There’s been a distinct shift in online poker during the last couple of years that has seen poker rooms gradually phase out various software tools and corner-cutting aids with a view to levelling the playing field so that recreational players – without whom this special ecology would not exist – can continue to enjoy the game without feeling at a constant disadvantage.
Personally – and at the risk of angering fellow poker players used to letting technology do much of their work for them – I think this is a good thing. Online poker in particular should be an all-inclusive game. Many people around the globe simply can’t go to actual casinos and bricks & mortar poker rooms for one reason or another; we’re all accessing this fantastic game via the internet, whether that’s playing while laying on your sofa in Manchester or sunbathing on a beach in Malaysia.
In order to make sure that the playing conditions are the same for everyone, so that at least during the time spent at the virtual tables we all feel equal, efforts have been made to strip the game back down to basics, with number-crunching, data-collecting software being increasingly less welcome. Just to be clear – I’m not against this kind of software or tools that help in analysis and putting how we play under a microscope or, indeed, anything that can help players improve their game.
But there’s an important distinction to be made here between whatever we choose to use away from the game, and the kind of tools that allow us to side-step some of the core, fundamental skills one would expect good players to have honed along the way to becoming good players. Making accurate decisions, consistently, based on an understanding of a whole myriad of concepts and strategies, often under pressure and within what can be a restrictive allocation of time, is what makes poker the complex, skill-based game that it is. Having software running while we play that not only collects and collates the information we should be striving to monitor, but also does all the calculations for us takes away so much of what we ourselves should be responsible for.
A ‘modern’ poker pro from a generation used to gadgets and time-saving tools likens at-the-table ‘in-running’ poker tools to golf caddies, who are a massive help to pro golfers in that they walk the course, arm themselves with key and potentially crucial information – distances, specific course characteristics such as hidden undulations of this or that green, areas to avoid and even the ever-changing weather and the implications it can have – to an extent that would be practically impossible for players to avail themselves of as they play. While this is indeed a pretty good analogy, it’s important to note that, in a typical professional golf tournament, all the players have such a companion from whom to get advice when contemplating what action to take. The playing field in terms of resources is indeed a shared and very level one, with nobody having an unfair edge and nobody being at a disadvantage because they have insufficient access to either equipment or outside help.
The same cannot be said, however, of online poker where, were we to randomly take a couple of hundred players from around the globe, we would find a much varied group of people from all walks of life, with much differing financial, cultural, social and practical circumstances. To expect everyone to be able to afford – never mind have the time to devote to learning how to use – such tools is unrealistic and unreasonable, which is why we’ve seen a noticeable sea-change of late.
My admittedly purist suggestion that poker software runs the risk of lessening the need to actually learn and get acquainted with all sorts of aspects of poker notwithstanding, constructing an environment ‘in-house’ that gives all players the same real-time resources is a different matter entirely. And it is in this area that our partner online poker room, GGPoker, deserves great credit. Their Smart HUD is available – for free – to every single customer, affording players the facility to keep track of opponents, use data and detailed statistics to better arm themselves as well as to learn about their own game. Whether it’s Tournaments or Cash Games, players are all given the same resources – some will use them more than others, but the playing field is a level one!
Incidentally, the subject of this article might have been the overall welcome shift to giving all players the same opportunities to help themselves at the tables, but if you choose to not put in the effort at other times, then there is no excuse when others continue to get the better of you. Poker is a game of skill and, as such, the rewards for those who are most committed are over time considerably greater than those who are not…