Old School Vs New School Poker

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Martin Harris

My new book Old School vs.New School is filled with case studies and examples of how I’ve been merging the latest research and technologies with insights from the old school “feel” generation of baseball to create amazing transformations in elite level MLB, MiLB, and collegiate players. The Old School–New School Controversy was a schism of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America which took place in 1837 and lasted for over 20 years. The Old School, led by Charles Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary, was much more conservative theologically and did not support the revival movement. Sep 16, 2008 Card Player TV brings you coverage of the Old School vs. New School Charity Poker Event held at the brand new Poker Lounge in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas.

Over a decade ago, the rise of online poker created a kind of conflict between professional players who had made their careers strictly playing live and a new, significantly large group of 'online pros.' The latter group was mostly comprised of younger players — unsurprisingly — which thereby added a kind of 'generation gap' that tended to distinguish the two categories of players even further.

Generally speaking, the 'old school' live pros were usually characterized more often than not as so-called 'feel' players thanks to their experience with table talk, recognizing tells, psychology and the 'mental game,' and other intangibles.

Meanwhile the 'new school' online crowd were frequently considered 'math' players apt to base their decisions strictly upon pot odds and probabilities, including incorporating increasingly complex data thanks to the use of HUDs ('Heads-Up Displays') and tracking software while playing.

Questioning the 'Old School'

I recall once watching an early live televised poker broadcast about 10 years ago where an especially well known pro sat in for a short while to help with commentary. The term 'fold equity' had been used at an earlier point in the program, and a viewer had written in asking what the term meant. The question was put to the pro who had to admit he didn't know what the term meant.

Even today, not everyone knows that fold equity refers to the amount of equity a player gains in a hand from the likelihood an opponent will fold to a bet. That is to say, if I push all in on the turn while drawing to the nut flush, I have both the equity that comes from the percentage chance I'll hit my flush plus whatever additional percentage chance there is that you'll fold your hand and I won't need to improve my hand.

The truth is, 'fold equity' cannot be calculated exactly. (In fact, being able to assess the likelihood of an opponent folding is also very often something that requires 'feel,' too.) However, the 'new school' player can still find ways to be very precise with assigning percentages in such spots to help decide upon a course of action.

In any case, the term was relatively new back then, and to some not being familiar with it marked the pro as an 'old school' player, even if he most certainly understood and often used the concept.

Profiling the 'New School'

Meanwhile, the 'new school' player was often similarly characterized as proficient in one area (the math of the game), but lacking certain knowledge or awareness of other, less-easily quantified aspects of poker.

Old School Vs New School Poker Odds

Back in the spring of 2011 — just three weeks before Black Friday, in fact — there appeared an interesting profile of Daniel 'jungleman' Cates in The New York Times. The article by Jay Caspian Kang, titled 'Online Poker's Biggest Winner,' in a way tried to introduce the 'new school' online pro to a wider audience.

The article presented Cates as a kind of representative of a large category of players, a group among whom he was at the time one of the most successful. The article drew comparisons between online poker and other video games, showing how Cates's rise (in mostly heads-up games) kind of mirrored someone mastering a video game through repetition.

The article also suggested of Cates and other young online pros that while they certainly knew what 'fold equity' and 'expected value' and other poker-related concepts were, they might have lacked other knowledge about human behavior — i.e., the kinds of things only gathered by 'life experience' that one isn't necessarily able to learn about sitting at a computer.

Old School v. New School, circa 2016

The categories of 'old school' and 'new school' still persist today, although in 2016 the distinction between 'live pros' and 'online pros' has largely disappeared given than nearly all the top players are consistently found in both arenas.

This week's 2016 Super High Roller Bowl has again inspired some discussion of the two categories, in part because of the fact that both the older generation of players who learned the game in the live arena and the younger generation of (mostly) online-trained players are well represented among the field.

Last night PokerNews'Sarah Herring took the opportunity during a break in the action to ask a couple of players to talk about the status of the 'old school vs. new school' argument as it exists today, and both had some interesting things to say.

Phil Galfond describes himself as being '50-50' or equally guided by both modes — the psychological, read-based approach of the 'old school' and the math and/or theory-based approach of the 'new school' — when at the tables. Meanwhile Matt Berkey, who calls himself a 'live guy by heart,' similarly recognizes the importance of newer ideas about optimal play while still believing that poker is 'a people game first.'

PokerNews Editor-in-Chief Donnie Peters also weighs in at the end to talk about the status of the 'old school/new school' debate today, previewing a topic he'll be exploring further during tonight's episode of the PrimeTime Poker Report. Take a look:

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For more on the topic, catch tonight's PrimeTime Poker Report airing at 9 p.m. ET on PokerCentral.

What do you think of the 'old school' versus 'new school' distinctions as they apply to today's game? Share your thoughts in a comment below.

Old School Vs New School Poker Players

Photos: ©Joe Giron/Poker Central

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    cash game strategytournament strategyPhil GalfondMatt BerkeyDaniel CatesSuper High Roller Bowlonline pokerlive pokerpsychologytiltoddsprobabilitiesfold equity
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    Phil GalfondMatt BerkeyDaniel Cates

American Johnny Moss was one of the initial inductees into the Poker Hall of Fame and for good reason. Born in 1907 he was one of the greatest poker players of his time. He won the very first World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in 1970, when it was played in a cash game format. The following year, when it was played as a freezeout, he won again.

Moss continued to play in the WSOP right up until the year he died, 1995. He won the Main Event again in 1974 and won a total of nine WSOP bracelets overall. He also played in a number of other tournaments and was famous for regularly playing high stakes cash games. Moss was widely known as The Grand Old Man of Poker in deference to his stature in the game.

Amarillo Slim

Amarillo Slim is without question a poker legend. The American, real name Thomas Austin Preston Jr died aged 83 in 2012 having had a very colorful life. He was famed for not only his poker skills but a number of other gambling activities too. He won one of the early WSOP Main Events, back in 1972. Following that win, he’s credited with helping bring a wider audience to poker.

Preston was a really engaging character and his appearances on television and radio talk shows certainly generated a lot of interest. He was inducted in the Poker Hall of Fame and will be fondly remembered by poker fans for a very long time.

Chip Reese

David “Chip” Reese was an American poker player that has been described by many as the greatest cash game player that ever lived. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1991 and, at 40 years old, was the youngest player to have received that honor. In addition to his cash games skills he was a very proficient tournament player, with three WSOP bracelets to his name. He died in 2007, at age 56.

Doyle Brunson

When it comes to longevity in the game, few (if any) players can touch Doyle Brunson. The American was born in 1933 and at the time of writing he’s still playing regularly. He has twice won the WSOP Main Event, has a total of 10 WSOP bracelets and was the first player to earn over $1 million in tournament winnings. He’s a Poker Hall of Fame inductee and, in 2006, was voted as the most influential person in world poker by Bluff Magazine.

Chris Moneymaker

Chris Moneymaker is at the very least partially responsible for the huge boom in the popularity of online poker. In 2003, at the age of 27, he won the WSOP Main Event for around $2.5 million. What made his win amazing was that it was his first live tournament and he had qualified for the event at an online poker room. He had paid just $39 to enter a satellite at the PokerStars poker site.

Moneymaker gave poker players all over the world hope that they too could match his achievements. His win generated huge publicity and, it was what dubbed the “Moneymaker Effect”. There was a massive increase in the number of people signing up at poker sites after his win. While online poker would undoubtedly have become popular anyway, Chris Moneymaker definitely gave things a significant kick start.

Phil Hellmuth

Some people love him, some people hate him, but there’s no doubt that Phil Hellmuth is one of the best known poker players of all time. He has won a very impressive 13 WSOP bracelets, including the 1989 Main Event. Just 24 years old at the time, he became the youngest ever winner of the Main Event. Hellmuth has something of a temper, and he has been described as being brash and arrogant. Poker would almost certainly be poorer without him around though.

Vanessa Rousso is considered one of poker’s sex symbols and has appeared in a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. However, she is far more than that and is a very accomplished player too. Born in 1983, by the age of 30 she had racked up well over $3 million in tournament winnings and is one of the most successful female pokers ever. She is vocal about her pro-gambling stance.

Dan Harrington

Harrington is a very accomplished poker player and author of one of the most famous series of poker strategy books, Harrington on Hold’em. He has won the WSOP Main Event (in 1995), is an inductee to the Poker Hall of Fame, and has won over $6 million in tournament cashes. His nickname is “Action Dan”, which is somewhat ironic as he is known to be a tight player.

Phil Ivey

Phil Ivey is regarded by many as the greatest all around poker player in the game today. He has never won the WSOP Main Event, but he does have nine bracelets to his name. He is a feared cash game player and has shown time and time again that he’s willing to gamble it up. As a former member of the Full Tilt Poker team of pro players he could often be seen playing at the online poker room at the very highest stakes

Annette Obrestad

Annette Obrestad claims to have started her poker career online at the age of just fifteen. Playing underage isn’t something that we condone or recommend, but it seems to have worked for Obrestad. She is one of the best known female poker players and has a number of successes to her name. She states that she has never had to deposit any of her own money to a poker site as she built her initial bankroll entirely by playing in freeroll tournaments.

Viktor Blom

Viktor Blom is a high stakes online poker player from Sweden. He is better known as “Isildur1”, his online screen-name. He caused a huge stir on the online poker world in 2009, when he appeared seemingly out of nowhere and started playing at the highest stakes available. At this time, no-one knew who was behind the Isildur1 screen-name, but there was plenty of speculation on the matter. In early 2011, shortly after joining the PokerStars team of pro players, his identity was revealed.

Daniel Negreanu

Negreanu is a popular poker player with significant winnings in both tournament and cash play. He’s particularly well known for his ability to read his opponents and accurately determine what cards they are playing. Daniel has himself stated that his most important skill is being able to observe and remember what range of hands his opponents play in what situations, and how they play him. He joined Team PokerStars in 2007 and has appeared on many televised poker shows.

Female poker player Liv Boeree is from England and is well known for both her poker play and her TV presenting. She first appeared on the poker scene in 2005 when she took part in a poker based reality TV show where she was coached by leading players including Phil Hellmuth. Since then she has had a number of lead roles on poker based TV shows and has had great success at the poker tables.


Stu Ungar, who died in 1998, was one of the greatest poker players ever. He won the WSOP Main Event three times and was a top class gin rummy player. He was also a very skilled blackjack player and card counter, which led to him eventually not being able to play the game in Las Vegas casinos. He’s known as the “Comeback Kid,” because of his last WSOP win came 16 years after his previous one. During that time span he had hit rock bottom and experienced drug problems.

Poker schools online

One of the best known players from the online poker era, Tom Dwan is famous for playing high stakes under the screen-name “durrrr”. He began online with $50 and started out playing sit and go tournaments before moving on to cash games. By building his money at low stakes and slowly moving up, he eventually began playing in the biggest online games. Such is the nature of poker he subsequently experienced massive swings, but he’s easily a winning player. Dwan has proved to have excellent money management skills and has not been afraid to drop down in stakes when required.