In this final part I look at ways we can make online poker more attractive to recreational and casual players, and at improvements that can be made to help sustain the poker ecosystem that was described in part two.
We’ll start by looking at a couple of good ideas that have been discussed extensively, but which, after analysis, look unlikely to lead to improvements:
- The King of the Hill (KotH) system for heads-up lobbies. The consensus of opinion coupled with practical experience seems to be that this system simply pushes the non-play problem down the stakes hierarchy and will only benefit the top few percent of players at each stakes.
- Anonymous tables. A number of sites have already launched anonymous tables. These are not proving popular, although security issues haven’t helped. Most feel that if something needs to be done to anonymize players then allowing regular screen-name changes would be almost as effective with fewer major drawbacks.
Now let’s look at ideas that have potential, but also drawbacks. They are worthy of further discussion and refinement:
- Allowing screen-name changes: With anonymous tables, reads can only be made at the current table which most players feel devalues the skill aspect of poker. Allowing screen-name changes would at least enable some kind of short-term history to be developed between players. The biggest argument against allowing name changes is that players themselves would no longer be able to detect cheating and collusion. One solution that I’d suggest is for poker rooms to accept requests from players to change screen-names and decide whether to allow them on an individual basis. This may not be as much work as it seems, as all requests from losing players could be auto accepted, as they are unlikely to be cheating. I feel that the value to a losing player of being able to start afresh should not be underestimated, and hopefully we all now understand the value of retaining that losing player in the poker ecosystem.
- Round Robin scheme for Head-Up lobbies. This scheme is not perfect but may be preferable to the existing situation, at least for high-stakes games which rarely run at the moment. The main problems associated with this scheme are that a major part of skilled heads-up play is making adjustments to your opponent’s play. If play switched after every hand, as in Rush poker, a huge part of the dynamic of heads-up play would be lost. Therefore it may be preferable for players to be pitched against one another for a minimum number of hands – say 50 hands or until a certain number of big blinds lost. There would, of course, need to be some sort of financial or time penalty for players if they decide to quit before playing the minimum number of hands. This is the major drawback to the scheme.
Now on to the ideas that have real potential to produce changes for the better:
- Global waiting list. A global waiting list removes choice of table from players. Everybody joins one list for tables at their requested stakes and format. The software then seats them at a matching random table. This would work similarly to tournament seating where a player also has no choice of table or seat. If the lobby does not show who is in the player pool, tracking sites will also be automatically blocked. Obviously this also solves the bum-hunting problem.
- Must-move tables. This is an alternative to global waiting lists. It has the advantage or disadvantage depending on how you look at it, of still allowing players to chose which tables they want to play on. The players on the table waiting list must play each other at a must-move table until a seat is free at their target table. If they leave the must-move table, they are removed from the waiting list.
- Implementing personal breaks instead of sit-outs. There is no valid reason for a player to sit-out at one table but continue to play at others. Therefore sit-outs can be removed from the poker clients and replaced with breaks. If a player takes a break he will sit-out (possibly at the next big blind) at all of his tables. This will eliminate the mass sit-out problem when a ‘mark’ sits out at a table. The regular would have to sit-out at all his tables, losing valuable playing time and possibly losing his seats. Available break time could also be limited and replenished similar to time-bank time in tournaments.
- Players to always join a new table in the big blind. To stop players table-hopping to try to find weak tables, players could always be placed into the big blind at a table. This would ensure they play at least one round per table or lose their big blind investment. They would simply be inserted between the previous hand’s UTG and BB players. This would also have the advantage of steadily changing players’ relative seating positions during the course of a game so that any seating advantages or disadvantages are distributed amongst the players more.
- Improve entertainment value. There are many possibilities in this area. New games and formats that recreational players may prefer can be tried, like Rush poker or web-cam poker. Players need to stop berating poor players, and sites should police chat more effectively and not hesitate to apply severe chat bans. Academies are a real asset in trying to help players to improve and keep them playing longer. Poker rooms should also look at reducing rake at the micro levels so that players get more play for their money and more players are able to progress. Many of the above suggestions such as global waiting lists will also make the games more attractive and less intimidating for recreational players. Many people are happy to spend their money on negative expectation games at casinos, because it’s fun for them. We need to make poker just as much fun for these recreational players. One thing’s for sure, online poker can’t survive without them.
Finally, you may have noticed that nobody has come up with a flawless solution for the heads-up problem where the lobby is full of predatory-looking players sitting alone at tables and refusing to play each other. Well here’s a suggestion:
- The global waiting list with veto heads-up lobby. Players join a global waiting list, but have the option of refusing a match before it starts and optionally also adding the opponent to a ‘won’t play’ list so the software will not match you again in the future. The ‘won’t play’ list can also be viewed and amended manually by the player at any time. This system retains choice of whom not to play whilst removing the intimidating sight of all those open tables.