It quickly becomes obvious to anyone who has played poker in both brick and mortar establishments and on the
internet that they are two very different games. At first, this may seem counter-intuitive. After all, the limits are the same, the
rules are the same, and many of the players are the same, so you would expect that the games would play the same, right? Not so fast!
In actuality, B&M and internet games play very differently, so much so that players of one strain often have trouble making the
transition to the other. There is a very good reason why the games play so differently. It has to do with differences in how
information is collected and processed, and used to construct playing strategy within the two formats.
This begs the question: How are the games different? First of all, the players tend to be much more aggressive online than they are in
the casinos. This leads to more action in the games, overall. Again, this may seem counter-intuitive. You might expect that internet players
would be more cautious and tight, given that they cannot actually see their opponent. But the opposite appears to be true, so what gives?
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Let's regress for a moment and analyze the fundamental nature of human decision-making. Human beings have free will, and they
generally make decisions about how to act based upon what they perceive is in their best interest. They do this by collecting sensory
information, and processing it, using logical deduction to arrive at a course of action, which is then implemented.
Likewise, in a poker game, players make decisions based upon the information they collect. In a brick and mortar game, players collect
visual and audible information as a basis for decision making. They watch for physical movements from their opponents which may help
them determine the relative value of their hand. They listen for audible clues that their opponents may give them through their
speech. They look for betting patterns from their opponents, which may give them valuable information about how to proceed. All of this
information is available at little or no cost to the observant player. We call this type of information "free" information.
While all of these sources of information may result in valuable tells for the B&M player, the information which comes from your
opponents movements is by far the most valuable. Professionals get most (but certainly not all) of their tells by watching their opponents
breathing, and by watching what their opponents are doing with their hands and eyes. With practice, a player's ability to interpret
the strength of their own hand, based upon the physical actions of their opponents, improves over time. When this happens, they will
be able to avoid putting money into the pot when they are beat and have the worst of it, based solely upon their reads.
So, good B&M players
can avoid putting bad money into the pot based upon their visual and audible reads. This has the effect of reducing the overall action
in the game. But many of these reads cannot be made online. Online players cannot watch each other's eyes or hands, or listen for
inflections in each other's voices. In other words, many of the most valuable tells available to B&M players simply don't exist
online. It is as if every online player were playing with a huge blind spot. The "free" information simply isn't available.
So, how do online players get information to base decisions on? The simple answer is, they buy it! There is still plenty of
information available to the online player. However, much of it is not available for free, you must bet in order to get it. Most of
your online tells will come from your opponents betting patterns. Since you have no visual clues about the value of your hand, you can
often find out if your hand is any good by betting. If you are raised it is less likely that your hand is good, if you are not raised,
it is more likely that your hand is good. Therefore, in online poker, where visual and audible tells are nonexistent, probe bets are
dominant. And probe bets beget probe raises. This leads to a great deal more action overall online, than exists in most B&M games.
Think for a moment about your options as an online player. You have to make decisions about your hand, but lack the necessary
information. You can flat out guess what your opponent holds whenever he bets, but this is flying blind and obviously won't work very
well in the long run. Neither will paying off your opponent ever time you have a moderately strong hand. Your only remaining option is
to make probe bets and raises, and to make your decisions about the relative strength of your hand based upon your opponents'
reactions. Quite often "buying" the information you need in this manner is the only way to get it online.
In conclusion, learning to probe bet effectively is the key to making the transition from B&M poker to online poker. Making the
transition from online poker to B&M poker is a little more difficult. This is because the online player will have to learn how to
collect and process the "free" information (the visual and audible tells), and make it the primary basis of their decision making.
In other words, they will have to stop making so many probe bets, and stop paying for information that is available for free. In addition
to this, online players will also have to learn not to give so much free information to their opponents. The online player is not used
to the fact that his physical actions can betray his hand's strength. In other words, he must learn to
conceal his tells.
Also see more on Reading Opponents,
Online Poker Tells,
Betability of Poker Hands and Sherlock Holmes on
Poker Details and Detection