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Black Friday changed the way a lot of us play poker.
I enjoy and give full credit to online poker: it is an excellent training-ground—the place to learn the game and begin to understand betting patterns and strategies, where you can use tools like PokerEdge, Sharkscope, and Hold’em Manager, not to mention a handy little sheet of paper with hand rankings and percentages you can post next to your monitor.
But from the start of my poker career, I have maintained that the authentic poker player is the live cash game player.
Sit in a live game and all those little crutches and aids that helped you online disappear into thin air. You cannot rush to the bathroom in the middle of a hand, while players think you may be pondering a profound call. You cannot sit with your lucky rubber chicken on top of your head and know that your opponents will never learn that this is your secret weapon.
Playing live games is not simply about detecting your opponent’s body language, such as, weak is strong and strong is weak. It is about remembering this is real-time poker and in the long run, you cannot hide behind a curtain like the great and terrible Wizard of Oz.
This is business, strictly business, and how you present yourself in a live game will have a long-term effect that a quiet, no-internet-chatting, hiding-in-the-background, player cannot escape in a live game. The hoodie, the baseball cap, the sunglasses, and the rubber chicken … sooner or later it all comes out it the wash.
It is critical to remember you are being watched by everyone at the table including the dealer. You are being watched and scoped out by a staff person or a “shoeshiner” who gets a “balato”—Tagalog for good luck or goodwill money given away by a winning gambler—for calling his buddy when a live one (that’s you) arrives to play.
Your ability to control yourself, whether you annoy the table or show you are a solid player, is key—because you are being watched.
How you present your image to your opponents is your concrete, finite and literal personality and presentation. This ain’t no party; this ain’t foolin’ around. This is live poker and you can choose to be civil, well-mannered, well-bred, and make friends, or you can choose to end up on somebody’s poker dog-house profile list.
Losing your cool online is a lot easier with no one in the room to see your instant reaction to a losing hand or a drawing hand that made it on the river. And as long as you do not type your steam in chat, no one knows you’re steaming.
When you play in a live brick-and-mortar casino or home game, there is no private display monitor to spit on or curse at. And though in internet chat you can hurl all the insults and vulgarities you want, attempting this type of rude and obnoxious behaviour will usually get you banned at a casino, or worse, severely injured in the parking lot.
The solution to playing championship poker is studying. Study yourself, study your opponents, understand what makes them and you tick. That is what live game poker is all about; it is what separates the champions from the dilettantes.
Remember that loud-mouth egomaniacs are empty barrels, and empty barrels make the most noise. But even empty barrels can be watching you, so learn who you are, why you are playing poker, and what your long-term poker goal is. Knowing this will radically change your game.