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30/06/2006 No. 54
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday June 30, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

The other day, while playing a large multi-table tournament on the internet, I had a little epiphany. (By "multi-table", I mean a tournament with hundreds of runners.) (By "epiphany", I mean a sudden brilliant vision which is probably wrong. But it felt interesting at the time.)

There is a traditional strategy for multi-table tournaments: play tight at the beginning, while the blinds are too small to be worth stealing, then gradually loosen up as the field reduces and the pre-deal pots get bigger.

But this is not, currently, the fashionable way to play. Newer players coming into the game - who now make up the majority of most fields - have a tendency to play super-aggressive right from the start. They make oversized raises, they re-raise with suited connectors, they bluff hard when they miss the flop. This is an excellent way to play in the later stages of a tournament, but dangerous and often pointless at the beginning. Some of these players seem to think that the object of a no-limit tournament is to get their chips all in as often as possible. I was always taught that a good no-limit player is setting out to avoid putting his chips all in, unless he has his opponent absolutely strangled.

There are two popular theories for the change in playing style, both of which have some logic. One is that modern players get used to one-table tournaments, and cannot adjust their speed for a bigger field and a longer game. The other is that they learn from watching final tables on television, where the professionals employ a much faster pace than they do in the early stages (which are usually not broadcast).

But there is another possibility, and this is the epiphany that came to me at the online table where (with blinds at 50/100) the standard pre-flop raise appeared to be an imprudently large 1000. I suddenly realised: perhaps it's because these people play only poker. In the "old days", players usually came to it via other forms of gambling. On the dice tables and roulette wheels, they embraced chance with crazy abandon. At poker, they enjoyed the relative discipline of setting out to overcome chance with judgment and caution. But modern players come in by different means, often bypassing casino games entirely. The only gamble they get is in poker itself: thus they enjoy the thrill of risk, rather than the challenge of surmounting it.

Whatever the reason, a spirit of jeopardy reigns. What is the best defence for the solid player? We will discuss that next week.

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