We often hear people complaining about being unlucky in poker, and yes, we've all done it, plenty of times. Everywhere and anywhere, someone is whining over a bad beat, whether it's on Facebook, poker forums or during live tournament breaks. It looks like everybody would be such successful players - if it weren't for THAT awful card on the river...
And, that's the true beauty of poker.
A Game for Anyone and Everyone
The main reason why Texas Hold'em has become a mass phenomenon is essentially because anyone can join the game and have fun, even if they barely know the rules. There's no sport which gives you the opportunity to be on the same felt as the "stars" and competing with them on the same level.
Chris Moneymaker, who, in 2003, won the WSOP Main Event via a $39 online satellite, showed the entire world how fine the line is between dreams and reality, especially in poker.
'Lady Luck' gives and takes back - just like a wave. What we can do as players is to give it a direction – meaning we should find the most profitable strategy for the field we're going to compete against. That's what the professionals do. Sometimes they hit big; other times they don't cash for months, but they always win in the long run.
A Winning Trickle-Down Strategy
Everyone has a poker strategy, even those sitting at the table for the first time. Some players read and study books about poker; others prefer to just to talk with other players. But they all learn a lot from experience, which may mean copying from a better opponent or simply adapting the game to their tendencies.
It's a sort of domino-effect: professionals develop new strategies to improve profitability; their opponents start slowing adapting, and absorbing the new information that might be used against weaker opponents, and so on.
The funny thing is that there's no end to the learning process. There's not such thing as a complete 'perfect strategy' to win at poker. Having an edge on somebody means being just one step above them, no matter where in the learning path.
That's why we keep hearing that Texas Hold'em has evolved a lot over the years, even though it is really hard to pinpoint how in a few words. The best we can do is to focus on some aspects and try to explain the way certain patterns have been supplanted by new habits.
We'll examine how these changes have affected both pros and amateurs, and not least, how the poker industry has adapted itself to the evolving demands.
We are pleased to have Alec Torelli on board to navigate the way using poker strategy and marketing.
Raise It Up!
Q: Alec, let's start with raising sizes: it was common in the past to put 3 times the blind as an opening raise size. Before the advent of online poker, it wasn't uncommon to raise even 4 or 5 times the big blind. Nowadays, especially when stacks are not deep, most of the players use smaller sizes, from a minimum raise to 2.2 to 2.5 or 2.8, depending on the position. Can you explain, in simple terms, why these changes have become the new fashion among players? And, getting more detailed, what kind of advantages are there in smaller sizing than in the past?
A: Since the boom of poker, back in 2003, the game has evolved steadily and become increasingly more efficient. Raise sizes are rooted in mathematics. Good players raise smaller preflop because they need to risk less to win the same amount of money, thus giving them a higher risk to reward proposition.
What starts as something a few of the game's elite players are doing, soon becomes a trend as more and more players understand the reasoning behind their decisions and begin to adopt their strategies.
Floats and Backdoors
Q: Years ago, the concept of equity wasn't clear to everybody. Moves like "floating" with a backdoor straight and one/two overcards were unpopular, while now we see them way more often. What changed in the game to make these choices more profitable?
A: Calling became a more powerful play over the years. Especially when in position, a flat call allows good players to learn a lot about their opponent's hand for a cheap price. Instead of bluff raising, like they used to in the past, players nowadays will flat call or 'float' the flop and try to pick up the pot, if their opponent checks the turn.
Because one has to select careful times to do this, players generally float with some sort of equity and those backdoor straight and flush draws are the best times to do it. An example would be if you had Q♦ J♦ on a 10♦7♣ 4♣ board.
A more advanced player would also understand that he's not merely calling and trying to realise his equity, but that he has numerous ways of winning the pot. By flat calling, he can also represent a flush or straight on a variety of turns or rivers, which gives him even more chances to win the pot.
Limping Is no Longer a Dirty Word
Q: Let's talk about limping: Back at the beginning of 2000 a lot of players preferred to call from early position instead of raising. After more than a decade, during which limping has been considered a 'fishy' move, some players are including a limp-range, especially from late positions, like the button and cut-off, and even, less frequently, from earlier positions. Why did everyone start to avoid limping? Can a balanced limp-strategy be profitable nowadays?
A: You do see some players limping in late position, but this is generally a tournament play when their preflop odds are much better (due to antes), and the stacks are much shorter.
I don't mind limping in tournaments, but it's not something you often see in cash games. Still, with the right situation, correct image and proper strategy, limping could be an effective play in both cash games and tournaments.
Opening Ranges and New Trends among Amateurs
Q: In your experience, how have opening ranges changed among amateurs?
A: They have gotten tighter over the years as players have improved their fundamentals. Most players today, even amateurs, have decent preflop fundamentals and strive to play strong suited hands and play in position.
Q: Do you agree that the average amateur adapts their game to the new 'trends' or they mostly play straight up?
A: I think everyone has adapted over the years, but, of course, the professionals have adjusted faster and more intensely than the amateurs. I think a good amateur today could beat some pros 10 years ago. The game has evolved a lot, and the average player is much better in 2016.
Q: In general, which are the most significant changes you have seen, besides the ones already mentioned?
A: If I had to say another one I've noticed over the years, it's that players today think about the game more accurately. They use hand ranges to describe situations. When I first started playing, that concept was much less discussed, and the 'old school' pros used to put their opponents on one particular hand and make decisions from there. It was only in the last 5 years that people started understanding the concept of hand ranges and how to use it to make effective decisions.
Q: Is it still possible for a new player to start playing poker today and make a profit, or it will take too much time (and money) to get up to speed and keep up?
A: Absolutely, it's possible. Of course, it is harder than it was back in 2003, but that's not an excuse not to start. Every other major sport has followed this progression, yet there is more opportunity now in these sports than ever in history.
Baseball is extremely competitive today, but 100 years ago major leaguers had second jobs to support themselves. Things change faster today in our modern society, but I'm confident that, in the next 10 years, there will be players that rise through the ranks and become phenoms, just like you saw 10 years ago with rising stars like Tom Dwan.
Q: Is 'the dream' of becoming a professional still alive among players who just started? And if not, what kind of targets should someone, who wants to start now, set up?
A: Absolutely. I just built an entire course on turning aspiring amateurs into successful professionals called Four Step Poker. It's doing very well, and I've had many clients tell me they've been able to make side income.
If I'm seeing this kind of feedback within my community alone, it means there's definitely room to make a living at the game for people who are driven, dedicated and disciplined.
The Sponsored & Professional Player Market
Q: Poker has also changed as an industry: the golden age of sponsorships have come to an end. But can a poker room forget about ambassadors or do they still play a significant role in terms of marketing?
A: In the poker world, one's reputation is all they have. Although formal sponsorships are much harder to come by in today's market, word of mouth and brand trust are still the most important things. This is particularly the case with online poker sites, where there have been so many scandals over the years. It's a shame that players have lost trust in the industry as a whole because there are still good sites out there, like 888 Poker, who are completely reputable, 100% legal and regulated.
Q: What do you think of high roller tournaments? Are they good for promoting the image of poker or do they just alienate amateurs by increasing the gap between them and the big-name pros?
A: High rollers are great because they are good publicity for the game and provide entertainment for wealthy businessmen. Anything that draws more money and attention to the sport is a good thing. Sure the everyday pro can't play the high rollers, but there are plenty of tournaments for players of all levels. In short, the pros of high rollers outweigh the cons.
Poker – 10 Years Down the Line
Q: How do you picture the poker industry ten years from now?
A: It's funny you ask. I recently created a video on this subject and wrote a blog about it as well. In short, I think the advancement of technology and rapid spread of information will continue to make the game more competitive. I still believe there will be room to make a decent amount of money playing, although the ceiling or earning cap for professionals has always been quite low compared to other industries.
Hopefully, online poker will become regulated in the United States which will help change public opinion and eventually bring mainstream sponsors to the sport.