WHY TV POKER CAN GIVE BAD ADVICE.We'll all look back on 2003 as a watershed year for poker; the year it exploded in popularity, In part due to Chris Moneymaker's amazing run that began when he won a $40 buy-in satellite on the Internet and parlayed it into $2.5 million at the World Series of Poker. Also, Jim McManus' "Positively Fifth Street" soaring to fifth place on the New York Times bestseller list didn't hurt either. But what really put poker over the top was the World Poker Tour shown on the Travel Channel, and the World Series of Poker on ESPN2.
Some say it's the advent of the "lipstick camera," that accounts for poker's new found popularity. That it's all about the tiny device that shows each participant's hand to the TV audience and allows viewers to think along with the pros who are up there on center stage competing for million dollar payoffs. Others will tell you that poker is a game whose time has come, the reason really doesn't matter. What does matter is that this phenomenon shows no signs of abating. An AP story in USA Today recently announced the formation of the Casino and Gaming Television network that plans to launch a satellite and digital cable channel to capitalize on a burgeoning national interest in gambling.
The current fascination with poker is guaranteed to accomplish two things: First, it will send droves of new players into casinos and cardrooms everywhere, just aching to be dealt in. Second, if they learned their poker from watching TV, they learned wrong!
How can that be? If they watch how top pros like Phil Ivey, Howard Lederer, and the legendary Doyle Brunson play, why will they be learning incorrectly? Won't those bold calls and larcenous bluffs, the kind that seemingly work so well on TV, work in your neighborhood cardroom too?
The answer, in a word, is "no," and the reason it won't work can be found in the observations of Marshall McLuhan's towering intellect. You remember McLuhan, don't you? He's the University of Toronto professor who first told the world that "…the medium is the message," and in so doing revolutionized the way we view and understand communications. Well, McLuhan may never have played a hand of poker in his life ¾ I don't know for sure ¾ but his observation was spot-on.
What TV watching poker newbies haven't grasped is the difference between tournament poker, particularly when the action is no-limit and five-handed or less, and that of a 10-player limit hold'em cash game. After all, when the blinds represent a fairly significant part of each player's equity in a tournament, you just can't sit around and wait for a big pocket pair or big slick before firing some chips at the pot. If you wait, you'll bleed to death.
Poker newbies usually don't realize that limit poker, played as a cash game with small blinds at a full table requires a store of patience to wait for good hands, while short-handed tournament poker ¾ where the blinds get astronomical and too much patience is a terminal disease ¾ requires a lot more risk-taking. It's at the end of the spectrum where the selection-aggression quotient leans heavily toward aggressive play. On TV any hand with an ace and any pair in hand is raised most of the time. In a full table, low limit cash game at your neighborhood cardroom, it takes a lot more than that. But those seduced by poker on the tube haven't grasped that point ¾ and won't if watching television is their only means of learning poker.
Another common mistake made by those who have learned poker only by watching short-handed final table tournaments on TV, is overvaluing small and medium pairs. When the blinds come round with regularity because there are only five players at the table, and they're so high that one just can't outwait them in hopes of finding a big hand, small and medium hands have to be played strongly.
If you wake up with a pair of eights, or even a pair of sixes in a shorthanded tournament, it's a raising hand. But when you're at a full table in a cash game, particularly at lower limits, where almost everyone will call regardless of what you do, those small and medium pocket pairs will probably be looking at overcards on the flop, and at least one of your opponents figures to have a better hand than yours at that point. In a full game, smaller pairs need to flop a set to retain their value; in a short handed tournament a big raise from a pocket pair stands a good chance of forcing your opponents to fold, and if perchance you're called by someone with a hand like A-K or A-Q, what the heck ¾ you're a small favorite anyway as long as you're up against a lone opponent.
When you're shorthanded in a tournament you can raise with a pretty dicey hand as long as no one else has entered the pot. And once you raise, your opponents will need fairly strong hands to risk what amounts to a significant portion of their tournament equity to call. There's a big chasm between raising hands and calling hands in tournaments, particularly when those raises represent a major chunk of your change. In a full handed cash game, where you can buy more chips anytime you go broke on a hand, you'll find players who call with hands they wouldn't dream of playing if they were skilled tournament pros who were shorthanded at the final table.
These aren't the only errors made by newbies who've learned their poker simply by watching it on TV. But they are among the most egregious. You'll find others too. The root cause of most of these errors, as Marshall McLuhan was quick to recognize, can be found in the medium itself. Poker on TV, dealt up shorthanded in a tournament format, is not a low limit cash game in your neighboring casino. Differences between those two forms of poker are as different as Arena Football is to the NFL, and miniature golf is to the PGA tour. And when one mimics the style of game that's tailored for one medium but not another, the results can be catastrophic.
As long as new players keep walking into casinos there's a winning opportunity for skilled players. And when those newbies are convinced that the kind of chops they've seen on TV will play just as well in an entirely different game environment, well, you really can't ask for more than that, can you?
by: Lou Krieger