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A Walk Down Poker’s Memory Lane

Looking back on my formative poker years, when we played bastardized versions of Five Card Draw for quarters after middle school let out, it’s hard to even compare those games to the games I play in today’s poker world. It’s not simply a matter of a bunch of dumb kids making up the rules as they go (which is precisely what was going on my front porch in the 1980’s) because today’s poker world is incomparable to the games I played at friend’s houses, in the backrooms of bars, and in casinos just a decade ago.

I play far less poker now than I did a decade ago, but I’m 10x the player now than I was. The current version of me would crush my former self in poker, but the current me couldn’t make a fraction of what I used to make playing cards. Truth be told, I miss the old days. I don’t care for my expanded knowledge base, I don’t care for the ever-increasing strategies and competition, I miss the old days, when I could play Dealer’s Choice games and Texas Holdem wasn’t “The” game.

I miss playing Limit Holdem games at Foxwoods, and I miss the old days when people at a poker table talked sports, politics, or girls, and didn’t talk about light-4-betting, donkaments, or whatever the current forum-speak happens to be.

As dismayed as I am with the current state of poker, where the skill gap has closed to the point that a lot of really good players struggle to break-even, I’m more concerned with where poker is going, which seems to be closer and closer toward solved, which also means that sometime in the not so distant future online poker will be dominated by pre-programmed bots and the idea of playing poker for a living will bring about nostalgia. At some point the skill gap is going to close to the point that the only winner will be the rake.

Fortunately, poker is unsolvable, and my hunch is that new versions of the game will start to appear; versions that require deeper thought and intuitive play. Just compare the current group of popular games to what games were popular 20 or 30 years ago: Draw games and five card stud have been replaced with No Limit Holdem and PLO; High-Low split games are still around, and in the future my guess is that games will become more and more complex.

But we’ll also need to see the information age of poker come to a close (which I doubt it will). In today’s poker world players no longer have to learn on their own, they can spend a little money up front and stand on the shoulders of the game’s best players either through one-on-one coaching or at online poker training sites. Books are no longer teaching the basics, they are teaching players to beat the games and compete at a high level.

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