The State of Heads-Up and Viewing Online Poker as a Video Game
Most of you reading this have probably at least dabbled with heads-up poker on one of the major sites. If so, you will have noticed that there are many regular players sitting alone at tables waiting for recreational players to play them. I just pulled up the heads-up lobby on PokerStars as I was writing this, and used the filter to display only heads-up .50/1nl tables - currently there are seventy-one tables open, and only nine of them have players battling each other.
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For many, this is a huge annoyance, and is sadly a deterrent for many recreational players looking to play heads-up poker in their spare time after work, class, weekends, etc. I can't think of any recreational player that feels good about being hunted. This is especially true at the 6max games where you will have four to five regulars sitting out at the same table - waiting for an inexperienced player to come along. Eventually, an unknown player will sit at these tables, and after they have lost their money to players who are clearly better than they are, all of the regular players will promptly sit-out unless the inexperienced player re-buys... I cannot think of a worse way to insult a player and make them feel like they are terrible at poker, other than flat out telling them that they are.
If you are a regular 6max player and you are reading this, I suggest continuing to play with each other after the recreational player has busted, because although battling against regulars for a small period of time may be a -EV (expected value) proposition for you in the short run - in the long run it has to be +EV not making the recreational players feel like they are being hunted. What recreational player wouldn't figure out that they probably shouldn't be playing in that game after you all promptly sit-out when he busts?
For many online players, poker is their main source of income. It makes sense not to battle other regulars if you want to avoid massive swings. Even if you believe you have a slight advantage over another regular, or you have found a subtle way to exploit his game - in most cases it would still be better to play someone who is inexperienced. Players need to make money to fuel their lives, and many of them do not care if they are being ethically sound, or not. Monetary gain will almost always take precedence over ethics for many players. While Pokerstars has made provisions by introducing the new Rush heads-up no-limit format, whereby players can rotate between various opponents immediately following a hand - the heads-up lobby is still a hunting ground.
What Players Should Think About
Although you want to make as much money as possible, in the long run, playing other regulars may benefit you if you are capable of progressing. I suppose this should not be directed at regulars who are making a comfortable living playing their stakes and have no intentions of moving up limits, but the truth is, online poker has become exponentially tougher to beat online. In order for you to move up and make more money, you will have to play some of the best at those limits. You should want to be the best at what you do - playing poker should be no different than anything else, if that is your passion.
Online Poker as a Video Game: An Alternative View
Ambitious players should view online poker like a video game; money likened to points, limits to levels, and the best regulars at each limit are the bosses. In order to get past each level, you need to figure out a way to defeat the bosses of that level, and only moving onto the next level after you have conquered those bosses. It would be inadvisable to move onto the next level without understanding how to defeat the previous bosses (or best regular players), because the next level (or limit) will be much harder.
Some of the final bosses of heads-up no-limit poker would be; Douglas "WCGRider" Polk, Isaac "luvtheWNBA" Haxton, Ben "Sauce1234" Sulsky, Daniel "Jungleman12" Cates, Niklas "ragen70" Heinecker, Viktor "Isildur1" Blom, and Alex "Kanu7" Millar. These are the Bowsers of HU NL.
Now you have the final bosses in your sights - so, put in the hours, study the game, do not be afraid to ask advice from players better than yourself, read strategy forums, and never... never... never think you are better than everyone else. The beautiful thing about poker is; after you have defeated the final boss, the credits never roll, and the game never ends.