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Switching From Online to Brick-and-Mortar Casino Poker Adjusting to the happenings on April 15

by Alan Schoonmaker |  Published: Jun 07, 2011


Alan Schoonmaker

Because of the indictments of April 15 against online-poker sites and their effects, you have six choices:

1. Fight the system: It may feel good, but it won’t solve your problem. See my blog:
2. Whine and rant: Ditto.
3. Find some way around the law: It’s difficult and risky.
4. Leave America: If you’re young, don’t have strong ties here, and win big online, you can leave, but do you want to do so?
5. Quit playing poker: Nobody wants to quit, and in this bad economy, some people can’t afford to quit. They need the income.
6. Switch to brick-and-mortar casino (B&M) poker: You may dislike switching, but what else can you do? If you’ve played a lot of B&M poker, switching can be fairly easy.

If you’ve played almost entirely online, it can be very difficult.

Good News

There’s a little good news.

B&M games are MUCH softer: Many authorities have said that online games are as tough as live games that are five to 10 times larger. So, if you’re an online winner and adjust well, you can beat much larger live games. Of course, if you don’t adjust well, you’ll lose.

B&M games are more fun: You can socialize, flirt, and discuss almost anything. Socializing online is much more difficult to do and less enjoyable. Worse yet, anonymity enables people to say things that they wouldn’t say to your face.

Extremely Basic Advice

A few online players need basic help.

Protect your cards: Don’t expose or put them where the dealer may take them.
Count the pot automatically: Otherwise, you’ll have to act without knowing its size or waste thinking time to count it.

Less-Basic Advice

Many online players need these tips:

Don’t give away information: When playing live, some online players act out of turn, pick up chips, get ready to fold, look happy or disgusted, and display many other tells.

Observant opponents use that information against them. If they sense strength, they back off. If they sense weakness, they bluff. If they see you intend to bet, they check-raise.

You probably don’t know your own tells. Read the books recommended below, and have a poker buddy or coach watch you. You may be astonished by the amount of information that you’re giving away.

Learn how to read hands from betting patterns without software: You must develop the abilities to observe, remember, and interpret betting patterns. Study books and articles about hand-reading. Then, apply my recommendations about exploiting the slower pace.

Learn how to read body language: Study Mike Caro’s The Body Language of Poker, and Joe Navarro’s Read ’Em and Reap. Constantly look for tells, and take mental or written notes.

Learn how to cope with much larger swings: You might have minimized online variance by playing multiple tables simultaneously for low stakes. To get the same income from one table, you must play for much higher stakes, which dramatically increases your swings. You’ll need a bigger bankroll, but it may be locked up for a while.
Even with enough cash to play higher, you may not have a large enough “psychological bankroll,” which is the much smaller amount that you can lose without having your play deteriorate.

If you don’t have the money or temperament to handle large swings, you must play in smaller games than you’d like, at least until you’ve built up both of your bankrolls. It will reduce your upside, but if you play in bigger games, you can easily go broke.
Learn how to adjust to varied numbers of players: Online players often sit out for a few hands, but B&M games can have empty seats for hours. In addition, you may be a six-max player.

Nearly all B&M tables have nine or 10 seats, and you may not notice that some are empty. Before every hand, count the number of players. The fewer players dealt in, the more your strategy must change.

There’s an upside for six-max specialists. Late-night games often become shorthanded, and many players are losing and trying — perhaps recklessly — to get even. They may not know how to adjust to shorthanded games, which can increase your edge.
Pick the right cardrooms and hours: Big websites enable you to choose from dozens of games of all types and stakes. B&M rooms vary in the games they offer, promotions, rake, and many other dimensions. Some may spread only one table of your preferred game, and it doesn’t run 24/7.

Games may change immensely. Afternoon games may be rock gardens, and late-night games are often wild, especially on weekends. Or, the pattern may be very different. Develop an information-exchange network about rooms and hours.

Factor MUCH higher costs into your calculations: Rake, tips, jackpot drop, food, gas, and parking will at least double your costs, and they may be triple or higher. You may have played a high-volume, low-edge game (winning only a few big blinds per 100 hands), but that approach doesn’t fit the B&M cost structure. If you play that way live, the higher costs may cause you to lose money even when you beat the other players.

Learn how to fight boredom and loss of concentration: After playing hundreds of hands per hour, you may become bored and unfocused while playing about 30. You’ll also face distractions: table talk, waitresses, casino noises, television, and so on. They can cause you to make mistakes that you wouldn’t make online. To avoid these problems, deliberately exploit the slower pace.

First, study the players. Barry Tanenbaum once wrote, “The times that you’re not in a hand are almost as important as the times that you are. This is when you should be watching your opponents play, and trying to decipher what they are doing and why, and how they might behave when you finally are in a hand against them.”
Second, use the extra time to think carefully before acting. When I told a coaching client to slow down, observe, and think, he objected. So, I asked, “Who’s the slowest player in your game?”

“Roy Cooke. He ‘huddles’ before doing anything.”

“Who’s the best hand-reader?”

He nodded, smiled ruefully, and said, “Roy Cooke.”

What more can I say?

Final Remarks

There’s lots of good advice and information available about B&M games. If you were an online winner and diligently study Card Player and good books, you’ll beat the games. Working with a coach or poker buddy will improve your win rate. It won’t be easy, and even if you adjust well, your profits may be much less than you’ve been making.
You may want to rant about the Department of Justice (DOJ), Obama, Congress, and so on. What right do they have to interfere with your poker and cut off your income?
It’s OK to rant briefly, but concentrate on solving your problem. Remember that poker experts’ answer to most questions is, “It depends upon the situation.” The DOJ has made your situation immeasurably worse, but you’re stuck with it — at least for the short term. Losers rant about bad situations; winners accept, analyze, and adjust to them.

Future columns will provide more detailed advice. ♠

Dr. Al ( coaches only on psychology issues, such as controlling impulses and emotions, coping with losing streaks, and developing yourself. He is David Sklansky’s co-author of DUCY? and the sole author of four poker psychology books._