Does Old School Poker Wisdom Apply to PartyPoker?

“The wisdom of the wise, and the experience of ages, may be preserved by quotation.”
–Benjamin Disraeli
A belated happy holidays to everybody, and I hope the “season of giving” didn’t carry over to the poker tables. I was lucky enough to spend a California Christmas (seems like an oxymoron) with my family.
Little poker was played, although I did manage to get crushed in a heads-up limit freezeout against my sister. Most embarrassing play: showing down my Jack high after betting the entire way and watching younger sis turn over Q high. I asked her how she could call with Queen high and she gave me the infamous line, “I thought you had nothing.” Thankfully I had beaten her twice in No-Limit freezeouts earlier, so my confidence wasn’t completely blown.
I’m still getting back into the swing of things after my last Vegas trip, but my goal in today’s post is to crack open that old nugget of poker wisdom, “You’ve gotta give action to get action.”
I believe this saying is a simplified version of some ancient Doyle Brunson quote. The obvious implication in the quote is that it’s much easier to get paid off on your good hands (get action) when you’ve shown down some weaker hands (give action). Successful poker players walk the tightrope of playing tight-aggressive poker while somehow fooling their opponents into thinking that they don’t play tight. A tight-aggressive player plays few hands, but when he does he plays them hard. Opponents who are not asleep or drunk pick up on this.
There are lots of different ploys that the tight-aggressive player uses to convince his opponents that he really does give action. Mad Mike Caro advocated making a strong first impression, playing the first hand you’re dealt very strongly and making sure to show it down, even if you have to pay an extra bet or two to do so. Other poker sages advocate blasting away with 72o and proudly slamming the hand on the table at the showdown. If I’m trying to get away from my tight image, I’ll try to isolate weaker players with marginal hands (such as K8s), and make sure to show down the hand, win or lose.
But in the new world of online poker, table image seems less important than it is in the brick and mortal world. In online poker, players are constantly shifting tables, and a player frequently leaves the table as soon as we’ve got a read on him. Also, it’s a lot more difficult to connect a faceless avatar to a style of play than it is to remember that the scowling guy overplays his hands. Online poker eliminates the visual aspect of table image: since everybody looks the same, we assume (until proven otherwise) that everybody plays the same. If this is the case, is it still true in the online world that you have to “give action to get action”?
A few weeks ago, I would have said, “Yeah, ok, online players are less perceptive and table image is less important but you’ve still gotta gamble a bit if you want to get paid off.” And of course, those who gamble more will rake bigger pots when they’ve got the nuts, but really what I was wondering is how much these super-tight players really get paid off. The Party Poker $15-30 games are well known for their loose aggressive players, and I wondered just how well one could do by only playing premium preflop hands.
My wondering turned to wonder as I broke down the PokerTracker stats for all $15-30 players. I have yet to run queries on the access DB to aggregate the numbers, but the filtered data immediately caught my eye: I filtered all $15-30 players who I’ve recorded over 100 hands for, and sorted by % voluntarily put in the pot. Surprisingly, the 5 players with the lowest VPIP were all winners, with two of them being HUGE winners (11 and 24 BB/100 respectively). All of these players had a VPIP of less than 10%, which means they are basically only playing the top 17 hands of all 169 possible hands. Obviously the sample size is small, but this initial glance opened my eyes.
I’m too sleepy to run the Access queries on the PokerTracker database right now, but hopefully I’ll get around to that in the near future. If anybody else has already put together the query, please leave a comment and save me the effort.
I’ll stick to my romantic notion that you can’t be successful at poker without things like courage, heart, and a little gamble. But my gut (and this cursory investigation) suggests that all it takes is a whole lotta patience and an appetite for the grind. Of course, this is only true since the games at Party are so good during this poker boom. In games as good as these, the grinder doesn’t need game theory and conventional poker wisdom– only a little patience.
Poker Blog Patrol:
I’ve always thought that a good writer can take things that seem mundane and make them into something beautiful. Otis has recently taken poker blogging to another level in his series of Vegas trip reports. Forget hiring a band to follow me around playing my theme song. If I ever strike it big, I’m hiring Otis to turn my life into some insane myth. A tip of the cap to you sir. Be sure to check out his reports on the 2005 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure here. I’m sure they will be excellent.
It’s high time somebody poke fun at the poker bloggers, and Sloejack cracked me up with his Poker Blogger’s Guide To Online Poker. And yes, I once had an active life:
“6.1 Sidelined by HDouble
You might have had an active life before but that recurring hang nail has kept you from your dream job. That’s ok, I’ve been where you are. Since I’m the only legit writer in the bunch I invite you to come drink from my font of wisdom. Reading my stuff will make you a better poker player and soon you’ll wonder why you ever thought of doing anything else with your free time.”

There are too many new bloggers to list, but here are a couple that emailed me and I got a kick out of their sites:
GW: Second generation of new poker players who uses a wide variety of resources to learn the game: “This Poker Melting Pot is never ending. We read the books. Brunson’s Super System, Ed Miller’s, Sklansky and the like. But we also have the Poker blogs written by fellow poker players, new and old.”
New Poker Forum: Didn’t have too much time to dive in, but I did see a nice review of Super System 2 here. I’m still working on finishing my copy, so I’ll post my review in the near future…
Poker in Arrears: this guy made my day with this quote:
“Anyway, back to The Cards Speak. I printed this guys entire blog and started reading it at night. Since it was just a pile of papers instead of a book, my wife (hereinto referred to as Mrs. Button) asked what I was reading. At that moment, I didn’t know how to explain it. Was I reading some dudes journal/diary? How do I explain that? Before I even started the first word she said, “Let me guess, poker?!” I smiled, she smiled (or was that a smirk) and we both delved back into our reading. I, for one, was happy I didn’t have to explain myself, however, I then made the decision that I’m not reading some guys journal/diary, but rather partaking in this big community of people who enjoy poker like I do. There…I feel better. Rock on HDouble.”
King Six: K6 recently expressed his amazement of the fact that it’s pretty easy to get action even if you only play the nuts:
“I spent the next two hours playing O/8 and won a single pot. I saw so many horrifically bad plays that it was almost worth the “price” I had paid to sit there. It amazes me how some of the players are there literaly every single day and never seem to get better. You’d think that they would eventually notice something as simple as the people who only raise with the nuts. Yet, they never do and they just pay off the bets only to be shown the best possible hand time and time again while they shake their head and muck their hand.”
Lots more to come, but it’s way past my bedtime. Good cards.

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