Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2013) in Poker Player newspaper.
In today’s self-interview, I invite questions on anything.
Question 1: Have any of your opinions about poker changed over the decades that you have been researching and analyzing the game?
Not many. And here’s the deal with that: poker theory is timeless.
It puzzles me to read so many comments from young players proclaiming that poker advice is outdated. Actually, there was a time when this was true. That was before I and others began to treat our game scientifically in the 1970s.
Back then, much of the advice was based on homespun wisdom, on what appeared to work or not work, on empirical data. The word “empirical” means that conclusions are based on observation or personal experience, rather than analysis, logic, and research.
Some of that empirical advice existed in books or rare magazine articles. Mostly it was passed about from player to player. It was bad advice, not because all of it was always wrong, but because whether it was right or wrong was chancy. You couldn’t separate the valid advice from the ridiculous.
And so, that’s how it was. I’m priviledged to have played a role in changing it. The process began with my private probes into poker – statistical analysis and early strategy. I continued when I was brought into the public arena by Doyle Brunson in 1977. He had chosen me to be his statistics and draw poker expert for his soon-to-be monumental book, Super/System – A Course in Power Poker.
As an historical footnote, Doyle’s Super/System had a different title when it was first published in 1978. It was called, How I Made Over $1,000,000 Playing Poker. To me, that seemed like a cheesy title, beneath the dignity of the book. That’s why I lobbied successfully for the name change, which took effect on the second printing.
Anyway, in that book, Doyle and five “expert collaborators” laid the framework for modern poker methodology. I was proud to be among them.
And here’s the thing: Nothing has changed. All the tactics that worked then work now. Those comments, usually something like, “Poker has changed and time has passed him by,” are written by idiots. Well, that’s too harsh a word. They’re not idiots. What’s another word for it? Can’t think of one right now. Sorry.
They say poker isn’t played like it used to be – it’s more aggressive. True. But theory remains constant. There is an appropriate number of raises and calls and bluffs and folds and bets. When players stray from that, they play unprofitably, and you use exactly the same adjustments that were valid decades ago. Nothing changed.
Yes, I have refined some opinions, but fortunately my core beliefs about poker were well reasoned at the time, and they remain valid. Truth is truth and has no expiration date.
Question 2: Do you think poker will still be popular in 100 years?
If you mean poker defined the way many perceive it, played with cards, then no. I think it won’t be very common or popular.
But the nature of of poker is forever.
Question 3: What the heck does that mean – “the nature of poker is forever”?
It means that poker isn’t a game that requires cards. Really, it doesn’t.
The nature of poker is brilliant. It is simply this: (1) There is something wagered before the battle begins, igniting the conflict; (2) There is something owned temporarily by each contestant that has comparative strength; (3) There is wagering, leading to a possible showdown in which strength is compared to determine a single winner; and (4) Any wager can win without a showdown, if nobody calls.
That’s the nature of poker. You can quibble that in high-low split there are multiple winners, not a single one. But, not really. There are actually two pots – one for the high hand and one for the low hand, each having a lone winner, barring a tie.
In keeping with this “nature of poker,” cards are unnecessary. The nature itself is the great idea, the brilliant concept. As such, you can wager over the weight of secret stones that you possess – or myriad other things. Cards aren’t required, and poker in some form will endure, always.
Question 4: What are the most costly mistakes poker players make when they first attempt to play seriously and try to make money?
Two main things come immediately to mind.
They think about too many things. Focus on just one thing at a time and let your understanding of everything else handle itself. That way, you’ll get better and better as you improve in regard to the factor in focus. It will become automatic when you later concentrate on something else.
And they harm themselves because they get caught up in the luck of the moment and panic. Don’t do that. In fact, don’t concentrate on what’s happening in regard to luck at all. Concentrate only on making quality decisions.
Question 5. What do you do when you’re being seriously outplayed by an opponent at your table?
I maintain the attitude that I’m never being seriously outplayed by an opponent. But sometimes fancy maneuvers or fleeting luck make it seem that I am. The trick is to not worry about it.
If you’re against strong opponents, sometimes – if possible – it’s a good idea to change to a seat to their left, where you’ll usually act last. Other than that, target mostly the players who are the weakest. They are your primary source of profit. Don’t worry about being outplayed. Again: Concentrate only on making quality decisions.
Question 6. Are young players superior to older players?
Absolutely not. This is a modern poker myth.
There are so many younger players in tournaments, relative to older ones, that it’s inevitable that most winners are young. But the notion that young players are superior is largely an illusion. And that’s my last word for today. I’m done. — MC