How to Keep Poker Skills Sharp During U.S. Prohibition
At the time of Black Friday, it was undeniable that the best poker players in the world, on the balance, were Americans. While this is still probably the case, poker prohibition in the U.S. has given other countries a great chance to play catch-up. Players from the U.K. and Canada not only have the benefit of still being able to access online poker, but they are also able to build their bankrolls easier due to not having to pay taxes on gambling winnings.
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To put it bluntly, it sucks to be an American poker player right now.
A large component to playing poker at a high level is the ability to practice, practice, practice and be part of the trend-setting crowd with regards to what specific strategies are most effective. While Americans remain handcuffed from accessing the greatest tool for producing poker excellence ever created, online poker, they're at a sizable disadvantage to the rest of the world who continue to hone their skills versus a large player pool of competition at sites like PokerStars and 888 Poker.
So what can Americans do to keep their poker skills sharp while waiting for online poker to return to the U.S.? Here are our suggestions:
Leave the U.S.
The sad truth is that anyone truly serious about being an elite online poker player right now needs to become a "poker refugee" by establishing a home base outside of the United States from which to play online poker. I did it and so have hundreds of other Americans.
Top poker relocation choices include Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, or a nomadic existence around parts of Europe or South America. If you're unattached and up for a little adventure, it can be a nice excuse to try living outside the U.S. for a while. Unfortunately for most American poker enthusiasts, this simply isn't an option due to family or work commitments or financial constraints.
Play Online Poker in the U.S.
We do not actually suggest this. In fact, we only mention it to reiterate as we have before that you should not play online poker at the sites currently servicing U.S. customers.
When PokerStars and Full Tilt were servicing Americans before Black Friday, we found highly dubious their assertion that it was legal for them to do so. In fact, since the time it became apparent the UIGEA would be passed in 2006, PokerTips has declined all advertising offers from online poker rooms seeking exposure to our U.S. traffic.
It turns out the founders of this site were correct in their estimation of playing online poker in the U.S. to be a risky proposition before Black Friday. If it was risky then, there is zero doubt that it's risky now. Without exception, the online poker operators currently servicing U.S. customers are shady cash-grab enterprises. And even if they were the squeakiest-clean organizations in the world, there is still the daunting issue of U.S. legal action against the sites or its payment processors separating you from your money potentially indefinitely.
One possible loophole to playing online poker for real money in the U.S. could be Bitcoin poker, but the jury remains out on that for now.
Embrace Live Poker
To those accustom to online poker, live poker can be quite the grind. There's a big difference between hundreds of hands per hour at an online poker table and 30 hands per hour in a live game. However, one's edge is generally higher in live games. In the absence of better options, grinding live poker is better than nothing for the purpose of keeping your skills sharp.
Poker rooms have become fairly common in the U.S. Poker-friendly state legislation in the past decade has helped create card rooms in places where there previously were none. Florida, Colorado and Indiana are all examples of states with an emerging live poker scene.
Failing easy access to a legal live poker game, your options are pretty bleak. Check your state laws to see if rake-free home games are permissible. Illegal underground games with a house rake taken should be avoided. Such games are notorious for being raided by police or being targeted by thieves.
Travel to Play Poker
If you live in a poker dead zone in the U.S., you have a good excuse to take working vacations right now. Take a trip to play poker in Nevada or combine your next Florida beach vacation with frequent visits to their card rooms.
It's also worth keeping an eye on roaming live tournament series within your region. The WSOP Circuit has 19 stops during the year culminating with a $1,500 buy-in Main Event. These can be affordable tournaments to satellite into and the cash game action during WSOP-C stops is generally quite good.
Study and Chat with Poker Friends
Finally, the best thing you can do for keeping your poker skills sharp is to analyze the game with poker buddies. Even if you can't log many hands, it can help keep your skills sharp to read poker strategy forums to keep the mental juices flowing. If you have friends who play poker, ask for their opinion on a (hypothetical, if need be) hand to generate some back-and-forth strategy discussion.
This is no substitute for firing up four tables on Party Poker and partying like it's 2005. But anything you can do to weather the U.S. poker prohibition will help when the floodgates reopen. Your poker skills are an asset worth protecting.