My life changed dramatically in 2010.
One minute, I was sitting in an office in Port Talbot Steelworks trying to figure out how to prevent my employees from trapping fingers inside doors of poorly designed railway wagons.
The next, I was standing next to Joe Hachem at the European Poker Tour (EPT) Main Event in London, being mistaken for a waiter.
I knew nothing about poker back then. I didn't know too much about ordering drinks. I was a fish, and yet my confidence echoed across oceans.
I was working at EPT London to make a few coins as I tried to navigate the treacherous waters of professional poker. I wasn't much of a mariner.
I ended up writing full time and, over the years, through numerous interviews and conversations with some of the world's best players, I've been privy to some drastic changes in the way poker strategy has evolved.
How Poker Strategy Has Changed Since 2010
1. Availability and Quality of Resources
Without a doubt the single most drastic change in the past 6-10 years has been the availability and quality of resources made available to budding poker players.
When I first started out, there were some quality poker books on the market and online poker training sites were beginning to show promise. But the quality that we see today has never been higher.
Six years ago, players still worried about offloading their secrets. Not today. RunItOnce is a prime example of a top quality online training site that hires the strongest players and coaches in the world.
Resources haven't only emerged to cover the technical side of the game. Evan Jarvis over at Gripsed.com teaches players a holistic approach, focusing heavily on the way a person manages their health and wellbeing as a primer for a great poker player.
Jared Tendler & Barry Carter's Mental Game of Poker is one of the most popular books and it focuses on mindset. Justin Bonomo believes the growth of the internet and online poker is the main reason behind the speed of advancement in this area:
“Online poker was a massive catalyst for the improvement of general poker strategy," says Bonomo. "Subjects that Doyle Brunson once pondered with a few buddies suddenly received the attention of thousands of players across the world on various poker forums.
"What once was guesstimated with pen and paper became meticulously solved by computer simulations.”
Most of all, a lot of this information is now free. You don't have to pay a dime to tune into the Global Poker League (GPL) Twitch channel and watch Bonomo narrate those computer simulations during his heads-up encounters with other titans.
Away from the GPL, a lot of top quality poker players are streaming their online play and doing it for free or the price of a Chai Latte, which brings me to my next point.
2. The Skill Gap Has Closed
“Because of the additional resources available to the player," says Billy “b8chatz” Chattaway, "the field is a lot more knowledgeable and thus the gaps between the best and the rest has narrowed considerably,”
The game has gotten tougher, and it's because the weaker players have improved so much. Most competent players now have strong fundamentals.
As Talal ‘raidalot’ Shakerchi points out, "It's harder than before to label players in distinct groups as everyone has digested the same books, videos, etc. and now has at least some balance in their style.
"There is also a much better range balancing than before and players understand better how to handle middle and weak hands post flop."
There was a time when an effective ABC game would have been enough to turn a poker table into a dodgy slot machine. That effective ABC game is vital today, but it's not sufficient to become a winning player.
And this has led to another change in strategy.
3. Players Are More Creative
As players have realized that solid ABC poker is not enough, they've had to think of more creative ways to beat their opponents.
Once again, online training sites are responsible for a lot of this increased level of creativity. Ten years ago nobody knew what a reverse float was. Today, it’s as regular as hammocks on a desert island. People are putting it into play with the ease of spreading butter on toast.
"Players are looking for unorthodox lines in hands," says Chattaway, "which makes them harder to play and harder to read. In 2006, a double float didn't exist. Players are finding more creative ways to win pots."
Bonomo also sees the need to keep up with the creative Joneses.
"As a professional it's been fascinating to watch the game evolve. If you want to compete against the best, you have to stay on top of the current metagame.
"For example a new play that has evolved over the last few years is leading out of position into the flop C-bettor for about 30% pot when a low card pairs on the board.
"This play is called a range-charge, and the basic idea behind it is that the card favors your range so much that you can no longer expect the player with the lead to continue betting.
"You need to understand these things -- not only so that you have these plays in your arsenal yourself, but also so that you can prepare a proper counter-strategy."
4. Players Are More Aggressive
One of the most noticeable changes in poker strategy over the years is the level of aggression.
“There are more raising wars before the flop,” says Chattaway. “A 5-bet was unheard of 10 years ago. 3-betting has also increased a great deal.”
"There's way more aggression pre-flop. 3-bet and 4-bet ranges have widened dramatically. When I started the conventional wisdom was 'the fourth raise is always aces' from Phil Gordon's Little Green Book.
"That was close to true then but is nowhere near accurate now."
All levels in the game contain this increased level of aggression, and once again is symptomatic of online training and literature. Limping has disappeared from all but the lowest stakes and viewed as a sign of weakness.
Shallow-stack play is also incredibly aggressive as poker tools such as shoving range charts have turned thought-based actions into robotic shove fests. And all the chart wizardry has come from these guys ...
5. The Math Players Dominate
I believe that back in the day there was a greater mix of 'feel' players and logical, math-based players. Bill Chen's tome The Mathematics of Poker is one of the most successful poker books of the past decade, and with good cause.
When you seek out a top pro and ask them to break down a hand, or watch them doing it live on their stream, the depth of their mathematical reasoning is astounding.
It's clear to me that for a player to be a long-term winner in the modern game they need to have a great handle on poker math.
'Feel' players are still successful. However, the scales are tipping more in the favor of the math wizard and there is less emphasis placed on physical reads and tells than maybe in a bygone era.
So things have changed, a lot. However Bonomo still thinks we have a long way to go:
"Despite all the advancements in poker strategy, I believe we still have a long way to go. If you time-capsuled the top professionals today into a tough poker game 10 years from now, they would be at a massive disadvantage against future strategies."
So that’s my take on How Poker Strategy Has Changed Since 2010 (with a little help from Billy Chattaway, Talal Shakerchi and Justin Bonomo).