Young guns: Will they last in live play?

Shannon Shorr
Shannon Shorr tempts fame yet again at the Borgata Poker Open.

There are poker players who've been in the business for years - T.J. Cloutier, Amarillo Slim. They're the old-school players who cut their poker teeth at a real poker table in backroom games all across the southern states.

Learning the game the old way meant hours of card play to only play a few hands sometimes depending on how the cards were running. To really get a feel for the game and garner the instinct and knowledge it takes to become a great player, not just a good one, it would take years of studying and playing the game.

With the advent of online poker, the "rookie years" of becoming a poker player have been extremely condensed. The same amount of hands it took for a seasoned pro to get a year's worth of experience live can now be played in half the time or even less.

Online poker has created a whole generation of young guns who come to the poker table fully loaded with poker knowledge and skills despite their young age and lack of live poker-playing experience. But I'm not quite sure that's enough to make them true professional players who will be able to stick it out in the live games and tournaments for the next 20 to 30 years like the old pros have.

For one thing, online play isn't conducive to creating the patience a player needs to have for a live game. While the young guns are busy playing multiple tables online, they get used to having constant action and very little deciding time.

In a live game, the play is much slower. A computer program can deal cards and count chips and bets in the blink of an eye. In real life, the dealer needs a little time to shuffle and deal. He also needs a little time to count chips occasionally. The players aren't as limited in the amount of decision time they have, and they too may need to take a minute to count their chips to make their bets.

On top of it all, you're playing one table, and the secret they don't tell when you're watching poker on TV is that you can play for hours without any real action going on or without getting a hand worth playing.

Imagine going from constant action to very little and trying to keep your head in the game. There are many examples of online players transitioning well to the live tournaments or we wouldn't even be discussing the matter. But much of their success comes from the knowledge base they've obtained and from their aggressive style of play rather than from having patience at the poker table.

Live-game players are learning to adjust to that aggressive style though and perhaps the online players won't be as successful in the future.

What will they do then?

Because they built their poker careers so quickly, will they have the patience to wait out the rough spots in a live poker career and to evolve their own style of play?

There are some examples already of successful young players who are prematurely tiring of the game. Shannon Shorr had a very successful poker career in 2006, starting with making the final table at the Aussie Millions and later winning two Bellagio Cup events, one of which was the main event. He was in the race for Player of the Year and having a great time playing poker on the circuit.

This year hasn't been as kind to the former civil-engineering degree student, and the turn of events has taken its toll on his attitude toward poker. Shorr has mentioned a few times in his blog that he's considering giving up his poker career to return to the University of Alabama.

The game, at least the live part of it, seems to have lost its appeal to Shorr now that he doesn't have the excitement of being on a hot streak.

If it's not a lack of patience and an inability to wait out the slow times, perhaps it's the accelerated nature of how they became pros itself that's the culprit.

Brian Townsend talked about his lack of motivation and focus last month in his blog. He commented that it could stem from a recent losing streak online, but that he felt it had more to do with already meeting his personal goals for the game.

"I never really played or cared about the money," Townsend says in the blog. "I always played because I really enjoyed poker, and I think that is one reason why I have had so much success. It's very hard to motivate yourself to play if poker is just a job or a way to make ends meet."

For the pros who got their start in the live game, it can take several years, maybe even a lifetime, of playing poker to reach their goals and attain the skill level they're aiming for.

Perhaps that's why they don't lose interest so fast in the game. They've still got much to work on, unlike the online players who've gotten in perhaps triple the amount of play in the same time frame.

The live pros also have the advantage of having gotten into poker to make money to begin with. Doyle Brunson wasn't traveling around Texas playing games just for the fun of it. Not only was he honing his skills, he was earning money to support his family. It's always been a job for him, and now that he's made millions he can afford to play it more as a fun hobby, but I doubt he sees it that way.

It's the reverse for the online players. Many of them started playing just for fun and it turned out to be something they could excel at and make money with. From there, they turned it from a hobby into a profession, and not everyone has the mentality to be able to do that and still have fun playing all the time.

It'll be interesting to see how many of the online players will stick it out in the live tournament world and become the next generation of poker legends. The game will always need its backbone of live-game players to give fans familiar faces to watch for on TV and at events.

My prediction is that many of the Internet players will continue to be drawn to the possibility of fame to go along with their budding online fortune, but most of them will end up returning to strictly online play. They may even continue with it as a full-time profession online, but I don't think many will have the patience it takes to be a full-time live player.

The ones who do stick it out will use the live tournaments like many of the current old-time pros do now. They make their living in the cash games and the tournaments are all about getting their faces out there, trying to win titles to give themselves a little more fame in the business.

The Internet pros can just as easily spend most of their careers online continuing to build their fortunes that way and head to the tournaments just for their shot in the spotlight as well.

Perhaps the game will be forced to evolve too as the next generation steps up. Online play has already helped boost the popularity of poker; maybe it's time to start highlighting more of the online stars in their own realm rather than them having to take the step into the offline poker world.

The World Poker Tour could set up a special tournament just for the top online players, bringing them all together to showcase their talents in a live tournament. Or the World Series of Poker could add an "online players only" event.

Poker will always need its backbone of superstar players, and if the online pros can't step up to the plate in the live world, then someone will find a way to go to the online world to make them stars.

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