While articles in the mainstream media can be amusing to read, many perpetuate several myths about online poker. Most of the time, this is because the authors of the article are not very familiar with online poker. Here are what I believe to be some of the biggest media myths.
Myth# 1: Playing poker is a fast route to a gambling addiction
It is true that poker can become a dangerous habit for some people. Some people have ruined themselves financially at the poker table, so this potential danger should not be understated. It is also true that poker can sometimes lead people to play games that are always -EV, such as roulette or blackjack. However, it is ridiculous that some journalists would like people to believe that if they sit down at a $.50-$1 game, they are going to ruin their life with gambling addiction.
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There are a couple of reasons that poker playing generally does not lead to gambling addiction. Not only are most people able to exercise self-control in regards to their poker playing, poker's gambling element is not as addictive as most forms of gambling. If someone is a losing poker player, they will most likely lose the majority of the time. Unlike blackjack or roulette, where players frequently win and can double their money with just one bet, poker is an incredibly slow game. The gambling "high" that people get from playing blackjack or craps is just not nearly as strong in poker.
Furthermore, the appeal of poker is not its gambling element. Rather, it is the skill element. Even a very wealthy person can enjoy playing poker for low stakes since it is the strategic nature of the game, not the luck element of the game, that is its main draw.
People who are "addicted" to poker are generally not losing players; rather, it is the winning players. If poker is a fun and profitable hobby, some players may find themselves playing too much. Sometimes this is harmless, but other times it may distract people from more important things they should be focusing on in their lives.
Myth# 2: Anyone can win at poker
Many articles go into detail about online poker professionals and others who make significant side income from poker. They also go into detail about those who won significant amounts of money at major brick-and-mortar events by qualifying for those events online. While they also often talk about some people who have gambling addictions, they often fail to accurately portray the typical online poker player.
Simply put, most poker players lose money. For someone to win at poker, another has to lose. Adding to the fact that the house takes a considerable rake (making it a negative-sum game), this means that the vast majority of players will lose. To be able to consistently win at poker takes a tremendous amount of learning and natural skill.
Furthermore, the vast majority of people who enter online satellites to the WSOP do not end up qualifying for the World Series of Poker. Of those that are lucky enough and skilled enough to win a seat to the WSOP, most of them win no money at the actual event.
Myth# 3: The Bots Dominate
The media seems to love to hype up the prospect of bots. Currently, player-created bots are probably at worst a minor nuisance. While the prospect of people creating online poker playing programs in the future is cause of concern, it is far from inevitable. There are several major hurdles bots have from being successful.
First, poker is a game of limited information. It is much easier to produce a successful bot for a game where all factors that affect a strategy is known. For example, in chess or checkers, a player knows where his opponents' pieces are. However, in poker, an opponent's cards are unknown, making it harder to create an effective artificial intelligence program. Most amateur programmers will probably not be able to overcome this hurdle, though dedicated and experienced ones may be able to make meaningful progress in the future.
Second, the poker rooms will put up a strong fight. Since poker rooms can monitor every hand that is played on their site, they should hopefully notice and monitor players that are playing large amounts of hours each day on many different tables and seem to be constantly winning. Already, Party Poker has implemented a security measure that requires players to enter in a set of characters displayed on the screen if they are suspected as using a bot.
The bot issue is one that will likely be a never-ending war between the poker rooms and bot makers. Currently, the poker rooms are winning; it is unlikely that many people have programmed successful bots. It will be interesting to see what will occur in the future.
Myth# 4: Games are easier than ever
Online poker games are significantly more difficult now than they were several years ago. Even though online poker was not in the mainstream several years ago, the games were softer. There are several reasons for this.
First, winning players tend to stick with online poker, while losing players play for a bit and eventually quit or greatly limit how much they play. Every day, permanent sharks are born but the new fish are only temporary.
Second, there is much more poker literature in the past, and the literature tends to be better. Several years ago, the "better" books were still pretty bad. Now, there are quite a few solid poker books on the market, and there are also helpful poker strategy websites.
Third, online poker rooms protected the fish more in the past than they do now. Several years ago, players were limited to only one table or perhaps two tables on several sites. There were also a less variety of limits and less high stakes games. When there are fewer limits available, games tend to become easier because often people play at limits they are not comfortable with (sometimes too high and sometimes too low).