The Sorry State of Online Poker

Despite the amazing increase in popularity of online poker the quality of the services being offered has failed to make any sort of significant improvement. Even the newer sites that are just launching on brand spanking new software largely miss the mark. For instance, just how difficult is it to have a real buddy list? Come on folks! I want to categorize my buddy list into my actual buddies and the fish I�ve previously tagged and released. Is that too much to ask?

Really though, buddy list feature requests are the easy things. It shouldn�t take a good programmer more than a few days to complete that feature. What about the hard stuff? What about the stuff the online casinos should be even better at than their offline counterparts? Why do I keep getting promotional offers for games I don�t play while I have to hear about stuff I am interested in from 2+2 message board posts? Why can�t these guys learn a little data mining and actually put me into the customer segment where I belong? They have the data from every hand I�ve played. It should be real easy to figure out what kind of player I am. The online poker sites seem to think personalization means being able to change the color of the deck.

Why can�t I help them figure out what kind of player I am by wishlisting or bookmarking tournaments I�m interested in? Instead of popping up a �Welcome� message telling me about a tournament I have no interest in they could pop up a �Welcome� message telling me how long until one of my bookmarked tournaments or that I missed the one I bookmarked but that there�s a very similar one starting in just 20 minutes!

Again, this is simple, no brainer stuff to anybody who has a simplistic understanding of data mining and econometrics. When/if they ever lift the ban on online poker you can bet the formerly offline casinos are going to understand how important it is to classify and rank customers and offer them products and services suited to their profile. For instance, wouldn�t it make sense to market poker books and/or magazines at micro limit players? They�re not really interested in your $500 buy in tournament you show to everybody when they log in. They don�t have $500 in their bankroll. Why not pop up a message that actually is relevant to them?

I guess you can sum up their cluelessness with an experience I had on Paradise. I hit a royal flush and somebody in the chat window suggested I contact Paradise�s customer service as when he had hit a royal they gave him a free shirt, cap and other miscellaneous paraphernalia. First off, Paradise should know that I hit a royal and contact me! Second, when I did contact them it took three emails before they even responded. This is so easy it�s mind boggling that they just don�t get it. Here was an excellent opportunity to cement a relationship from a longtime customer but instead they completely bungled it.

Here�s some more of my random pet peeves:

Why do I have to click 4, 5 even 6 times on the fold button on Party/Empire? I�ve seen some on 2+2 say it�s a matter of window focus but the first time I click it should give that window focus so why doesn�t the second or third click work?

What the hell is going on with Party/Empire when you click �Wait for the BB� and then before the current hand is even finished you get marked as �Sitting Out� and you have to click �Deal me in�? Not only that, but during the same hand that can happen two or three times.

Again with Party/Empire, what�s the deal with clicking on �Post BB� when you first enter a game and then you get a pop-up box that tells you that it would be courteous if you clicked on the auto post blinds check box. I know!! I would check it if I wasn�t busy clicking on the pop-up telling me to check the post blinds check box. At least when Full Tilt does it they ask you in the pop-up if you would like them to check the box for you and so two birds are killed with one stone.

The poker rooms should put players on probation if they take too long to make decisions. For instance, most sites have a countdown timer which usually starts after what is normally an adequate time to make most simple decisions. If the ratio of the number of times the player needs the timer compared to the times he doesn�t exceeds a certain threshold they should put the player on probation with the possibility of banning the player if the ratio fails to improve. Everybody has freeze ups and connectivity problems and that shouldn�t be penalized but many folks just can�t keep up with the pace of the game and they need to be removed so others can continue to enjoy.

Organize the game list. I noticed this one on Full Tilt because the other night I almost got myself caught up in a $5/$10 NL game instead of a $5/$10 limit game. Luckily, for me, one of the players was a little chatty and while I was waiting for the BB he said something about the buy-in for the table which made me double check the title bar on the window. Don�t mix NL and limit games! Allow players to sort by game (Hold �Em, Stud, Omaha, etc) then by type (Limit, No-Limit, Pot-Limit, etc) and then by blinds ($3/$6, $5/$10, $10/$20, etc). Party and Check N� Raise do a pretty good job at this but Full Tilt is very confusing.

Quit lying to me! Ok, so you log into Party/Empire and you�re looking at a list of games for a specific limit and it says 8 people are on the table. You click on the table and it�s completely full and it�s obvious that it didn�t *just* full up because everyone�s been dealt a hand. But even when you close the table the listing still says only 8 players are at the table! That refresh needs to be fixed. It gets very frustrating hunting down a table to sit at and you keep clicking on tables that indicate that seats are open only to find them completely full.

I could keep going but I�ll wrap up my list here. The bottom line is that the current crop of online poker sites have a long way to go. They need to learn about data mining and customer driven product offerings and perhaps a little lesson in user interface design wouldn�t hurt either. I feel more positive about sites like Full Tilt because I get a sense that they actually think about these things (that and I now have two fellow bloggers who are on staff there that I can bitch to ). Party seems to be milking the poker boom for as much as it can without investing in a re-write of their code. PokerStars, PacificPoker, Paradise and many of the others are so far behind that they may never catch up. We�ll see how it all pans out but unless someone like Full Tilt leads the way I don�t expect there to be much of a major shift until online poker is legalized and the big casinos get in there and teach these guys a few lessons on how it�s done.

Bill Rini
Bill Rini is currently the Head of Online Poker for WSOP. He has been working in the online poker industry since 2004 and has held management roles at Full Tilt Poker and PartyPoker.