Out With the Old, In With the New: Poker Legends vs. Internet Stars

min read
BetMGM Sep 16, 2021, 9:46 AM

About two decades ago, online poker gained a massive boost in popularity. From this surge of new players flocking to poker sites came a kind of conflict between poker professionals who had earned their wins over the table, and the new group of young “online professionals”, who are by far the larger of the two groups. 

What’s the difference?

The old-school poker legends are often characterized as “feel” players, as they’ve had to develop skills along the lines of table talk, learning to read and analyze their opponents at every moment of the game, and developing their own methods for not showing any tells or giving up any information they should be protecting. 

The new-school players, however, are often referred to as “math” players: they base their actions strictly on odds and probabilities, and incorporate all sorts of other complex data into their calculations. 

This shift from playing by feel to playing with data has changed the way online poker, and poker in general, is being played – with the old-school players having to play catchup on their math and probability skills when playing online poker, and the new-schoolers being awkward and silent at cash games and tournament tables.

That doesn’t mean there’s a hard line drawn between the two – these days, you can be an old dog learning new tricks, or an internet pup trying to join the old dogs at the table. Really, the distinction between a “live pro” and an “online pro” has largely disappeared, since these days players from both camps tend to play in both arenas. 

That being said, let’s take a look at a few things that have made the new internet professionals so dangerous to the old-school poker legends.

Educational poker resources

Professional croupier holding a pack of cards with stacks of poker chips on a green felt casino table.

Back in the day, about 30 to 50 years ago, the only way you were going to learn how to play poker was from another player, or by sitting down and buying in at a table. Even into the early 2000s, there were brilliant books on poker strategy and a few online learning platforms were cropping up, but the quality and availability weren’t really up to scratch. 

These days, though, the availability and quality of the learning resources that every player in the world can access is astounding. A few years back, some players were still worried about sharing their secrets that made their play what it was, but those days are disappearing fast, with online poker training sites such as RunItOnce hiring the best players and coaches in the world to put training programs and educational material together for anyone to study. 

Justin Bonomo, a young poker pro who competes in both the live and online arenas (in equal strength, too), believes that the boom in playing poker online and the adoption of a more logical and mathematically driven approach to the game has been a catalyst for improving poker strategy as a whole. 

The skills gap

Thanks to the (mostly) free and widespread availability of educational poker resources on the internet, the field of players has become a lot more knowledgeable, and the skills gap between the best and the rest has narrowed by a massive margin. 

It isn’t easy to label players as any specific kind of player, because everyone has access to the same videos, lessons and books – so every player has some sort of balance in their repertoire, or at least knowledge of other styles of play. 

Solid poker skills aren’t creative enough these days

Online poker player holding playing cards and sitting at a casino table with his laptop and casino chips.

The reason that the old-school players have been having such a rough time keeping their game relevant is because the new internet pros are incredibly strong post-flop. This is very different from how most old poker legends played the game – it simply isn’t good enough to sit around playing tight, waiting to make a play by coming over the top. Range balancing now is so much better than before, because these new players understand so well how to play average and weak hands post-flop.

Today’s game has taken on a far more creative approach, which requires you to learn about bet sizing, polarizing your range by bluffing in certain positions, and ways of getting the maximum value for your hands post-flop. These days, it’s a battle for every single chip in your stack. 

Daniel Negreanu (one of the most famous poker players of all time and holder of 6 WSOP bracelets), also known as “Kid Poker”, is a part of both the old and new generation of poker players. He has extensive tournament and cash-game experience, as well as incredible results in terms of winnings from both, but he has also taken to playing online poker for real money like a duck to water. 

Negreanu has decided that the only way to stay relevant in the poker world today is to adapt to the new style of play, and to adopt the tricks that the new internet pros use into his own style of play. Negreanu has a host of online poker friends, such as Bonomo, Isaac Haxton, Adam Junglen, and Shaun Deeb, who all come from a primarily online background. He talks about hands and specific lines with these players, and while they may not agree on everything and have very different ideas about playing poker, it isn’t as much about who’s right or wrong, but more that the old-school players need to open up their minds to how these kids tick. 

Think about it this way: if Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson – one of the most legendary poker players in history, a Poker Hall of Famer, and holder of 10 WSOP bracelets – says that he improves his game by learning something new about poker every day, then there’s no reason why any other old-school poker legend should be struggling to keep up with these young online poker phenoms. As the saying goes: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!”  

Join your school of choice with BetMGM

Whether you’re a poker veteran from the casino tables or a new player trying to cut your teeth in online poker games, BetMGM is the place to be. From our land-based casino tables to the poker rooms at our online casino site – and our live dealer games, which are a perfect blend of the two – you can choose to play the way that suits you best. 

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.