Why (Free) Online Poker Sucks

I played a few more hands of online poker at Yahoo! today during lunch. While I was scarfing down my South Beach-friendly omelet, I realized that the dynamics of the game are completely thrown off by the fact that folks are playing with fake money. Texas Hold 'Em is supposed to be a game of knowing your risk. If you are dealt crappy cards, you fold. Because if you don't, chances are you're going to run out of hard-earned cash PDQ. You bet only on hands you're reasonably sure you can win.

Unfortunately, when people play with fake money, there's no incentive to play strategically. If you run out of money, Daddy Yahoo just gives you more. So people bet the max before they even get to see the flop. So you can't tell how sure anybody is of their hand because everybody's betting the max.

So all those hands that you would gracefully fold in a real poker game become the shitty hands you let giant wads of money ride on in a fake poker game. Every hand, one person wins big and nine other people lose the same amount of money. After playing several hands, you realize that unless someone is particularly lucky, folks are simply trading money back and forth. No one wins big and no one loses big. If you happen to lose big, Daddy Yahoo fills up your account again, so no worries.

Bluffing is no fun, either. It doesn't matter if you bluff because there are probably five or six other player bluffing alongside you. Why not bluff? It's not real money. Usually, there's one guy with a good hand who wins and nine other folks who are bluffing. So you're not fooling anyone with a good bluff because everyone else is bluffing, too.

Once you realize this, you start to think that maybe you'll accumulate wealth faster than other players by playing only your really good hands and folding on the rest. Then you see the schmucks who win big hands by betting the max on an unsuited 2-6 and somehow getting lucky. And it becomes tough to fold on those crappy hands because it takes 20 minutes to play a hand - people playing with fake money sure do a lot of raising! But people don't automatically raise. Nosiree. They have to make it at least look like they're using some sort of strategy, so a couple people will call, someone will raise, the next guy will call, the next two will raise and so on and so forth until the betting has gone around in a circle so many times it makes your head spin. Then you get to see the flop. Then the betting commences before the turn. If you fold before the flop, you can probably go make yourself a cup of soup in the microwave before the next round starts.

So that's how online poker with fake money works. It's not really poker. Yet, people flock to places like Yahoo! Games by the krillions, eager to sit around playing an emasculated, crappy version of a great game with fake money, with no one really winning and no one really losing and no one really being rewarded for playing strategically because there are no consequences for losing.

Only in America.