The jury is still out. As I write this, online poker for real money is less than a year old. It has boomed in popularity, particularly among those who can't easily get to cardrooms. Even among those who can, many people prefer the comfort, convenience, and anonymity of playing poker in their spare bedroom any time they want.
'Chris Ferguson, who won the final event at the 2000 World Series of Poker, learned many of his tactics playing tournaments on IRC. He readily acknowledges the value that all that computer practice time had for him. 2This is where my disclaimer at the top really matters. I am virtually certain that a year from now, online poker will look nothing like it does today. I'm not sure how, but there will be big changes.
The obvious concern here is collusion. It is trivial for two or three people to "sit" at the same online poker table and freely converse (over the phone, Internet, or sitting in the same physical room) about what they're doing. Furthermore, they don't even need to be particularly aggressive about their collusion. Simply playing only the best hand among the two or three they collectively have provides some edge. I will go only a little way out on a limb here and say that I'm virtually certain that some amount of such collusion is taking place in online poker.
That said, I believe that the commercial poker sites want clean games (they're making plenty of money in the rake). Whether they have the technology and will to detect and eliminate collusion is yet to be seen.
Of course, there's some collusion going on in real (as opposed to virtual) cardrooms. Is it less than the Internet poker sites? I'm inclined to believe it is simply because doing it online is so easy and foolproof. I don't have any more than anecdotal evidence of that, but that's my sense of the matter.
Finally, to further confuse matters, some people are beating Internet poker for substantial amounts of money. I don't believe that the collusion problem is so bad that a very good player can't make a healthy profit.
The jury is still out.
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