I was having a discussion the other day with a couple of relatively novice poker players on online poker rooms who remarked in how low I seemed to play as an online poker pro. They were amazed that I played as low as the $50 and $100 buy-in levels and played full ring instead of the often cited six max. I do this for a reason and it is a reason that is unknown to a very large percentage of players that are inexperienced on the nuances of online poker. The fact of the matter is this- the average online poker game on a level by level basis is considerably tougher than its comparable live game equivalent.
Unfortunately, this isn’t my personal opinion but a candid fact. It is also somewhat unlucky if you happen to be an online player but I am not complaining. The increased liquidity and action come at a price in poker and better opponents are the price that you have to play for being able to play more tables and gain more volume. There is a massive compression of skill in online poker caused mainly by the players at the higher end becoming technically very good in all forms of the game.
So the best players at high stakes are the best in the world and how are you going to make money against the best? At the end of the day then you only make money in poker by your opponents making mistakes or because your strategy dominates theirs. If they don’t make mistakes and they don’t allow you to dominate them then there is no edge at the very least and you are either recycling money or losing money to these people. Then the best players in order to start making money again started dropping down to the middle limits and multi-tabling.
Then we lost the US market mainly in 2006 and with the arrival of the coaching sites then players in increasing numbers were achieving significant levels of sophistication within poker. So the middle limits of $2-$4 and above were full of technically proficient players of a very high caliber and who were probably comparable or better to most of the players at $25-$50 in Las Vegas cash games. In online poker these days then mug money and fish don’t last long at the middle limits and despite having considerable experience and knowledge behind me, I still don’t touch these levels.
Some time ago I decided to swallow my ego and drop down even further in levels and decided to replace higher stake levels with higher volume. Playing $3-$6 cash games with a $600 buy-in can and does lead to swings of $10,000 or more and I have known some players drop thirty buy-ins at this level. What made that even worse was that their earn rate wasn’t even that high because their overall edge in the game was so thin and the action was much less than lower stakes games.
You may see people like Tom Dwan and Phil Galfond playing high-stakes poker online but these are exceptional cases and not something that you can easily emulate. The sad fact is that nearly all of the players that try to make the journey from low stakes poker to high stakes poker don’t survive the trip. Remember that I am not just talking about playing high-stakes poker but actually staying at that level. There is a world of difference between being a high stakes poker player and playing high stakes poker. One is simply taking a shot at the level while the other is a regular at that level and that makes a world of difference.