Phil Galfond recently wrote an excellent blog post that I both wanted to draw some attention to as well as respond to as Phil invited other people to share their thoughts.
In a nutshell, Phil covers several different annoyances and problems with the way online poker sites operate. At the meta-level he seems to be focused on two major issues:
* Player tracking software
* Bumhunting and tables breaking when the mark leaves
While I agree with Phil on many of his points I disagree with his logic because I feel that Phil sees the poker landscape through Phil’s eyes. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re a Razz player, you’re likely to see Razz problems and solutions. Phil is a high-stakes player so he sees problems from a high-stakes player’s perspective.
How would you feel if you were playing poker for fun, just lost a $10k stack, and the 5 people at your table instantly sit out? Takes a little bit of the fun out of poker, I would think.
I completely agree that this would piss me off as a recreational player. I would not view this as a positive experience. But how many recreational players donk off $10K? The vast, vast majority of poker players don’t even have a $10K bankroll. That’s sort of where I think Phil sort of views this through a different set of eyes than I do.
But his point is valid. Even if we’re talking about $100, nobody wants to feel like the mark at the table. However, whether you’re looking at the problem as a $100 problem or a $10K problem can make a significant difference in how you address the issue.
In talking about poker tracking software, Phil says:
What’s more important, by far, is that they are scary. If a recreational player saw what your screen looked like while you played against them, how much less would they be excited to play? And some may not understand what a HUD is… some will talk about how the internet pros use programs that play for them or cheat, and use that as a reason not to play online. Obviously, that’s not what we’re doing, but we can’t prevent people from thinking that.
If you’re sitting down at an online poker table with $10K and you don’t know what PokerTracker or a HUD is, well, knowing what they are probably wouldn’t save you anyway.
But the bigger issue is by this rationale of thinking anything that offers one player an advantage over another can be viewed as being unfair. As I point out in this post in response to Kim Lund and Taylor Caby, access to knowledge is the biggest edge in the game. Isn’t someone who gets coaching from Phil at an unfair advantage against someone who has never been coached? If I read this or that book about poker, don’t I have an edge on someone who hasn’t?
The argument is a slippery slope. Eventually they’ll be asking players to take IQ and poker knowledge tests to make sure that players are evenly matched.
While Phil says that he doesn’t think poker tracking software and HUD’s should be banned, he only does so because he thinks banning them would be unenforceable.
I look at it a different way. I say, integrate poker tracking software into the poker client. If the big concern is that it offers an unfair advantage (which I don’t believe) then eliminate the advantage by giving the same tools to everyone.
In fact, why haven’t any of the poker rooms either bought out the existing poker tracking software developers or developed their own? They’re considered standard tools for online poker players and most poker rooms, for reasons similar as to those Phil cites, have no restrictions on using the software. Owning the software would give poker rooms much better control over how the tools are used.
Phil’s observations and ideas on bumhunting and tables breaking when the mark leaves are interesting and he’s obviously put a lot of thought into them but he’s approaching the problem too much like a high-stakes pro. He spends a lot of time exploring somewhat convoluted ways of preventing both of the above annoying behaviors when a much more simple solution exists.
In fact, he finally gets to part of it in bullet point number five when he suggests Must Move tables. Don’t most of the problems go away if you just employ land based card room solutions?
What if you ran your online poker room just like an offline poker room? You want to play $100 NL? There’s a board. Your name goes on the board and you either take the next available seat or you lose your place and have to wait at the bottom of the list again.
If you don’t like your table you can request a table change just like you do in a brick and mortar poker room. You don’t get to pick which table you get sent to though. You get sent to the next available table with a seat open.
Sure, it’s going to be frustrating for people attempting to pick tables according to the number of fish but that’s how live poker rooms operate and it works for them.
Phil spends a lot of time trying to resolve the issues around heads-up games but that’s not where a lot of the site’s overall games are played nor is it a huge revenue source for the poker rooms. In other words, because he plays a lot of HU, he sees this problem as a much bigger issue than it really is for the entire poker playing pool. All that’s really needed is a system that provides a fair way for people to compete against each other HU and that doesn’t allow certain players to horde HU tables waiting for fish.
IMHO, the most valuable suggestion Phil puts forth is in #6 Rewards/Promotions for Game Starters and Hands Played. I’ve long been a critic of calling what exists today, “loyalty” programs. They don’t really reward loyalty. They reward raw play. The more you play the more points you earn.
But, there are many actions that provide value to the poker room which are more akin to being a loyal player. For instance, as Phil suggests, players who are willing to start games are more valuable than players who will only sit at a full table. So let’s reward them for that. Why not award loyalty points at a higher rate for players who do things beneficial to the poker ecosystem and penalize players by awarding points more slowly for actions which are detrimental to the poker ecosystem?
For instance, why not award loyalty points at double the normal rate for a player who starts a table and plays short-handed until it fills up? Or why not penalize players that sit out when the fish leaves by taking back points for every hand they sit out? Even if you’re morally opposed to taking back points you could give those players a weighted penalty which would lower the amount of points awarded when they sit back in.
Players who attempt to angle shoot the system by sitting out of games, habitually short-stacking, etc would have much of their edge negated by the fact that they are earning loyalty points more slowly and thus moving up loyalty levels slower. Likewise, players who are starting games, playing during normally off-peak hours, or demonstrating other behaviors that benefit the poker ecosystem would earn loyalty points at a faster rate.
Overall, I wish more people would analyze the game the way Phil does. I think it’s healthy for the entire poker community. Whether or not we agree or if the solutions are commercially viable is not really relevant. It’s the discussion of these issues that adds value to everyone.
It would also help if the poker rooms were more open to discussing these topics as well. Instead of just rolling out a rake calculation change maybe they could explain their thinking to the poker community so everyone better understands what is good and what is bad for the poker ecosystem. I think more players would be willing to accept some limitations if they can see what the overall purpose of the change.