Is it Easier to Win Money in Poker Today Than it Was Pre-Internet?

TAGs: Daniel Negreanu

Daniel Negreanu sets Twitter alight after suggesting it’s easier to make money in poker today than it was in pre-Internet times prompting Lee Davy to have a deeper look at the argument.

Is it easier to win money in poker today than it was pre-Internet?

Daniel Negreanu thinks so. Over the weekend, he took a break from tweeting about politics and basketball to air his view that it was ‘so much easier’ to win money playing poker today than before the creation of the Internet.

It was a tweet that saw members of the poker community smashing their mouse into their skulls in despair. Others nodded their heads. Opinions are divided suggesting it’s a story in need of poking and prodding a little further.

So are the likes of Phil Galfond and Daniel Cates better players than Chip Reese and Doyle Brunson? And why does Negreanu think it’s ‘so much easier’ to win in poker today?

Let’s start by looking at athletes.

Are Athletes Stronger, Better, and Faster Today?

In his book The Sports Gene: Talent, Practice and the Truth About Success, journalist and author, David Epstein takes a look at the assumption that question is right because of the gradual improvement in recorded achievements such as world record times in athletics.

Is it Easier to Win Money in Poker Today Than it Was Pre-Internet?In his TED Talk on the subject, Epstein compares Jesse Owens 100m world record time of 10.2 seconds, set in 1936, with the 100m World Championships time of 9.77 seconds set by Usain Bolt in 2013. The time Owens set in 1936 would have put him 14 feet behind Bolt in that 2013 race.

“That’s a lot in sprinter land.” Said Epstein.

And then he creates an audio experience of a 14-foot gap by using the sound of two blips. The difference is imperceptible. Next, Epstein discusses research from Sports Scientist, Ross Tucker, reminding us that Owens had to run his race on a track laden with ash, and had to use a trowel to dig a hole for his heel to sit at the start of the race.

In contrast, Bolt was running on a synthetic track and had the aid of starting blocks. He didn’t even mention the advancements in running shoes, clothing, and training techniques. Had Owens ran on the same track as Bolt he would have only been a stride behind the world record holder.

Epstein points to three factors that have contributed to the improvements we see in our athletes today.

1. Technology

2. Democratisation

3. Imagination

In a look at world class swimming accomplishments, Epstein noted that there was a spike in improved times in 1956 after the invention of the flip-turn. The same happened in 1974 when swimming pools installed side guttering to cater for the overflow and reduce turbulence. In 2008, there was another spike in improvement at the same time people designed the first all-in-one low friction body suits.

How Does This Apply to Poker?

One of the reasons Negreanu believes modern poker players have it easier than the pioneers of the past has to do with Epstein’s research on how technology has allowed human beings to surpass the achievements of those that played before us.

The Internet has allowed learning to accelerate at an unprecedented level. The ability to tap a few keys and get an answer on anything was not available to the pioneers of poker.

I am no poker historian, but from the pieces of literature I have read, I have learned that sharing information was not a popular pastime in the pre-Internet era. It was viewed as foolish to share trade secrets. Interestingly, there is a tranche of modern players who also believe this when I hear them complaining about the creation of online poker training sites.

I interview a lot of poker players. I ask them what are the important ways of learning. They commonly answer that sharing information with great players is one of the quickest ways to improve your game. The Internet created the ease at which these conversations flowed due to the creation of online forums.

Then there are other forms of technology. Online poker allows modern day players to consume thousands more hands than their predecessors. By default, they can learn at a much faster rate. They reach the Anders Ericsson 10,000 hours rule of mastery far quicker than any other time in history.

Then you have Heads Up Displays (HUDs). A human/artificial intelligence (AI) symbiosis that creates an insight into your opponent that easily outstrips that of a pre-Internet player.

In 2005, an online chess site called hosted an event known as the ‘freestyle’ chess tournament. For the first time in history, they allowed human chess players and AI to compete in partnership for the title.

At the beginning of the event, things went predictably to plan. The Grandmaster using a weak laptop easily beat the strongest of computers. So you would think the ultimate winner would be a Grandmaster using a high-end laptop. Instead, the winner was a team consisting of two amateur American chess players and three computers.

They determined that the weak human/machine/better process approach was stronger than the approach taken by the strong human/machine/inferior process.

I believe there are parallels between what happened in that event, and what would happen if you did the same in poker, and there are players who use HUDs to their advantage all of the time. While there is an argument that use of an HUD prevents you from logically considering all options yourself, I believe it helps improve your win rate, which is Negreanu’s argument.

Then you have the advancement of learning tools such as electronic hand histories, Poker Stove type simulators, charts, ICM models, online training sites, and individual coaching brought on through an extension of understanding the value of earning a few extra dollars, and increasing one’s self-satisfaction through coaching.

Let’s step back further in time and how important was the introduction of hole camera technology and the ability to watch poker played on television shows like Late Night Poker and World Poker Tour.


The whole debate arose after Nolan Dalla tweeted this footage of the 1975 WSOP.

The commentator says all the players competing in the Main Event have the same three things in common.

• They are rich

• They make their money playing cards

• The majority are from Texas

I want to focus on the third point.

“They were all from Texas.”

The rise of the Internet and social media connects the globe like never before. It allows us to branch out and learn so much from people we would never have been able to reach in a pre-Internet world.

I think the various styles and strategies that we see from Scandinavia, the UK, Asia, and America, has led to a more rounded and skilled poker player. I don’t believe the pre-Internet poker players gained in this way as they largely competed against stock from their own backyard.

Is Doyle Brunson Better Than Scott Seiver? Is Jason Mercier Better Than Doug Polk? Is Phil Ivey The Greatest Poker Player Alive?

It’s a debate that will continue burning like an old religious bush I once learned about because there is no answer.

Pele is widely regarded as the greatest footballer that ever lived. There is a bias attached to that belief. It’s history. All young footballers are told this as they grow up. It’s like believing in God because your parents do.

There is also an inherent bias running through the Negreanu Twitter debate with the young acting quite vociferously in defence of what they perceive to be an attack on their level of competence, and Negreanu is then springing to the defence of the pioneers when he feels their influence on the game is being downplayed.

Back to Pele, and when he was asked who was the better player: Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, he said it was an impossible question to answer because they are players with completely different styles.

And the same is true in poker.

How do you differentiate a great live cash game player from an online tournament player? What about online cash games? What about Seven Card Stud? Razz? What about Pot Limit Omaha?

The likes of Arpad Elo and Jeff Sonas have been trying to solve this problem in chess for decades, but the best they can come up with is to choose the greatest players of their generation. Even that is tough when you consider the varying types of games in poker.

Doyle Brunson and Chip Reese were the greatest players of their generation. Jason Mercier and Scott Seiver are in the running for the same accolade today.

So how do you solve this?

You can’t.

Not yet, anyway.

Negreanu believes that only Scott Seiver and Jason Mercier would be fit to stack chips for the likes of Chip Reese and Doyle Brunson. During a conversation with the WSOP Champ Joe McKeehen, Negreanu told him to come back when he has played mixed games consistently at the highest level before he can be considered as eligible for consideration for such high praise.

It’s clear that Negreanu believes the all-around player is the better player, and so many of the pioneers of poker were raised learning all of the games, while today, so many become proficient at one or two types. The Doug Polk v Jason Mercier debate is a classic example with Mercier competing at the highest level in nearly all of the games, and Polk preferring to focus instead on improving in only a few.

What Does The Future Hold?

All of which leads Negreanu to believe that it’s easier to win money that it is today. He points to the fact that there are far more professionals earning a living from the game than ever before.

So will this theory hold true?

Will it become increasingly easier to win as technological advancements improve even further?

Twitch live streams have opened the doors of online poker minds to a wider audience than ever before. Never before in history have we witnessed such an honest and authentic peek at what goes on in the minds of the world’s greatest poker players. It will grow. More people will do this because it will become an important part of being a professional poker player.

And AI will also continue to improve. We have already seen Doug Polk and Co. challenged to the limit by the AI Claudico. How long before AI is beating humans regularly and what will we learn from this and implement in our games.

And then you have the Global Poker League (GPL) – an innovation that will take poker broadcasting to a whole new level. Their recent deal with Sina Sports will open up the demographic wider than ever before, and as Epstein points out, this is a vital moment in the advancement of athleticism, so why not in poker?


Is it easier to win money in poker today than it was pre-Internet?

I haven’t got a clue, and neither have you. But if I were a betting man I would side with Negreanu on this one. Advancements in technology and widening appeal of poker on a global scales means it’s much quicker for the best to get even better than ever before.

And Negreanu is also in a unique position to have battled at the very top with both the pioneers and the young wizards, and so, until someone develops an ELO-style rating for poker, his word will do for me.


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