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A lot of online poker play has convinced me that at most betting limits, poker games on the Internet are a lot
looser than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. I assumed from the get-go that lower-limit games online would be
loose — they always are — and five or more players seeing the flop in an Omaha eight-or-better or hold'em game is
to be expected at small betting limits. But when you're playing $15-$30 Omaha eight-or-better and $30-$60 Texas
hold'em, always in two games simultaneously and both are replete with five or six players, and sometimes more,
seeing each and every flop — even when it's raised — you know you're in a different kind of environment.
If electronic media does have assumptions to impose on our collective psyche, they involve immediacy and
abstraction in large quantities. For those raised on video games, the electronic media that defines the environment
for these confrontations serves the same function as amusement park thrill rides. It provides all the sense of
danger and derring-do without putting the participant at any real risk. After all, regardless of whatever aliens,
supervillains, or mutant monsters have us under attack in a video environment, and no matter the drop angle and
speed of a roller coaster, we remain safe, sound, and unscathed in the real world. And that assumption is laid,
however unwittingly, on the psyche of many online poker players.
In addition, chip representations in online gaming have an impact all their own. The use of gambling chips
instead of money was a stroke of genius for casinos. Aside from the practical reality that chips of different
colors representing different denominations are easier to count than dollar bills, chips are psychologically easier
to wager — and thus easier to part with — than real money. There is, I suppose, some sort of disconnect between
those brightly colored gaming tokens and the money we spend on groceries and rent in the real world. Chips are an
abstraction of money, and not the real thing.
If casino chips are an abstraction of money, then the graphic representations of chips in an online poker game
is an abstraction to the second degree. And that's why many online games are so loose. If chips themselves are more
easily wagered than dollar bills, then video depictions of chips seem no more dangerous to many online players than
bullets fired by villains in video games. Even though every online poker player is ultimately aware that real money
is at risk, cold-calling a couple of bets with what is an abstract rendering of something that's merely an
abstraction itself seems not to be fraught with risk at all.
It's easier to push a button and see a graphic rendering of chips move into the center of the table than it is
to actually pick up a stack of chips and commit them to the pot yourself. And it's far easier to push a stack of
poker chips into a pot than it is to wager the same sum in real, spendable, outside-world dollars.
The implications of this should be clear. You're going to find looser play in online games, so much so
that I'd speculate that if you could take a couple of dozen players at random and track them, you'd find them to be
looser players in online poker rooms than they are in traditional casinos. You can take advantage of this by
betting for value with your good hands because you're more likely to be called, and by bluffing less frequently for
the same reason.
Don't forget to keep a tight rein on yourself, too. You might not be immune from "LOP," "Loose Online Play"
syndrome, but now that you're aware of it, things should be a bit easier. Be careful about the hands you play and
don't let your starting standards fall by the wayside because it seems only an abstraction of an abstraction that
you're wagering, and not real money itself. When you cash out, or have to infuse your online poker account with
more dough because you've lost most of your playing stake, that abstraction quickly uncloaks and reveals itself as
real money, and it's then that you realize there's a world of difference between taking risks as a poker player and
playing video games. Even the late Marshall McLuhan, who may never have played a hand of poker in his life and died
two decades before online poker became a reality, would have recognized that in a New York minute and seen the
message as money and the medium as merely a graphic rendering of chips.