker game, he is at only one table out of 10. Therefore, 90 percent of the time, he won’t be at your table. Based on my contention that you do better when avoiding good players, I feel that I would do better at Rush Poker than I would at a regular 25¢-50¢ table. I am used to playing for higher stakes, so the hard part for me would be avoiding boredom, which would cause me to make careless mistakes. I would happily bet $50,000 that I would be ahead after 5,000 hands of 25¢-50¢ Rush Poker. Now that would keep me focused.
I would happily make this wager, even though Rush Poker games don’t enable me to capitalize on many of my skills and emphasize skills that I don’t particularly possess. Knowing what your skills are and picking games in which those skills will be most important is an underrated skill in itself. My main skills, which relate more to live games, are the ability to find good games, reading my opponents, and playing a mix of games very well (but not necessarily perfectly) from a technical point of view. Rush Poker is ideal for players who specialize in one or two games — no-limit hold’em and/or limit hold’em. It is especially suitable for players with strong technical skills. By this I mean that they know the right hands to start with and the proper play to make in any situation. They don’t need to be skilled in learning about and reading their opponents. They don’t need to be skilled in finding good games. And they certainly don’t need to be experts at other poker variations. In a future column, I will revisit this theme. I will discuss a variety of poker skills, and where they may be most usefully applied.
After writing this column, I thought that before I offered to make a $50,000 wager, I should test my 25¢-50¢ Rush Poker skills. Perhaps Dennis is a wealthy bond trader and will snap up my offer. I played 504 hands over five short sessions. I won in four out of the five sessions. My total playing time was 1.6 hours. I won $38.85, or $24.28 per hour. (I don’t think these stats are particularly meaningful, but unlike some of my other online results, I feel that I can report them without shame.) Also, since I never saw the outcome of hands after I folded, what my opponents actually held remained unknown to me. This made it harder to judge how well they were playing, but on the hands I was involved in that went to showdown, they had made plays that I felt were bad to horrendous about 20 percent of the time. This means that the games are clearly beatable. ♠

Steve “Zee” Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful games player. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at many major tournaments and playing on Full Tilt, as one of its pros. He usually spends much of the fall hanging out in his bars on Avenue A — Nice Guy Eddie’s and The Library near Houston, and Doc Holliday’s at 9th Street — in New York City.