The virtual poker face
By paul
Chris Moneymaker’s recent triumph in the World Series of Poker has brought online poker play to the fore, and posed the question: How could somebody who had never played a real world game of poker before beat so many hardened poker pros?

Moneymaker has won his entry to the World Series through an online poker Texas Hold'em tournament poker. And it’s not just in online tournaments that Poker players are honing their skills. Poker simulation software is available that allows players to test strategies over thousands of hands. Concepts from economics and artificial intelligence are used to develop strategies.

'They're not just games, they're study tools,' Steve Badger, winner of the 1999 World Series at Omaha Hi-Lo poker. said. 'You deal the same starting hand against a programmed group of opponents and discover the hand that I thought was pretty good actually lost me a lot of money.'

So is the next generation of poker champs going to come from the ranks of ‘virtual’ poker players?

The subtle cues of players’ body language and facial expressions are lacking from online poker play, but some online players say that such information is overrated. Such ‘tells’ can be faked, but more importantly, the pattern of poker play – bets, raises and calls – is a surer way of determining a bluff.

The speed of online gameplay is also a factor. Online, hands often take only 30 seconds to complete. This allows players to players get more playing experience in a much shorter time frame than playing at land-based poker rooms. 'I think I learned it differently,' Mr. Moneymaker said. 'I learned to play so many hands. You watch the fluctuation of betting patterns. It's a lot more difficult to read people online.'

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