Are You Contributing to the Death of the Recreational Player?

Are You Contributing to the Death of the Recreational Player?

Thursday, 29 August 2013

By Eve Goodman.

Following on from Dusk Till Dawn chief Rob Yong's recent blog about changes he'd like to see made to the Internet game to help improve the lot of recreational players, Eve Goodman looks at ethics and edges in online poker.

In the last decade, few other industries have seen the same startling exponential growth that came with poker’s dizzying, unprecedented and almost uncontrollable explosion into the spotlight. Exactly what lit the match that caused this sudden flare in popularity is debatable, but general consensus looks to an event that occurred almost exactly ten years ago. This occurrence, an undoubtedly meteoric moment in poker history, was the victory of online satellite qualifier and all-around Average Joe Chris Moneymaker at the 2003 WSOP.

In a twist of fate that seemed almost too good to be true, the aptly-named Moneymaker bested a dense field of pros to take away a cool $2.5 million. Everyone watching at home was entranced, and it wasn’t because Moneymaker was particularly cool or good-looking (sorry Chris). No, what made the former accountant’s success so mesmerising was the fact that he was so distinctly and painfully average. A middle-aged office worker with marital troubles and a gambling problem, Moneymaker was a real and tangible presence to the masses in a way that the rich and glamorous professionals were not. His playing style was unsophisticated but gutsy, and he proved that given the right combination of factors, even a normal bloke off the street could win big. To the viewers, all their faraway fantasies of money and glory had just materialised in front of their eyes. And what’s more, they were attainable.

To put it simply, the ‘Moneymaker Effect’ was so powerful because poker capitalises on aspiration. The indulgent promise that next time, it could be you is what keeps millions of recreational players depositing and re-depositing their hard-earned cash onto online poker sites. But nowadays the market is not the same as it was in Moneymaker’s day. Every online player pool contains legions of profit-hungry pros eking out a living, all too conscious that in the flurry of poker books, forums and training videos, their edge is getting smaller and smaller by the day. So when a truly recreational player meanders in, pros that are used to fighting for scraps against ever-tougher opponents flock to them, attracted like moths to a luminous dollar sign. These pros want to take the fish for everything he’s got, and they’re prepared to take every advantage they have, whether it be using HUDs, results-tracking websites or something else. All in all, they won’t rest until they’ve got every last cent.

The problem with this, however, is obvious. Recreational players will only continue to play if they enjoy themselves. If they believe that certain opponents are unfairly running stats-based programs against them, or if they bust their stack only to see everyone else at the table immediately sitting out in response, then it stands to reason that they will be angry and embarrassed. If it is made clear as in the sitting-out example that they are the target or ‘mark’ for the other players, something that is arguably becoming increasingly common, then they might decide not to return at all.

Needless to say, seeing a decline in the numbers of recreational players on the virtual felt would be absolutely disastrous. Online poker is an ecosystem with a very delicate balance, and if the players who come to bust their stacks for fun stop having fun, then they could very well become an endangered species. Top pro player Phil ‘MrSweets28’ Galfond is someone that has been particularly vocal on the issue, having blogged about what sites need to do to protect these players before it’s too late. The controversial blog, entitled ‘Let’s Make Some Changes’, includes practical suggestions about what could be done to prevent instances of bum-hunting and table selection that he believes are detrimental to the game. He also condemns the usage of Heads-Up Displays and other result-tracking software on the basis that they are offputting to valuable recreational players, as quoted below:

“I am not saying DBs and HUDs are UNFAIR… only that they hurt the recreational players further. […] 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.”

In agreement with Galfond is industry hotshot Rob Yong, head of the award-winning UK card room Dusk Till Dawn. In a blog published just yesterday, Yong insists that he “leans towards doing what is best for grassroots recreational players, rather than the pros”. As a result, Dusk Till Dawn is launching Online Club Cash Games to its members, an online poker experience designed to be without the undesirable edge-hunting so commonly found on other sites. Targeted solely at recreational players, Dusk Till Dawn software features an outright ban on all HUDs and online poker tracking software, as well as allowing users to run a maximum of only two tables at a time.

Yong’s blog is certain to split opinion down the middle. Though he discusses some issues that are concerns for the poker community at large, such as the problem of bots, collusion and cheating in general, many of his other attitudes are considerably more controversial. Something that’ll be particularly contentious is his stance on HUDs, not to mention the practice of multi-tabling, which can be construed as generally hostile to the interests of professional grinders.

However, although most pros won’t like to hear it, maybe Yong has a point. Much like the world’s rapidly diminishing stocks of crude oil, recreational players are not a infinite resource in online poker – quite the opposite. Grinders need to wake up and realise that recreational players will only continue to spend money on online poker for as long as they enjoy themselves, and behaviour such as obvious bum-hunting will serve only to make things unpleasant and even humiliating for them. In addition to this, while HUDs are not unfair, they do incredibly magnify the edge of anyone using them. Overall, it is the prerogative of every grinder to win as much as they possibly can. But tacked on to this should be a note of caution – for if you consistently take without ever giving the tiniest bit back, you might find the next time you’re looking for fish that the river’s run dry.

Tags: Eve Goodman, Rob Yong, Phil Galfond, technology