GTO and the next generation
When I started in poker, the original batch of road gamblers from Texas was sainted and revered. "Nobody played better than Johnny Moss," or "For my money, Jack Strauss was the best gambler who ever walked." A lot of the old faces still frequented the games: Bobby Baldwin and Doyle Brunson at the highest levels, and guys like Slim Preston and Eskimo Clark scraping around the small games.
Fast forward a decade and a half, and poker bears little resemblance to what it once was. The new crop are the furthest thing from gold-chained cigar chompers or Texans with ten-gallon hats and shitkicker boots. They're suburban dweebs who grew up reading internet forums about combinatorics and GTO play (that's game theory optimal, for you old-timers). And at a card table full of these kids, between you and me, the old guys don't stand a fuckin' chance.
This progression of the game is impressive in one respect. Poker seemed to defy cold calculus for some time, due to the element of hidden information. You can teach a computer every combination on a chess board, but can you teach it about tilt and when and why and who to bluff? As it turns out, yes, yes you can. Limit Hold 'Em is for all practical matters solved as thoroughly as chess, and the rest of the games will fall as quickly as programmers and neural networks care to knock them down. There's still some magic and art in translating this math to a table of meat puppets in the real world, but that's beside the point.
The game has moved beyond the crafty sharp with nerves of steel. That guy is the fish.
In another respect, this progression is devastating: it's killing poker. Not the game, but the scene. Tourists enjoyed taking a shot against the Texan with his toothpick and his whiskey and his charm. They would probably lose to him, but they got a bit of entertainment for the price of admission. And they had the sense that as much as they were gambling, the Texan was gambling back at them.
That is just no longer the case, and it is no longer the vibe. At anything above the lowest stakes, the dismantling of the tourist is clinical and brutal. The professional is frequently charmless and ungracious, and wears his contempt for the inferior player on his sleeve. Losing to the new breed is no fun for anybody.
This brings us to what we see at the Wynn this week: packed house and nobody wants to play poker. Sure, you can scrape out a few bucks, but the days of tourists and weekend punters wanting to come fire at the poker tables seem to have passed. Inside that room are crickets, and a bunch of kids who learned a lot about tactics and perhaps less about the long game.
Our man in Vegas writes: