26 January 2010

Online poker, chip inflation and unrealistic expectations

I recently started playing quite a bit of online poker--Zynga Poker on both Facebook and iPhone, and on FullTiltPoker.net. An important distinction--these are free poker sites that give you so many dollars in chips to play with every day (i.e., both PokerStars.net and FullTiltPoker.net are free versions of PokerStars.com and FullTiltPoker.com). So there is no real money at stake (an important factor as we will see).

Zynga gives you some "random" number of free chips per day (providing you log in), as well as chip rewards for challenges and other methods (i.e., inviting your friends to play). FullTiltPoker lets you fill up to $1K in chips every five minutes (provided you're below $1K). The individual details here are not incredibly important, but it is important to note that they're basically giving out chips for free (presumably without withdrawing any from the overall pot), thus creating an ever-increasing rate of chip inflation.

The combination of more or less unlimited money and its associated chip inflation results in devalued chips and highly unrealistic playing strategies. Consider that in a game I played earlier today, 5 of 9 people at the table went all-in pre-flop. Of course is that there is no consequence to the all-in player; they simply get more chips. For someone who is trying to learn to play sound strategy, this type of super-aggressive strategy by the players doesn't help at all. If you're trying to play realistically (as if it was truly your own money) by folding weak hands and only playing super-strong hands, you'll get blinded away in no time (of course you can simply go get more chips too, but that kind of defeats the purpose). You can't even afford to bluff, because the result to your opponents is of no real consequence.

Another important difference between the free games like Zynga and the pay sites is that the folks at Zynga don't really have any incentive to prevent cheating--and it appears to be happening quite a bit.

Obviously, people wouldn't play this way if they were playing with their own money, but then again we're talking about a free site; so what else could you expect. The easy answer is to simply leave the tables where people are playing super-aggressively, but that's easier said then done. More realistically, your best option is to seek out players like yourself who want to play realistically, and stick together. I found a table full of likewise players, and we'll simply talk the one or two super-aggressive players out of the room, or go to a new table en masse.

What methods have you found most useful when looking to play realistically?
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