Computer Training for the World Series of PokerPlayers around the world are in training using Internet poker sites to prepare for gambling’s biggest challenge.
If Chris Moneymaker’s incredible victory in the 2003 World Series of Poker taught online players anything, it was that all you need to beat the best is the right cards, a pair of gas station sunglasses and a computer.
Moneymaker, you may remember, was the stocky accountant who paid a $40 entry into a tournament at PokerStars.com to win an all-expenses paid ticket into the WSOP. An unknown who took up the game after watching the movie Rounders, the 27-year old bluffed his way past the world’s top pros to a $2.5 million payday in the first land-based tournament of his life.
With poker hotter than ever, there are thousands hoping to follow in Moneymaker’s footsteps. This year’s WSOP at the Rio Las Vegas will feature a staggering 5,000+ players in its No-limit Texas Hold 'em Championship: double the number of competitors in 2004 (and up from 838 in Moneymaker’s day).
Since then, the game’s popularity has experienced a dramatic rise. The online poker monitoring service Pokerpulse.com estimates that the number of online players around the world is over 1.5 million. Most poker room websites sport live player-counters that boast hundreds of live players at any given time, day or night.
If Moneymaker’s success is thanks to a computer, poker’s sudden growth can be explained by two things: ESPN2 and the Internet.
When ESPN2 started televising the WSOP in 2001, their broadcasts opened the game up by showing both player cards and the probability they will better their opponents. Thanks to Internet poker rooms, players either too remote, inexperienced or just plain scared to play in a Vegas-style poker room can play for real cash 24/7.
With so much burgeoning interest in the game, a new ESPN-fuelled generation of players are taking their chances with the ultimate in reality programming using computers to hone their skills.
Ask around the chatroom at PokerStars.com late on a weeknight and it’s not hard to find players who fit the ESPN bill. Many are playing tournaments, sharpening their game and searching for an elusive chair in the WSOP.
One is a player with the online name ‘CanadaEh.’ He’s a young, 20-something male, a self-confessed ‘poker fanatic’ (yet new to the game) and lives in an area (Canadian prairies) where there are no land-based poker rooms. Like so many fellow players, he desperately wants to find a way to prove his moxie against the best in the world.
'Winning cash is great on the site, but I always hope that I'll win the big one someday and get to the WSOP,' says ‘CanadaEh’. “It would be a dream come true to play against poker's greats.”
‘CanadaEh’ plays Texas Hold’em, the game of choice among the pros and the variation used in the WSOP Main Event. He plays it because he too is looking for a spot in the WSOP. Texas Hold’em is a simple game that deals each player two cards and distributes a series of five community cards. After a series of checks, raises and calls, the player with the best traditional poker hand wins. The game features big betting, big swings and gut wrenching decisions where fortunes are made and lost in seconds.
It is also a game that lends itself to fast-paced tournaments.
Tournaments begin with several players in a giant Monopoly-style war of attrition. Lose your money and you’re out. Texas Hold’em tournaments also let players practice for the WSOP on the cheap. An online player can buy thousands of dollars worth of virtual chips for little real cash and play for hours in tournaments that award prizes for finishing at the final table (the six remaining players).
While players who are initially wary of betting real cash can play for fun, most poker sites now help players get started by offing an introductory 100% match bonus that doubles their first deposit. So the newbie deposits $100, but plays with $200. Once they’re in the door, players get access to a pool of players that enable them top quality competition, night or day, without a trip to Vegas.
Players practicing for the WSOP are also using poker hand analyzing software programs to ‘coach’ their decisions on the fly during real-money online games in preparation for the real thing.
Illegal in a land-based room, software analyzers monitor online games and give odds of winning a given hand the same way television broadcasts do using a Random Number Generator. The program deals each opponent’s cards over and over again until it ‘guesses’ who should win. This process teaches players how to play hands that are in their favor, and to avoid getting called-out by pros like Phil Hellmuth who routinely berate play they consider mathematically unsound.
Some models like Texas Calculatem actually connect to over 50 online poker rooms to give advice while playing for real cash. And standard online poker room software also keeps track of every hand, helping players analyze their past decisions after the fact.
Of course, much of poker skill is based on intuition and bluffing; skills only experience can teach.
It would be simple enough for ‘CanadaEh’ to buy a ticket to Las Vegas and play in the WSOP. The event is open to anyone. But with the event’s steep $10,000 entry fee, few players other than professionals and rich hobbyists can afford the risk. And ‘CanadaEh’ admits he only a couple hundred dollars in his online account at the best of times.
Luckily, there are now a growing number of online poker rooms that offer WSOP seats as promotional items, like the one won by Moneymaker. Internet poker rooms like InterPoker and FullTilt Poker host ‘satellite’ tournaments, with the winner gaining entry into the WSOP. The promotional element keeps entry fees are so low that they are actually sometimes free!
InterPoker is one operator guaranteeing three seats to this year’s WSOP. Select InterPoker tournaments sport a shot at the Big Event. The cost to enter a satellite tournament is as little as $10. Win and you’re in. And on top of picking up the tab for the entry, they will also give winners $2,000 spending cash and accommodation for a week.
FullTilt Poker’s website is adorned by the faces famous poker pros like Howard Lederer and Phil Ivey. They also promise WSOP seats to players entering their online tournaments. Win one of their seats, and they promise winners will dine with a member of their celebrity “Team FullTilt” on top of an all-expenses paid trip to Vegas and a full FullTilt wardrobe. But FullTilt Poker players admit to hoping the next celebrity player will be them.
Almost overnight, poker players have gone from smoky backrooms to the bright lights of television and Las Vegas. For a new generation of players with a computer and a dream, for the price of a large pizza they can have their shot at the ultimate in reality television: the World Series of Poker.