The Evolution of Poker

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It is common knowledge in the poker community that the game is rapidly becoming more and more difficult to beat. Information is becoming available to the entire community that never used to be, through websites, poker schools, forums, etc. The average player today is stronger than the average player yesterday, and will be weaker than the average player tomorrow. However, there is more to this evolution of poker than just the improvement of the players; the game is changing, and those players that are best able to recognize and adapt to these changes are those that will be most successful throughout their poker career.

There are many plays and concepts that as of recently were considered advanced that have now become standard. A good example of this would be the re-steal or “squeeze” play. A year ago, it was a lot safer to try and steal the blinds from late position. Nowadays, the average online player is far more aggressive than ever before. It has gotten to the point where one shouldn’t be raising weak hands from obvious steal spots – the button, cutoff, etc – if the stacks aren’t right, because the odds of getting re-raised are far too high. This is the current stage of evolution that online poker has reached.

Perhaps you’ve heard someone say “the re-steal is the new steal”. This is a perfect illustration of the evolution of poker, and the winning player must be able to adapt. If 3-betting has become a standard play in online poker, then the obvious adjustment would be to either open less, or 4-bet more. As the general community begins to catch onto this, the game will once again evolve. In a year, maybe you’ll hear someone say “the re-re-steal is the new re-steal!”

This is not to say that we should be expecting every hand to be 8-bet preflop in a couple years- the evolution of poker strategy moves in cycles.

Recently I was playing a tournament with a friend watching by my side trying to learn. There was a spot where I picked up KK preflop with 15 big blinds, and a well-known player opened in front of me. Instead of just going all-in, I re-raised to about 2/3 of my stack. What I told my friend was this:

A little while ago, it was standard to make this kind of re-raise because most people feel it looks stronger than just reshoving, meaning it was done mostly with weaker hands. Nowadays, most people recognize this, and consider that sort of re-raise to be weaker. So, I am making it with KK to convince him that I am trying to make my hand look stronger and induce him to play with me.

This is a great example of the “cycle” of poker strategy. Just by putting this concept in this article, I am helping to disseminate this concept throughout the entire community. Eventually, perhaps even soon, most people will agree that one should re-raise in this fashion with big hands because it “looks weaker.” This also means that further down the line, people will recognize this and that style of re-raise will be considered most likely a big hand, like it used to.

Confused? You probably should be, but this is just one example of many of the cyclical evolution of poker strategy.

In my opinion, the main difference between fields in live tournaments and online tournaments is the “stage of evolution” that poker has reached in each arena. The evolution of online poker happens more rapidly than that of live poker, because those that are playing online are also most likely to be visiting the myriad places online that expedite one’s improvement as a player. This is not to say that “online players are better than live players,” just that the skill sets and concepts that are important or widely accepted in each arena differ, sometimes drastically. With the popularity and size of major poker community forums, it is easy to see how information from expert players can trickle down through the ranks faster than ever before.

Since the weaker players are being scolded for their bad plays and instructed as to how to play the hand next time, often by the same people, the community “moves together” up the ranks of poker skill. Slowly but surely, people conform to the playing styles of the top players. In the ranks of strictly live poker players, information and poker conversation generally goes just from one person to another. I don’t need to explain how massive amounts of information spread online faster than in any other environment. With the influx of online players into these major live tournament venues, the evolution of live poker will probably be catching up very soon.

Instead of just adapting to “keep up” with this evolution, one must be adapting to stay ahead of it. Rather than conforming one’s play to the same style as everyone else, the most successful players will be changing in ways that will keep them ahead of the curve. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize these signs of evolution as soon as possible, so that plans to develop a counter-strategy can take place as soon as possible.

The old guard is fading and the game is changing – you can either be left in the dust, or you can adapt and thrive. Good luck!

Cutty: The game done changed…
Slim: Game's the same, just got more fierce.

-The Wire

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* Alex AJKHoosier1 Kamberis is a Contributing Writer for PocketFives.com, and is currently ranked #8 in the world at online tournament play. For more poker-related content, visit our Poker Articles section.

39 COMMENTS

  1. this is really spot on, as i think many people fail to realize that in poker, it doesnt matter how good your opponent might play, as long as you are able to make better decisions than him based on what you know about his play, so as you said, its all about staying ahead of the curve, and being able to counter what is thought of as "standard" play.

  2. Absolutely agree. What’s funny it’s that playing low stakes tourneys, you find out right away who the weaker players are: Those making the moves that were the " right " ones 6 months ago. Maybe they saw a "pro"making that move once, and they got stuck to it, doing the same thing over and over again.

    Excellent article AJK

  3. Excellent article AJK. Pretty soon what we used to know as "A B C " poker will be " A B C D E  F G H I J  K", and the successful ones will be those who can play " A B …..X Y Z " poker.

    Wait…..It hasn’t been always that way?

  4. great article ajk you might inspire me to come out of retirement for an article. but a little anecdote regarding this topic…a few months ago i ran into a spot against amak316 where i flopped a set of sevens on a very dry board. it was J7x rainbow and we were both pretty deep with about 80bbs each. I was in the bb and decided to take a check/call line on all three streets because I felt he would try to get in 3 streets of value if he did in fact have an overpair or even AJ. He had KK and I stacked him. It’s just very interesting to use the exact same line that I would have used had I literally just started playing poker and for two wayyyy different reasons. So yes, there won’t be any 8betting going on anytime soon but metagame has definitely come full circle and is well on it’s way around again.

  5. I completely agree and believe I am on the front lines of this poker evolution as a low-mid stakes player. I have been a pxf member for about 4 months and my thought process has drastically changed since, the squeeze play is now standard for me in $5-$10 tourny’s and I see it used by other players at this level. Like AJK said, this is not a problem for a player who understands the cyclical nature of the game. The top players will adapt the strategy and the squeeze play will become ineffective by the time it becomes common knowledge to the general poker public . Even the pxf videos from >10 months ago seen a little outdated in their game theory. Thanks for the read and the thoughts AK.

  6. great article AJK

    one other point i think is relevant here is that sometimes online players are on all different levels of this cycle, so paying attention and trying to figure that out is sometimes the biggest challenge

  7. very nice article AJK, makes you think no matter what level your playing at, high stakes like your self or low limits like myself, that you always need to be evolving your game.  Do you think that when a new player or an inexperienced one makes it far in a high stakes MTT, Sun Mil for example, that it is tougher for you pros to play against them? That their style throws u off? Good read def makes me re examine my game, would have loved to have been your friend watching you play for sure.

  8. Yes, I agree with your sentiments that the game is evolving quicker.  However, it is difficult to compare the online world and the live poker world.  They are two different animals and one could actually argue that the live poker world is changing faster, but it just kept more secret.  People tend to blab too often online because their identity is concealed.  If they were smarter, they would keep quiet and not let pride get in the way of profit as is mostly the case in the live poker world.

  9. Spot on article. I remember watching jjprodigy deep in the 500k on party 2 or 3 years ago, he would open raise almost every hand and the table would fold around nearly every time. No way that happens now at the higher buyins. They 3 bet with any 2 at the higher levels now. If you play the lower buyins on donk sites though, you can still find tables of autofolders!

  10. Good article but I think it misses the point.

    If you are ever playing a style that everyone is playing then this has to be considered playing bad. There can be no "style" that ever works. One has to know all the styles and mix it up so that no better player knows you are playing any style.

    In your example with the KK you had to know that the other player knew what a bet of a given size meant. Implying that he was an above average player who knew it. So next time do you shove the KK? or raise some other oddball amount? The point being to be an above averge player you have to be a master of decetpion.

    Plus seeing the patterns is half the battle taking actions that are "off the grid" requires a level of (something) that many players will never have. That something has been called many things, confidence, skill, fearlessness, etc…..  Whenever I grow a set of brass ones, Ill be dangerous.

  11. Very good point that players easily forget. You can’t just play ABC or your style and expect to keep seeing the same results bc ABC is alway changing.

    From another Btowner, Good job.

  12. explains why u 3bet shoved me for 40BB a couple months back with KQ in the tilt 55k and OBV get bailed out vs my AK on river. can u write an article about running good or running bad for us and how to overcome it     please!!!!!! nice article btw

  13. WeyNot  said:

    Since the game changes in cycles, I plan to keep my once winning style (current losing style) until it becomes a winning style again.  PLEASE HURRY!

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    lol !  cracked me up ty

  14. Yea this seems super player dependent. Awhile back was playing AJK in a 75 buy in on FT and got KK after he raised utg, I just shoved it all in however because I figured he took me for a random donk (which I am), and thus he thought that my game was basically two stages behind the move he is describing (that I was shoving because my hand was weak).

    At the lower buy ins do people still think that shoving with these premium hands, and just re-raising with lesser hands, is optimal (ie., playing the metagame one stage behind what AJK is referring to)?

  15. AJK very good article everyone knows its getting harder. However, its nothing new 30 years ago Stu ungar brought the game forward with an aggressive style that nobody had seen before.

    "The more aggressive a player is, the more luck comes into play".

    As we get more aggressive the percentage of skill v luck will fall and it will become a lot more difficult as players begin to realise that 9 4 os raise from early position is the norm.

  16. Good insight.  There will always be a difference between live and online tourney play.  There is little ‘bust’ remorse online.  Many of us are playing several tournies at a time, so if we make a move and get eliminated there is little consequence.  Just win the next one, baby!

    In live poker, there is much more time, effort and expense associated with busting out of a single tourney.  You can’t go to the casino lobby and sign up for another high stakes MTT every 15 minutes.

    The game is definitely changing and kice32 is exactly right…the most difficult part is understanding your opponent’s level of awareness.

  17. I think a good poker players is an informed player. Informed about new poker strategies and poker tips. Thanks God that there are thousands of forums and related websites where you can find tones of information. But being such many information there will appear many moments when you will be confused. Right now I’m doing some searches for such a website or forums. What the author said is right but I think that like a new player you need to know something about the old school way of playing and to learn the secrets in steps. Congratulations for this author for his write and also (and more important 🙂 ) congratulations to be one of the best online tournaments player.