Is there “practice value” in play money games?

This question came up again during Saturday’s “Stud Week” live training class on the PSO Twitch channel.  For the class we were playing a play money buy in 7 card stud tournament in the PSO Community Home Game Club together. 

A user, probably coming through from the twitch side, questioned the value of play money games in terms of practice and development.  It’s not the first time this has been asked as we often run play money games in the home game club for PSO so they can be both USA friendly and bankroll friendly. 

The general premise is, if it’s not real money on the line then no one cares, so they play bad/stupid/shove monkey etc. and how can we get valuable “real world” practice time in such an environment?   This user even used an example that their 7 year old has played for play money so how can there be value in playing against a table of 7 year olds?

The veiled dig at the PSO members who were playing aside, the point is accurate… there is little instructional value in playing against a table of 7 year olds who are just clicking buttons, as you won’t find many real money games that would be a model for. 

Does that mean that play money games are useless?  No, absolutely not.  The key is in the “caring” part.  If you join a play money tournament in the open client and find yourself at a table where 5 players are shoving all in the first hand with random cards, there’s not a lot of practice there beyond working on what range of hands you should bring your stack to the party with vs what you should fold (and you can play around with an equity calculator like pokestove to do this relatively quickly without actually being in such a game).  It’s no different from if you play a real money tournament that for whatever reason, you don’t care about.  You end up not thinking about spots, making silly moves, and likely punting off your stack in horrible fashion. 

But if you played in a game where everyone (for the most part) cared, and were giving their all, would you find that a good practice environment?  I think you would! 

This is what you get when you enter a game with players who are taking the game seriously, regardless of the buy in, whether it be play money or a 1K Super Tuesday.  I gave this user an analogy of going to a $5-$10 blind NLHE cash game… one would think this a serious game!  But what if this particular game were filled with rich businessmen who didn’t really know how to play poker but got together once every couple months to gamble and blow off some steam.  You would no doubt find this game highly profitable to sit in, but would you learn much?  With a dynamic similar to the play money the user had pictured in their head, probably not. 

So where can you find play money buy ins that are actually good for practice?  One place is right here in the PSO Community Home Game Club.   There are regular tournament series run with PM buy ins, and live training sessions like the Cash Clash, which have tables of both PM and micro-stakes RM buy ins.  The PM games are great to help get the US members involved, and are bankroll friendly for all members.   And what you get is a truly competitive environment, as only members of PokerSchoolOnline can join this club.  That’s not to say you should expect a world beating line up to practice against, the table will not be filled with professionals like a mid stakes game of grinders would be.  PSO is a school, and there are a lot of beginners and such getting involved, so you will see your fair share of mistakes being made.  But you can expect that most of the players are giving you their “A” game, whatever that may be for them.   So on any given table you may have 0-2 who aren’t caring much at the given moment, 0-2 on their “B” or “C” game due to fatigue, tilt, etc., and the rest bringing their “A” game as it relates to their own skill level, which can range anywhere from beginner to pretty darn good player (coaches, forum hand analyzers, and successful real money players will join these games too).  What this makes for is a great practice field!  A competitive environment that is not at all unlike what you might find in micro stakes online or low stakes live games…. in fact, often a bit tougher.  What a way to practice.

Back when I lived in Vegas in the early 2000's, I remember Bill Gates coming into the Mirage to play limit hold’em once… he played $6-$12 fixed limit.  Obviously for a man of his means, that would be like you and I playing for gum balls or match sticks.  He was asked once why he plays this game when he could comfortably sit in the highest stakes available with what amounts to pocket change for him.  His reply was he sits in $6-$12 because that’s where he felt his skill level was at.  The point is, if you are taking a poker game seriously, and those you’re playing with are too, it doesn’t matter what the stakes are, even the play chip games can be competitive and be a great arena to practice your skills.

PSO is currently running their 2015 Series of Poker, an annual MTT series that runs WSOP style along side the premier Vegas series.  The play money version is in the PSO community club, and each event winner will get a virtual bracelet (see below) to display in their signature line on the forums.  Come join us for some great practice and NLHE and other game styles, make some new friends, and try to get yourself some of that virtual bling... if you take the game seriously you just might, but beware:  Your opponents won’t make it easy for you.