Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Toys Toys Toys

In the process of researching for the various articles I write, I get to play with all manner of poker-related toys, many of which - needless to say - are aimed at online players. Not least of these virtual gadgets are the various applications that plug into your online game and promise to make you a Hold ‘em god by working out everything for you; often going as far as telling you exactly what to do down to the last FOLD, CALL and CHECK. How exactly you’re meant to have fun watching one piece of software tell you which button to press on another piece of software is beyond me, but some people swear by these glorified calculators. If that gets you going, why not pay to watch one robot to toss another robot off. Just a thought…

These bits of software are clever to be sure; calculating things like pots odds, remaining outs in the deck, the time in Berlin, personal horoscopes, etc. but they also remove the need to think - much in the same way the invention of toasters removed man’s essential need to create fire.

Though these applications position themselves as great tools for beginners, I couldn’t disagree more. If you don’t learn to play poker by fruitlessly chasing wild hands with unfavourable odds, how will you learn not to? If you don’t make up the small blind with 8-3 only to have the BB push all-in and make you dump the junk you should have folded in the first place, how will your game ever develop naturally? It’s like telling kids not to touch the iron. It’s not that children don’t believe you; it’s just that it becomes MUCH clearer why you shouldn’t touch an iron once you’ve actually touched an iron. You can’t be afraid to get your fingers burnt in the name of education.

Obviously please do feel free to fire up one of these little toys because it’s interesting to see the logic that drives what (hopefully) has become your poker instinct. Just don’t just do what it says without thinking or the next thing you know the dishwasher will be telling you to make it dinner… and you’ll do it.

Some of my specific issues with these helpful applications include:
1) They just aren’t always right (anyone who has been told to fold K8s in an un-raised pot by Sky Poker’s ‘Hot-O-Meter’ will fully appreciate what I mean by this).
2) There’s no room for your own style to shine through (I personally love to raise with 7-5o in the cut-off with three limpers before me)
3) If you learn how to play poker with all these computerised crutches, how the hell will you cope when you have to play without your suite of Batcave enhancements?

Someone once said, “No pain, no gain” and they weren’t just referring to those gym-frequenting men who look like sausages, shout “Who’s your daddy!” a lot, and are a little too fond of mirrors. You can certainly be told how to play poker, but that doesn’t mean you’ll instantly understand how to play poker. Comprende? It’s not just the destination my friends, it’s the journey.

So learn as millions before you have. Lose a ton of games and win a few. Run your KK run into AA twenty times on the trot. Basically enjoy the process of building up your own feel for positive and negative situations.

In a world where too many folk learn poker online and then fall apart in live games (when expected to know what’s in the pot without it being conveniently displayed in Arial font on the table somewhere) I personally can’t think of a worse way to learn poker than these HAL wannabies (“I’m sorry Dave, you can check. Are you sure you want to fold? Mary had a little lamb…”)

So, young padawan, be like Luke Skywalker when he turns of his targeting computer (and scares the absolute shit out of the people likely to be blown up if he plops his bomb down the wrong hole) and turn off all the HUD displays currently fighting for space on your screen. Turn your back on the quick and easy path and go ‘poker commando’. Oh, and may the force be with you.