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Returning To Live Poker After The Pandemic: Part 1

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Jul 28, 2021

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Normally my poker routine consists of pot-limit Omaha at Aria, no-limit hold’em at Bellagio, and a handful of events each summer at the World Series of Poker. All of that was unavailable during COVID.

My wife and I spent most of the pandemic, close to a year and a half, self-quarantined in a relatively small space. We have never been TV watchers, but suddenly we were caught up in a variety of series. (I could go on a fine rant on how bad most American TV series are, but that’s a little far away from my topic.) I also started to study and play a lot of bridge and poker online.

Online poker is almost a completely different game than live poker. I have always felt live reads and tells were a big part of the game, but now they were gone. In their place was a HUD, a Heads Up Display for those of you who are uninitiated. I chose PokerTracker, and I’ve been happy with it, although I might not be making as full use of it as I should. It tells me in great detail what each regular opponent has done in a variety of situations in real time, while I’m playing.

I have been playing this game for close to 70 years, but modern poker and game theory have uncovered many new concepts. Renowned futurist Alvin Toffler once predicted that “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” During all this time playing, I had picked up a lot of bad habits that needed to be corrected.

I wanted to spend a lot of time studying, especially no-limit hold’em, for both tournaments and cash games. PokerTracker is also a great tool for studying hands you’ve played. You can review all your hands, and even sort them into specific categories like continuation bets on the turn or big blind vs a raise. The internet has made available a lot of great poker content.

My top recommendation is Jonathan Little’s PokerCoaching.com/CardPlayer. There is also a lot of great study material on UpswingPoker.com, SolveForWhyAcademy.com, RunItOnce.com, and SplitSuit.com. If you enjoy watching players actually playing, while listening to expert commentary, PokerGO is the best option, but you can also search YouTube for a lot of readily-available content.

Lastly, there is some great software for hand analysis, like PioSOLVER and ICMizer. While I haven’t really leaped into using them, I have two friends/coaches (Matt Affleck and Justin Saliba) who have provided me with some output.

I started playing on Americas Cardroom and some other sites, and my actual playing result was a small loss (perhaps somewhat due to experimentation and the implementation of new strategies and tactics.)

I also had two somewhat accidental brilliancies that provided a big windfall. The first was getting involved with Bitcoin for financial transactions on ACR. Somehow my timing was flawless, and I made a big profit there. I assumed that I wouldn’t be alone in wanting to play a lot of online poker, so I also decided to invest in PokerStars, whose stock traded in Canada as The Stars Group. Within a few months of my investment, they were acquired by Flutter Entertainment, resulting in another nice profit.

After I was vaccinated and the pandemic seemed to be winding down, I was ready to return to live poker. I endured a few sessions at Aria and Bellagio behind plexiglass partitions. In May, even those started to be removed.

Since much of my online play and study had focused on tournaments, I wanted to play some live events. The US Poker Open in the PokerGO studio at Aria was on deck, consisting of a series of $10,000 buy-in events, followed by a $25,000 and a $50,000 event. These events were by no means soft, and promised to be filled with the best tournament players in the world.

I decided I could afford to play somewhere around three to five of the $10,000 tournaments, looking at it as more of a learning opportunity than as a plus-equity venture. My modest goal was to break even, while observing what these sharks did and learn from them.

In my next column, I’ll reveal how I did (Editor’s Spoiler: Pretty damn good!) and discuss some of the hands involved. ♠

Steve ZolotowSteve ‘Zee’ Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 35 years and has two WSOP bracelets. He can be found at some major tournaments and playing in cash games in Vegas. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A in New York City – The Library near Houston and Doc Holliday’s on 9th St. are his favorites.