POKER

Online Poker Training Sites: Too Much Information?

TAGs: Dan O’Callaghan, Niman Kenkre

Online Poker Training Sites: Too Much Information?With the help of former PKR Pro Dan O’Callaghan and former BlueFire Poker coach Niman ‘Samoleus’ Kenkre, Lee Davy ponders whether it’s time for online poker training sites to change the way they do business?

I recently watched the former Manchester United and England defender, Gary Neville, and the former Liverpool and England defender, Jamie Carragher, dissecting Louis Van Gaal’s ‘philosophy’ at Old Trafford.

I was mesmerised.

This year, I have been helping with the coaching of my son’s U16 football side. After playing and watching football for over three decades here, I was receiving a lesson from two of the games great players.

Why didn’t I know all of this stuff?

At that moment, I thought to myself, ‘I bet the other clubs are loving this. These two are showing everyone how to play against them. They are exposing their secrets.’

And then, my attention shifted, and I started to think about online poker.

A few years back, I decided to try and become a professional poker player. I created a mind map. Out poured a list of actions. One of them was to join an online poker training site. I joined BlueFire Poker.

I loved it.

I spent hours upon hours watching Martin “Dr. Giggy” Fournier Giguere, Niman ‘Samoleus’ Kenkre, Jason “PBJaxx” Senti, and Phil “OMGClayAiken” Galfond pulling apart the play of their opponents, while simultaneously explaining why they were making the moves they were.

When Galfond left, I left. I joined a few other training sites, but they were never as good as BlueFire Poker was back in the day. More and more sites emerged. Suddenly, everyone who was making money playing online poker, and even some who weren’t, started making training videos.

There were a Few things I didn’t like about the emerging crop.

  1. The best players don’t always make the best coaches, and this results in a weak product.
  2. Some players were very disrespectful to their opponents when talking about them and their game.
  3. The videos were lazy. I would often watch someone playing a session for an hour with tumbleweed blowing through the screen.

I was desperate to make a name for myself back then. I knew that the step up from training videos was a personal mentor. I reached out to several BlueFire Poker members to ask them to critique my play. Eventually, Samoleus reviewed took me up on the offer, and a few years later Alan Jackson and I teamed up to create the series ‘From Amateur to Pro.’

My friend thought I was nuts.

“Why are you allowing the whole world to see how you play?”

“Nobody is interested in how I play?” I told him.

But what if they were?

“There is a video that’s just been released that covers my play at the final table of the Bigger $109,” says former PKR Team Pro Dan O’Callaghan. “I have since spoken to the guy and befriended him since the tourney.”

O’Callaghan is a professional poker player, and other pro poker players will be squaring off against him regularly. Surely, it’s a benefit for those players to know how he plays? Isn’t it a disadvantage to him for his opponent’s to tune in and hear someone find his weaknesses and how to exploit them?

“I didn’t mind the video. It’s great content, and if a better player tears me to pieces, I see it as free coaching from someone who may have otherwise charged me $100s per hour. In general, the ‘hero’ focuses on his hands and playing his ranges.”

Not everyone will be as open to this kind of exposure as O’Callaghan. He is primarily a tournament player and so it’s far more complicated to pin his tendencies down over a series of online training videos, but it could be very harmful if you are a cash game player.

O’Callaghan talks about this particular ‘hero’ focusing primarily on his/her hands and ranges, but what if they decided the real value of the content was to take a granular look at your play.

Is this ethical?

Is this legal?

“The first time I ever thought about this was when Dr. Giggy made a video in which he talked in detail about an imbalance in my play, and he would try to exploit it,” Said Samoleus. “Giggy is a good friend of mine, so I was shocked and a bit disappointed that he put that in his video. I asked him about it, and he was immediately apologetic: he said that he never even thought about it when he was making the video.”

People trying to do the right thing, not understanding the potential consequences?

“It made me realize that it was probably the same for me (even if my videos didn’t happen to be about playing against any friends or anyone I knew). I realized that I also never thought about how my videos could be used to tailor one’s game against a particular opponent.”

Match of the Day

I have watched Match of the Day for as long as I can remember. For those of you not living in the UK, Match of the Day is a round-up of the Premier League highlights shown on a Saturday and Sunday night.

During the programme a team of pundits, including the likes of Alan Shearer, Ian Wright, etc., critique the play of individual player’s, team tactics and team manager’s decisions.

Is this any different to what coaches are doing when they create online training videos?

“I don’t think so,” said O’Callaghan, “In sports, such as football, the information is less valuable since it’s more difficult to do what you want to do. You can’t just see a ball and say “I should kick this into the top corner because the keeper is approaching” and then the ball automatically goes in the corner every time.

“The game is far more unpredictable. Just because Alan Shearer tears someone to pieces because he never shot across the keeper doesn’t mean that player didn’t know it was the right thing to do. He could easily have mis-hit it or not seen the keeper approaching. You don’t have that in poker. If you want to raise, you raise successfully every time.”

Samoleus agrees with O’Callaghan.

“The likes of Alan Shearer are presenting their opinions to the general public – people that have no part in determining how to strategize against said team. Meanwhile, those that ARE responsible for making the in-match adjustments are not going to be basing their decisions based on what Shearer is saying on the telly.

“Meanwhile, if I make an online video, saying that you can exploit such-and-such player by check raising a lot of flops, the people watching my videos would be in a position to use what I am saying against the specific player. If Shearer says that Arsenal needs to add a defensive midfielder to strengthen the center of the pitch in the second half, you and I can’t do anything about it. And {Arsene} Wenger is not going to care what they think! However, if I say you can exploit Lee Davy by check raising monotone boards because he always bets at them, well then Lee Davy’s opponents are immediately in a position to take advantage.”

Managing my kids football team I don’t have access to streams of video of my opponent’s that I can analyse and formulate a plan to exploit their weaknesses. In the Premier League, teams have all the information they want. There have never been as many stats available in the world of football as there is today.

In poker, we know the same exists. We can pay certain sites to provide us with thousands of hand histories. Professional poker players can then use tools such as Hold’em Manager and PokerTracker to analyse those hand histories and then formulate a plan to seek and destroy.

The online poker rooms are trying to move slowly away from this dynamic. They are trying desperately to even out the playing field. They want two people, with the same gun, walking ten paces apart, and then turning around to open fire. At the moment, some of these professional poker players are holding a Gatling gun.

If Heads Up Displays (HUDs) eventually go the way of the Dodo, this leaves the online training sites as the one avenue that you could get hold of information on how to rip apart an opponent.

Is this a mountain, or is this a mole hill?

“It’s more of a deal for cash games since you’re more protected in a tournament because the slightest change in dynamics such as stack size or tournament stage can completely change a spot. Plus it’s way more difficult to bum hunt in MTTs. Of course, it’s more of an issue for cash gamers, but poker is all about staying ahead, and if someone is kind enough to point out your weaknesses, it makes them way easier to fix.

“To be honest, though, I don’t think it matters THAT much. People that are good enough to exploit you are going to know how to do it anyway; the villain in the example is irrelevant. The people watching the videos would need to be good enough to exploit what they saw, run super good to find themselves at a table and in the same spots with you, and be super mega lucky enough that you haven’t already plugged the leak or adjusted to what the video said about yourself. If someone ever runs that good it wouldn’t matter anyway; the world will implode out of confusion.”

Should online poker training sites be regulated?

“The problem is that by regulating sites like this, you simply create the opportunity for rogue sites to now fill the void, “said Samoleus. “If the big training sites can no longer include screen names – but there is intrinsic value in videos with screen names – another training site will just pop up since these kinds of rules cannot be enforced within training sites.

“However, perhaps the answer is that poker sites themselves do not make screen names available. Of course, part of poker is picking up on how an opponent is playing – but perhaps the sites could provide a temporary screen name that applies only to each session. I don’t think that making and enforcing regulations for training sites is the answer.”

The Online Training Sites Should Act Now

I think the online training sites need to pay attention to this and to start putting in measures to prevent any potential breaches of online poker rooms TOCs.

I remember when I used to watch Phil Galfond playing high stakes cash games on BlueFire Poker. He would sit down and immediately type into the chat box that he was filming a training video. It gave the other people at the table the opportunity to leave if they didn’t want their plays included in the analysis. For what I remember, people liked being in the videos.

Samoleus told me that when working for BlueFire Poker, there were no hard and fast rules. Coaches were allowed to create the content they felt would best serve their audience. I like this. It allows creativity to flourish, but it is dangerous and leads to sloppy videos.

Who wants to pay good money to watch a one-hour training video of Joe Bloggs playing four tables of six-max No-Limit Hold’em cash games only to get the benefit of 10-minutes of analysis because the games were slow?

Fold.

Fold.

Fold.

I ate chicken for tea last night.

Fold.

It’s lazy. It’s unprofessional. A simple fix could improve the video and omit some of the potential problems discussed earlier. Coaches could advise the other players at the table that they are a part of a training video. The coach dissects the action, and only the educational spots are then passed onto a hand replayer. Names are removed. HUD stats are removed.

By working in this way, all players understand they are being filmed. The video is of better quality because it eliminates all the non-value added waste and anonymity rules. I also think the language used by coaches is critical. I don’t believe that it’s professional to call people ‘fish’ and to ridicule another person’s play.

That’s the views of Dan O’Callaghan, Niman Kenkre and I, now what’s yours?

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