The other day, myself, Kim Lund, and Taylor Caby on Twitter talking about Bodog’s Patrick Selin’s remarks in a recent interview where he referred to winning players as “sharp players.”
Slowly the conversation started to devolve a bit and we all decided that it was best handled via a medium other than Twitter so I think we all semi-pledged to write a blog post about it if we had the time.
So let me start off.
A card sharp (informally cardsharp, card shark, card snark or cardshark) is a person who uses skill and deception to win at poker or other card games. Sharp, Snark, or Shark appears to be interchangeable based on region and local dialect.
The label is not always intended as pejorative, and is sometimes used to refer to practitioners of card tricks for entertainment purposes. In general usage, principally in American English and more commonly with the “shark” spelling and much less frequently with “snark”, the term has also taken on the meaning of “expert card gambler who takes advantage of less-skilled players”, without implication of actual cheating at cards, in much the same way that “pool shark” or “pool hustler” can (especially when used by non-players) be intended to mean “skilled player” rather than “swindler”
Although, I think within the poker community calling someone a “sharp” would probably convey more of a negative connotation. So either Selin used the term intentionally meaning for it to be interpreted negatively or he’s demonstrating a lack of understanding of the poker community. At the very least, it’s a very uncommon phrase (shark being more common) which, again, makes one question whether or not someone using a term that hearkens back to riverboat gambling days really is in touch with today’s poker climate.
Where the conversation went astray was regarding the whole concept of handicapping the game in favor of the fish. Obviously, Bodog thinks that handicapping games is their duty as a poker room. However, it’s a very self-serving role as it is easy to argue that Bodog profits more from this policy more than the players. If they eliminate the players who win and withdraw their winnings they can’t win the money back from them in the, far more profitable, casino and sports book.
I’m of the mindset that the poker room’s job is to provide liquidity and a fair game. By fair, I mean, they’ve done everything possible to prevent cheating, the deals are fair, and that people get paid out when they win. Call me a purist if you will.
One of the questions Kim posed was:
@taylorcaby @billrini Scenario 1: Lose all my money to someone using tools I don’t know of. Scenario: I lose it to rake. Which is better?
Tools are part of the game and they’re accessible to everyone. Anybody can go out and buy PokerTracker or Hold’em Manager. You not hearing about them is like saying that because you’ve never heard of David Sklansky and I have that I should be barred from playing with you because I have an unfair advantage.
As long as a tool does not recommend a particular play you are playing with the same information as everyone else at the table. If I happen to remember that you always limp with pocket aces from EP or I look it up in PokerTracker, how is that any different?
I know that an argument can be made that most people don’t have a photographic memory so the tools do provide an unfair advantage. I get it. I just don’t agree with it. Reading a poker book can make you a better player. So, should we segregate players based on which poker books they’ve read? Or how about how long they’ve been playing? Should a player who has been on the site 5 years be segregated away from players who have been on the site a year because the guy who has played for 5 years has far more experience?
And what about information available in live play that is not available online? I might not remember how poker9845948 plays but I definitely remember how that older guy with the blue Commerce hat plays. Or what about the advantage I have seeing a player who was getting a massage all of a sudden perk up and throw a raise into a pot? Or how about that other player who is on his fifth beer and is texting between hands?
And what do these stats tell us exactly? Does it really help me to know that this guy playing the micro-limit games has a VP$IP of 40%? Don’t they all? And who’s to say that these stats are accurate for that player? I play all over the place. I play limit, NL, Omaha, Hold’em, Razz, HORSE, micro-limits, middle-stakes, higher-stakes SnG’s, etc. I’m not a grinder. I don’t play for a living. Sometimes I’m tight as a rock because I’m reading emails and can’t be bothered to get involved in anything less than a premium hand. Other times I might be playing on a micro-limit table and calling everything because I have an evil desire to tilt the hell out of someone with a monster suckout and the $10 I might drop doesn’t really impact me.
In reality, player stats are nice and they might give some fraction of an edge to someone but probably no more of an edge than being highly observant in a live poker room might make you. And the worse the opponent the less of an edge they give. Fish play unpredictably because they aren’t thinking about their VP$IP or whether or not they show the correct amount of pre or post flop aggression. They just play the way that feels right. And that can change day to day, hour to hour, or even hand to hand.
Where stats do make a bit more difference is when you have two fairly evenly matched, skilled opponents where the edge is so small that any advantage can turn the game in their favor. When Brian Hastings is playing against Isildur1 and has his hand histories from hands Brian didn’t play in, that is an edge.
But then again, Bodog’s policy is not intended to prevent that kind of edge. They’re not trying to keep sharks from feeding on sharks. They’re trying to keep sharks from eating the fish but the sharks already have such a huge edge over the fish that stats programs only play a marginal role.
Poker, by the very nature of being a skill game, dictates that people will often be outclassed by their opponents. Removing that aspect of the game turns it into a completely different game. Or, as I said in one of my tweets, it bastardizes the game. You’re not playing poker anymore. You’re playing Bodog Poker. It’s like calling Omaha, Hold’em with four hole cards. There are similarities but it’s a different game.
And if Bodog wants to rename the card game they offer to Bodoker or something, that’s totally cool. Just don’t call it poker. Poker is not meant to be handicapped.
I have a real problem with this line of thinking. Most networks want to change the game of poker to patch the fundamental flaws in the poker network model (Bodog has been claiming they are launching a network for several years now).
The underlying flaw in the poker network model is that poker networks act like a franchise system without any of the franchise system benefits. Usually if you buy a franchise you buy exclusivity. If I buy the McDonald’s franchise for Southern California I expect that McDonald’s isn’t going to sell 10 other people the rights to open McDonald’s stores in Southern California.
But that’s exactly what poker networks did. They were greedy and pretty much sold a skin to anybody who had the money. They sold 5, 10, 20 skins all aimed at the same exact market. So not only did your McDonald’s franchise have to compete against Burger King, In and Out, Tommy’s, Carl’s Jr, Wendy’s, and a dozen other burger shops, but some asshat just opened up a McDonald’s right across the street from you.
At least with Burger King and the rest you can compete on quality, selection, etc but you have nothing unique to compete with against the McDonald’s right across the street because you’re basically mirror images of each other.
And what did we all learn in Business 101 or Economics 101? When there is no differentiation in product the only thing left to compete on is price. Thus rakeback, under the table deals, player poaching, etc.
As the poker market has matured and become more competitive the chickens are coming home to roost. And rather than fix the model they’re trying to change the game of poker with their contrived models.
Like I said, the poker room’s job is to provide liquidity and a fair game. Nowhere in there is a mandate to handicap players based on skill or win rate. Nowhere in there is there a mandate to penalize players for being too good.
The problem is providing ample liquidity and, in many cases, competing business interests. Providing a liquid player pool is tough and expensive and has only become more and more so as the industry has matured. Player values are dropping while the cost to acquire those players is increasing. This is one reason why poker networks are so focused on protecting their fish. They’ve paid a lot of money to acquire them and they don’t want sharks coming in and gobbling them up before they can make their money back.
But that’s part of the business and the game. It’s a business where 90% of the players are net losers. You have to keep feeding the beast to keep everything going. It’s not okay to lower your attrition rate by modifying the rules of the game or tinkering with the poker ecosystem. That’s not part of the poker room’s mandate. Sure, it serves their business interests but it’s not necessarily to the player’s advantage.