Raise your game with Twitch poker

Twitch poker is bringing the fantasy into people’s homes and creating a new legion of wannabe superstars. Join Dan ‘danshreddies’ O’Callaghan and live the stream…

If you could be any Lord of the Rings character, which would it be? Legolas, Frodo, Gandalf? Perhaps a dragon or a huge tree Ent is more your thing? Whoever it is, I’d bet they were strong, courageous, powerful, and generally pretty damn cool – and why shouldn’t they be? The beauty of fantasy is that it is by definition fantastical, make believe, a dream; nobody wants to be the pathetic foot soldier that can hardly hold a sword and gets beheaded within three seconds of a battle starting.

I’ve only swung a sword once. I was 15 and did so with so little grace that a Scottish shop keeper actually screamed (relax, they were selling it, I wasn’t robbing the place!). I’d be useless in battle, everyone knows it, but come at me in one of my fantasies and you won’t stand a chance. I’ll mess you up!

Whatever it is you fantasise about, superpowers, the perfect complexion, a lottery win, or even if it’s something a little more taboo, all fantasies have one thing in common – they’re an ideal, and it is this illusion of perfection that makes them exciting, engaging, and in some cases, completely intoxicating.

Fantasy Poker

Due to a popularity surge of poker streaming on Twitch, one fantasy that has been thrust into the spotlight recently is online poker. Poker lends itself perfectly to streaming: it is all about the here and now; tournaments (and lives) can change in a heartbeat, and this excitement has fuelled a rush of interest which has caused hysteria among audiences that were previously completely disinterested.

The beauty of poker streams however, is that they go one step further than merely telling a fantasy, they bring them to life. Audiences can interact with their idols live, and the hype this generates is unlike in any other form of poker broadcasting.

Viewers don’t just watch someone like PokerStaples, Jason Somerville, or even the infamous danshreddies (okay, so that one’s a work in progress!) win four or five-figures in a night, they get to see exactly how they did it – every decision, every flip, every fold.

This interactivity means that viewers share the experience and this, in exactly the same way as Chris Moneymaker’s Main Event win did, seduces people by making the dream feel achievable. It may not be bareback riding on a dragon, but it definitely bridges the gap between poker fantasy and reality.

I stared streaming a few months ago, largely because it’s fun and made me feel as though i was living my childhood TV presenter dream, but also because I’m a little prone to auto-piloting, and knowing that there may be a bunch of chatbox ninjas waiting to pounce ensured that I was playing as close to my A-game as possible.

This ‘Big Brother’ effect has a lot to do with Twitch Poker’s success. As humans we are social creatures, nobody likes to look stupid and even those at the very top of the game are human (albeit with super-robotic genius brains!).

As a consequence, legitimate sickos, players that would usually charge hundreds of dollars per hours for coaching are sharing complex trains of thought for free. It’s essentially live strategy and it’s gold dust. Tune in, have fun and learn to crush!

Watch more, play better

Strategically, poker streams have huge merit – you can watch great players make moves and explain what they’re doing. Daniel Negreanu has started streaming mixed games and it’s fascinating to get an insight into his thought process while he plays in real time.

However, possibly the biggest benefit Twitch can make to poker is that streams indirectly make the games easier. As a consequence of targeting a recreational audience, Twitch acts as a stage to promote the seductive and fun side of poker – a catalyst that improves the ratio of amateur to recreational players by re-impulsing existing players, and encouraging fresh faces to fall in love with the game.

This player influx benefits everyone at all levels of poker. Increased traffic leads to fewer reg-infested games which lowers the overall average player ability. This increases players’ longevity, which ultimately results in easier game selection because more fish reinvest as they win more often, and aren’t pounded to the point of rage-quitting.

Since the poker industry is fuelled by injections of new and recreational players in this way, streaming can only be a positive thing for the poker ecosystem.

It’s not all chips and gravy though. Some players believe there is a potential risk to streaming poker. Let’s look at the most obvious of these: ‘stream sniping’. I’m pretty sure almost all streaming slang originates from video gamers, but from a poker perspective ‘stream sniping’ equates to a player watching a stream in order to exploit the information the host gives away, while playing at the same table.

Personally, I don’t consider this is something to lose too much sleep over, especially since a delay prevents anyone taking a peek at your cards during a hand. Jason Somerville has been asked about this and isn’t the slightest bit bothered. Daniel Negreanu plays $400/$800 mixed games live on Twitch and still wins.

There are also people who bang on about Twitch giving away poker’s secrets and making the game harder. Negreanu’s response to this? ‘Boo hoo! You can’t win at poker any more?’ The truth is that you don’t get good at poker simply by having the knowledge. It’s how you act on the information you get that makes you a great player. You can definitely improve your game by watching streams but you’ll still need to work hard and apply that information to your game. Ultimately I think Twitch is going to be fantastic for poker. There will always be sceptics – people who believe that giving away winning poker strategy makes the players better and the games harder. But I think the opposite is true.

Either way though, streams are entertaining, and they’re here to stay. Yes, they might come with some minute strategic risks, but to my mind, that’s a small price to pay if it leads to juicer games and improves the overall longevity of the game we love.

Dan ‘danshreddies’ O’Callaghan is a member of Team PKR Pro. Play with him in 2D or 3D at PKR.com

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