Getting All Juiced Up

The always articulate Haley Hintze left a comment on a post I made the other day about online poker being rigged which I wanted to respond to. I felt that it would make a better post than a comment so here we go.

Hiya, Bill!

This an example where I think Ed is serving the greater good, whether or not everything he says can be supported. I’ve thought about posting on this myself, but whether I do or not, I think Stars is in clear error here. One reason is technical and the other is philosophical.

Reason 1: There are clear guidelines for how triple draw is supposed to be dealt. I disremember if that game is in Lou Krieger and Sheree Bykofsky’s “The Rules of Poker” (that’ll be 50 cents, guys!) but I’m absolutely sure the printed rules are out there somewhere. So the “because we can” argument as stated by Stars is meritless.

Second, Stars needs to -not- do things that give any sort of mathematical credence to the “online poker is rigged” crowd. Mathematically, the effect of the change made will involve a very slight juicing of the results and will result in something like one extra player being in the pot maybe every thousandth hand in triple draw, and maybe a little more frequently in badugi. It therefore increases rake by some tiny, all-but-imperceptible amount. When it’s measured statistically, it’s probably down in the four- or five-decimal-point range regarding its effect on play. It’s negligible in triple draw because there are almost never enough players in a hand to bring a reshuffle into play.

But even if it’s an unnoticeable juicing, it’s still a juicing that exists in the mathematical sense, and can therefore be used as a mathematical “proof” that the game is rigged to increase rake or whatever. It’s the wrong tool to hand to the wrong crowd.

I have no clue which big-name pro came up with the idea, but famous players can still have bad ideas and this one should have been deep-sixed. Was the unknown player on any of the rules committees that have sprung up to promote rules standardization, like Jesse Jones’ WPA? I’d guess not. Hachem’s been on that board, IIRC, so he’s probably not the pro that floated this one.

I’ll skip the rest of the tinfoil hat portion of the discussion.

Stars’ handling of dead blinds is wrong, too. That’s a much greater issue in terms of play because it can affect strategy at the table, but it’s not a “Rigged!” issue that can be used against the site and against online poker in general. That’s the key difference.

For those of you who read Ed’s article Ed actually covered two topics. The first, which I didn’t address in my last post, was what Haley is speaking about.

I agree with both Haley and Ed on this. As the poker room manager at a major online poker site I am often faced with decisions which revolve the integrity of the game. Sometimes a well meaning co-worker will suggest a feature or a change that I feel would violate the integrity of the game. Other times players request changes that would impact the integrity of the game and I have to make an unpopular decision.

The online version of poker allows for things that are not possible in the offline world and so all online poker rooms have to make these types of decisions. Sometimes I agree with how a room has handled something and sometimes I do not. For instance, offline you cannot multi-table (though I have seen Rick Wampler attempt it). Does allowing a player to player in more than one game at a time impact the integrity of the game? In this instance, I don’t think that it does.

However, many rooms will check your hand if there is no action before you and you time out. In my opinion this amounts to acting on the player’s behalf. If you were in a live poker room and it was your turn to act and the dealer checked your hand by moving onto the next player most of the other players would object because his hand, according to the rules of the game, should be mucked. By passing over you the dealer is effectively making a betting decision (not to bet) on your behalf and the one player to a hand rule is violated.

In the Stars example, again, we see a case where you have something that on the surface might appear to be to everyone’s benefit but in effect alters the game and thus violates the integrity of the game. The game no longer follows the rules of triple draw so it should not be called triple draw. Hell, call it “triple draw no duplicates” or “online triple draw” but you can’t maintain the integrity of the game while still calling it triple draw.

While Stars might feel this is a better way to do it they should also recognize that they’ve altered the game. And they should also recognize that people who play triple draw in the offline world won’t be aware that they’ve altered the rules of the game and may be making decisions on hands that assume certain facts which don’t hold true in their version of the game.

Now, I will say that I think Haley stretches it a bit by saying that it’s rigging the game. Rigging a game implies that someone does something which is intended to benefit either a player (or group of players) or the house without the knowledge of the victim(s). While players who are familiar with the offline rules for these games might be at a disadvantage Stars does not seem to be hiding their rules. Likewise, as Haley points out that the amount of extra juice Stars might be making does not appear to be a motive.

If we stretch the definition to that extreme then almost anything the poker room does would be considered rigging as the rooms are incentivized to generate rake. You could say multi-tabling is rigging the game because players playing multiple tables don’t chase as often due to the fact that their attention is too divided so more hands get played per hour and the poker room makes more money*

I can understand the sentiment. I just don’t agree with it. #

I think it would be a shame if there were online and offline versions of poker with different rules and procedures. Sure there will always be differences between the two but a player who plays the game online should be able to expect that the same rules are being applied when they walk into a live card room and vice versa. If a poker room alters the rules they need to give the game a new name so as to avoid the very confusion that standardizing rules is meant to avoid.

* Poker rooms generally make more money on smaller pots with higher turnover than they do on building big pots due to the fact that most rooms cap the rake leaving no extra money to be made.

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.

5 thoughts on “Getting All Juiced Up”

  1. Yeah, that’s why I put “proof” in quotes. I was trying to draw extra attention to that word as a way of saying it ain’t necessarily so. I also used “juicing” without causality. Whether the game is microscopically juiced under the rules adjustment (it is), it does not mean that the rules adjustment was made with that in mind. I’d think the opposite was more likely to be true, and that this was an unintended by-product of a different sort of decision.

  2. Haley,

    I think I misread the meaning of the quote below because you used the phrase “is rigged” rather than “could be rigged”

    But even if it’s an unnoticeable juicing, it’s still a juicing that exists in the mathematical sense, and can therefore be used as a mathematical “proof” that the game is rigged to increase rake or whatever. It’s the wrong tool to hand to the wrong crowd.

    My apologies if that was not your meaning.


  3. Hi, Bill.

    No, Stars is -not- rigging the game. What they’ve done is made a rules adjustment that opens them up to misguided (but mathematically supportable, in the strictest sense) accusations that this change is a form of proof that the online game is or can be rigged.

    That’s a whole lot different than saying that this is “rigging the game.” I reread my first comment and I just don’t see where I said that.

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