Big Boys Playing Poker

I am watching the 2003 World Series of Poker on ESPN 2. This is… oh, maybe the ten thousandth time this has been on TV. I know who won, and have seen much of the action before, but still enjoy watching. The reason is, TV has added an angle to the game which never existed before.

Let me backtrack a second. I was in Las Vegas, playing at a $3/$6 Texas Hold’em table at the Mirage Hotel. Two players were head-to-head. The first raised and the second paused, thought and then folded. As the cards were being mucked, he asked the winner what cards he had. The reply, “This is a pay-per-view game.”

It’s true. Unless you pay to see them, the winner’s hand is never shown. Was he bluffing? Did he have the nuts? You’ll never know unless you pay for the privilege. That is major power for a poker player. Without his hand being exposed, his true strategy remains a secret.

Enter TV. Now every hand is exposed from the deal. There is no secrecy. The play of a master can be dissected and understood. The huge advantage that a very good player might possess is gone.

Of course TV has brought so much new blood (and money) into the game that it isn’t quite a pact with the devil. Still, the curtain has been parted.

The players at the WSOP level aren’t that much better than those I’m playing with… but they are better. Every time I sit down (online) at a low stakes, one table tournament, there’s guaranteed to be someone who really doesn’t know what he’s doing. Yes, that person can win – Kenny Rogers was right in saying “Every hands a loser. Every hand’s a winner.” But over the long run, he’s going to get drained.

I am fascinated to see the odds displayed on the screen as the games plays out. Calculating pot odds is something I should be better at. I have a sense of where I stand, but if I could really make the calculations of my chances versus the pot, it would make me stronger.

Meanwhile, Helaine and I continue to do fine playing our online games. At last check we are up about $300 since August 2003.

Over the course of this weekend, I will try and play in some of the larger tournaments available (larger in participants, not stakes). Though the payoffs can be large, it’s unlikely I’ll cash out in any given weekend.