Tournaments and Ring Games

Brian Alspach

Poker Digest Vol. 4, No. 5, February 23 - March 8, 2001

I remember very clearly the first time I drove on the left side of the road. I was in Australia, in August of 1977, attending a major conference in Canberra. Before the conference, a colleague from Queen's University, Professor Norm Pullman, and I spent several days visiting the University of Newcastle. We were staying with Professor Wal Wallis, who graciously offered the use of his car, when Norm and I decided we wanted to attend a play on campus. Norm and I looked at each other, and he informed me he wanted nothing to do with driving on the ``wrong side of the road.'' I volunteered.

Wal's car was a stick shift and the first problem I encountered was the location of the gear shift. It's on your left, which means I had to use my left hand for shifting. Fortunately, I had taught myself to do many activities left-handed as well right-handed. So the gear shift on the left turned out to be no big deal after all. The floor pedals were in the usual configuration of clutch on the left, brake pedal in the center and accelerator on the right. So there was nothing new for my feet to handle.

We soon, however, encountered the real problem. I arrived at the first major intersection along the route where I needed to turn left. Now left turns in a system where cars drive on the left is not a big deal except for one feature: You must look to the right to check for oncoming traffic in the lane you're about to enter. But all my instincts were to look to the left, which is precisely what I did. There was nobody in the lane to my left, and I was about to turn when Norm gave out a yelp and I stopped. About then, a car roared across my vision from right to left plowing through the space I had almost tried to occupy. This was a real wakeup call to my brain, and my first lesson in beginning to cope with driving on the left.

Since my wife is from Australia, I subsequently have done a lot of driving there, including two major trips by car. I now have reached the point where my conversion between the two driving systems is instantaneous because of a great deal of experience with both. I find that I almost can feel an internal switch activate itself, and then I am completely into whichever driving system I'm entering.

What does the preceding story have to do with poker?

There are many people who say all kinds of things about the difficulty of being successful at both ring games and tournaments. Unless I am badly misunderstanding what some people have written, it seems to me some people have said that you can't be really good at both. I strongly disagree with this premise. It simply makes no sense to me that a person who has taken the trouble to work hard at becoming a good ring game player cannot work equally hard and become just as adept at tournament poker.

There are a few very successful tournament players who have had stories spread about their poor success at ring games. I suspect the explanation goes something along these lines.

Suppose player X plays tournament poker at the A+ level. As a result, X is going to be well known and well connected in the poker world. Thus, if X decides to play a ring game, X is naturally going to gravitate to a ring game where A+ ring play is required. His or her ring game may not be at the A+ level, and the outcome is predictable. What I cannot believe is that such a player is incapable of an A+ ring game. X may decide the effort to reach that level is not worth it. That's not the same as saying the player is incapable of doing so.

I also know that, in my case, I feel completely comfortable moving back and forth between ring games and tournament poker. I feel that same internal switch activate itself when I sit down at a ring game following tournament play. The switch from one mode to the other is instantaneous. It was not always that way for me, but I've worked hard at improving my tournament play over the last 18 months. If I can achieve equality over these two modes of poker, then I believe anyone can.

My advice to people who enjoy both ring games and tournaments is to ignore the naysayers and work equally hard at trying to improve your game in both forms. Think about the similarities so that you know what kinds of things carry across from one to the other. Think about the differences between tournaments and ring play so that your ring game instincts don't get smashed by a car coming from the wrong direction in tournament play. Think of them as two separate games so that you can walk from one to the other and turn on the appropriate internal switch. Do what suits you the best.

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