Moving forward with my one-year self-evaluation:
Goal #2: Become a big shot online poker player
I failed to meet this goal, which turned out to be much more difficult to attain than I had anticipated. I started out the year playing a lot of mid-level no limit ring games online. I did fairly well, but as the year progressed, emboldened by my live success and drawn by the notoriety achieved by the online tournament specialists, I chose to spend my online time playing tournaments almost exclusively. I did not fare especially well in this venture until recently. In the end, there is a big disparity between my live results and my online results. Over a long, statistically significant period, my performance in live play is much stronger than my performance in online play.
First, the widespread belief that the world of online poker is populated mostly by idiots is a myth. Maybe a few years ago, but not now. In my experience, at identical stakes, online poker is much tougher than brick and mortar poker. For instance, the level of play in a 1-2 NL cash game online is comparable to the play in a 5-10 NL game live. Similarly, the level of play in a $100 tournament online is comparable to the play in a $1,000 brick and mortar tournament.
Why is online play tougher? The most obvious answer is that most of the world does not live in close proximity to a poker room. So there are thousands of excellent players whose only poker outlet is their computers. Also, large buy-in tournies aren’t available online. When the biggest multitable tournament buy-in is $200, the best players will gravitate to that tournament, even though they would feel just as comfortable playing in a $1000+ tournament.
Further, and maybe most importantly, internet poker players can “multitable,” i.e., play at more than one table at the same time. While an accomplished player might sit in a 10-25 NL cash game live, he can achieve a higher rate of return by opening six 2-4 NL tables online. Thus, in the online poker world, an opponent who appears to be just another low stakes fish is often quite the opposite: a poker genius with two computer monitors completely covered with action.
Thus, contrary to popular belief, the typical $100 multitable online tournament is not stocked solely with horrible players. Instead, these tournaments usually feature three distinct classes of players:
1) The Fish. Some are long term losers flushing money away, some are still learning, and some are just having fun, but they’re all in over their head. Probably around 10 to 20 percent of the field of a $100 online tournament are fish.
2) Solid Players. These guys know the basics and have a few moves in their arsenal. If they catch a good run of cards, they might win, but the odds are stacked against them because of the presence of the third class of player. Anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the field of a $100 online tourney is comprised of solid players.
3) Sharks. There is a select group of players, probably numbering around one or two thousand total, who are simply dominant online tournament players. Pocketfives.com does a great job of covering these guys, many of whom spend 12+ hours per day multitabling online tournaments. These guys have all the moves, and frankly, many of them are poker savants who rank amongst the best poker players in the world–live, online or otherwise. It is one of these players who I naively aspired to become within my first year as a pro. Anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the field (perhaps even higher during the daytime) can be expected to fall into this category.
The typical online tournament is therefore quite difficult. One will consistently butt heads with very talented poker players when playing anything but the lowest stakes. I have learned this lesson the hard way throughout the year.
Another problem I have with my online play is that I’m unable to make accurate reads all the time. Even when I’m paying rapt attention to what’s going on, I have trouble making player-dependent reads. In a live tournament, within ten minutes I’m able to get a line on most of the people at my table. Part of the reason is that live poker is a very visual game. It’s easy to remember, for instance, that the guy in the hat is a calling station, or that the black dude with all the rings is hyperaggressive. But online, without visual assistance, these reads become more difficult for me. Remembering which hands “JX3948” has shown down over the past half hour is hard without those visual clues. Even when I’m totally focused, I am prone to making more errors online. Which brings me to my next problem…
I’m almost never completely focused when I play online. Sitting in the comfort of my apartment, the allure of the television and/or the internet is too much for me to withstand. When I’m in the middle of an online session, I am almost always enjoying some other diversion whilst playing. In particular, I am addicted to AOL Instant Messenger. My monitor is littered with that program’s flashing boxes while I work. I simply must know what my friends had for lunch! It’s hard to figure out where some of these issues begin and others end, but the final problem is…
I suck at multitabling. When I open two windows, it’s a challenge. When I open three, I’m overwhelmed. Open four or more and my brain fries. I have no idea how people can multitable. I know there are thousands of players who do it routinely. Some of these people play 12+ games at once. It’s a complete mystery to me how this is possible. Forget making accurate reads, checkraising, trapping, etc.; I can barely move my mouse fast enough to fold preflop when playing four tables.
Maybe with enough training, one day my brain will morph into a semi-computerized switchboard capable of raking in millions of online poker dollars. Until then, I will have to settle for simply being a very good poker player with limits on my online upside.
Sigh… I’m in no position to complain, but thanks for humoring me.