As we have mentioned previously, Paul and I do some writing and other work for Advanced Poker Training, an excellent poker training website created by Steve Blay. After two years of development, this spring Steve launched a new poker training site to help players learn how to play PLO well. Omaha Poker Training has some of the same great features as APT, including a choice of 9-max or 6-max PLO cash games and multi-table tournaments.
The wide range of OPT game options allows you to customize training to target your home game, local card room, or even a $10,000 championship event at the World Series of Poker. Opponents can be selected from easy, moderate, or expert play in order to model training at a level that is right for the individual’s typical circumstances. You can even set starting hand ranges that are particularly troublesome so as to focus and improve on the exact situations currently causing you difficulty at the tables.
Recently, I sat down with Steve and talked to him about his love of chess, programming, and poker. I also asked him about Omaha Poker Training (OPT) and its development.
Interview with Steve Blay on Omaha Poker Training
Heather: When did you start playing poker and what drew you to the game?
Steve: I remember playing a lot of poker with my brother Allen in college, and never realizing how much skill there was to it. It wasn’t until I saw a special about Phil Hellmuth on TV, and I was stunned. You mean this is a skill game? Here’s this somewhat nerdy looking kid, who dropped out of college and went to Las Vegas and beat all those guys from Texas with cigars in their mouths. I want to be that guy! I bought David Sklansky’s “The Theory of Poker” the next day.
Heather: Amazing how serendipity works that way. Had you always been a game player? Did your family play a lot of games when you were a kid?
Steve: I was mostly into computer games, as opposed to board games. Both playing computer games and making them. I started writing computer games in 4th grade. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that I always knew what I was going to do when I grew up. And by the time I grew up, computers were everywhere and software engineers were paid a lot of money.
Heather: You definitely grew up at the right time for someone interested in computers.
What were your favorite games growing up?
Steve: I played more chess than poker. Although I didn’t become a total chess addict until adulthood. If I allowed myself to, I would play chess all day, every day, never eating, never sleeping. I have to make a conscious effort to not binge on chess. Only problem with chess though: there’s no money in it, unless you’re the world champion. As much as I like chess, I like money more. Luckily, any poker player who is motivated and studies the game can make money.
Heather: I know that you also love to play poker. What’s your favorite poker playing moment?
Steve: Well, obviously when Qui Nguyen won the $8 million that was the culmination of any poker player’s dreams [Note: Steve Blay advised Qui Nguyen a few years ago when Qui won the WSOP Main Event. They proceeded to write a book together about the experience.] I’m still grateful to Qui for letting me be part of his team. Nothing will ever top that. I mean really, even if I WON the main event myself, I’m still not sure it could top that final table. Everything was so magical, just the way it all played out. It still doesn’t feel real.
Heather: How incredibly exciting. I can’t imagine what it was like to be there strategizing with the guy who won the Main Event.
Was Advanced Poker Training your first foray into the business side of poker?
Steve: Before APT there was www.testyourpoker.com. Although the site is a little dated, it still has a good collection of poker skills tests.
Heather: How did you originally decide to program bots and create a poker training site (APT)?
Steve: I love anything having to do with artificial intelligence; teaching machines to think. I probably should have become a University professor, then I could just study and write papers all day. It’s nice that I have a site that pays the bills, because I would do it for free.
Heather: How was creating Omaha Poker Training different from APT?
Steve: Just the level of difficulty alone…you think, two cards, four cards, how much harder can that be? But there are 270,725 unique starting hands in Omaha. It’s hard enough to process hand ranges in Hold’em. These bots had to be written totally from scratch, because the methods we use for our Hold’em bots on APT would be painfully slow in PLO.
Heather: Interesting. I know you worked hard to create Game Theory Optimal (GTO) bots for OPT as well. I can’t imagine how much work that must have been.
What is your favorite thing about OPT?
Steve: It taught me PLO, as crazy as that sounds. I was far from an expert at PLO when we started working on the site. Even though I wrote them, the bots were way better than me at the beginning. Now, that’s not my fault, I can’t make 2.7 billion calculations a second! With the number of hours I’ve logged against these bots, I’d feel comfortable in a PLO game anywhere.
Heather: How great is it that you can program a computer to understand a game better than you do?! What’s next up for Omaha Poker Training and Advanced Poker Training? Is there a fourth website on the horizon?
Steve: I’m not sure I want to reveal our top-secret project just yet, but I’ll just say it’s going to be very social, and very fun. At the present time, we are just starting to offer private online tournaments and ring games for our members, so that they can still (virtually) get together with their friends and play poker.
— Adv. Poker Training (@pokertraining) June 6, 2020
Heather: Fair enough. Be assured that we’ll be watching to see where you go next!
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