The school of thought about how to play poker is constantly evolving, with emphasis often shifting between different priorities. For example, there is now much more focus on the mathematical and analytical side of the game rather than the psychological. Poker has by no means been solved yet, and there are still many ways that even the best players in the business could improve. But the question is, are the players at the top of the poker ladder today better than their predecessors in the 1970s way before the poker boom?
A new generation of poker player is emerging. Nearly all the up-and-coming stars are learning and mastering the game in an online setting before taking part in tournaments like the World Series of Poker. Online poker player Chris Moneymaker famously started that trend in 2003 and acted as a catalyst for the poker boom, and since then there have been other internet amateurs to claim the top prize such as Ryan Reiss and Scott Blumstein. The 2017 Main Event winner in particular, spent a lot of time in internet poker rooms through college as he worked on ways to perfect his strategy.
The paramount poker competition has changed a lot over the years, and the inaugural event of 1970 is worlds apart from what we know today. In that game, six players including Johnny Moss and Doyle Brunson, played a variety of poker strains and then voted for the best player at the end. The Grand Old Man of Poker prevailed, and then he went on to win the WSOP Main Event on another two occasions in 1971 and 1974. The Texas Dolly also won it twice, in 1976 and 1977.
In those days, poker was very much a battle of wits in which players had to get the psychological edge over their opponents by spotting tells and concealing their own. Mathematics was involved back then, but the industry hadn’t yet reached a stage in which players went into detailed analysis on how to act in any given situation.
Some players, such as Brunson and Johnny Chan, crossed over between the two worlds of pre and post-internet poker. The poker legends were there from the early days, and still continued to graft at the felt after the poker boom and the influx of new players who had come from an internet background. Both of these legends continued cashing in major events long after internet poker changed the game, showing that the analogue icons could still cut it in a digital world. However, as Daniel Negreanu argues in the video above, modern players are likely to be aware of Chan’s famous techniques now and have ways of dealing with them.
Brunson and Chan were no doubt geniuses of the game, and they managed to reach elite status without access to the internet and the wealth of information found on poker blogs as well as other sources. But it could be argued that a greater number of world-class players are emerging nowadays thanks to the additional tools available online.
The main advantage that poker players of the 21st century have over their 1970s counterparts is the fact that they can easily find many different forms of poker training. In the pre-internet era, card players only had the option to play live games. These were organised to occur at a specific time and place. But the modern poker player can find thousands of cash games and tournaments online, which can be played no matter what time of day it is. They can use training software, analysis tools and poker blogs to get better. Online, there are also numerous online entertainment options that can be used as a way to enhance overall poker skills. For instance, the online poker offering at Betway Casino comes in multiple variations. This is important in increasing the players’ opportunities to sharpen their mathematical skills as they can practice adapting them to differing scenarios. And other internet-based games, such as Hearthstone and League of Legends, can also be useful for honing tactical skills. Indeed, players like Negreanu and Bertrand Grospellier have been known to branch out into these games.
Internet poker has brought about more of an emphasis on the statistical side of the game, but it has also bred a generation of players who are more adaptable to different situations. Professionals like Martin Jacobson and Tom Dwan often switch seamlessly between live and online games, and in doing so need to mix up their strategy. As the years go by, the style of poker played by the likes of Moss and Brunson may not be able to survive against the modern player’s toolkit.
* Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash