Highly respected high-stakes poker player, Phil Galfond, recently published a blog post calling for changes to be made in online poker.
The main problems he highlighted were:
1) Many players are taking game selection tactics too far and spoiling the game for others.
- Players will sit, but not play, at higher stakes tables with the sole intention of trying to entice someone they see as a weaker player to play them at lower stakes.
- When a recreational player sits at a table, huge waiting lists form.
- When a recreational player sits-out at a table, all the other players at the table will instantly sit-out too, as they have no intention of playing each other.
2) Mid to high stakes Heads-Up games lobbies are full of players sitting alone at tables and refusing to play anyone other than new players or players they are sure they can beat. This results in full lobbies but hardly any games running. A new or recreational player seeing this lobby must feel like a fly that just flew into a spiders’ spinning contest.
Galfond pointed out that many casual and recreational players do not want to play poker professionally, but want to play because they enjoy it. These players are absolutely essential to the poker economy, but are being driven out by the above behaviour. Just because somebody is not an expert poker player does not mean that he is stupid. These players can see what is happening and it must take all the fun out of poker for them. They will find other forms of entertainment.
Phil then went on to brainstorm possible improvements that could be made to address these and related problems. His suggestions included:
- To block data tracking sites. These sites are the cause of embarrassment for losing players and they allow regulars to assess opponents’ profitability before playing them, thereby reducing action still further.
- He discussed the possibility of banning HUD software which regulars use to display playing statistics, but decided that this would be unenforceable.
- He suggested that allowing screen-name changes would invalidate the tracking sites’ data and would also makes HUDs much less useful. But pointed out some downsides to allowing name changes too.
- He considered the idea of having anonymous tables (i.e. screen-names aren’t displayed) but thought that there were more cons associated with this idea and that most of the pros were covered by allowing name changes anyway.
- With regard to the Heads-Up lobby problem, Phil thought that a King of the Hill (KotH) or Round Robin scheme would be preferable to the “infinite tables” scheme used by most major sites. KotH consists of limiting the number of open tables in the lobby so that anyone who wants to play has to play at one of them – they can’t just sit at an empty table. The only way to sit at your own table is to play on one of the few open tables until your opponent leaves. Round Robin is similar to Full Tilt poker’s Rush poker. Players join a pool and would play a pre-determined number of hands against another player randomly allocated from the pool. Then they would have the choice to continue to play against that opponent or be allocated a new random opponent.
- The idea Phil feels most strongly about is the suggestion to implement “must move” tables. This is similar to the scheme in live poker rooms. If there is a long waiting list for a table, those waiting players will have the choice of quitting the list entirely or sitting and playing at a “must move” table until a place at their desired table is available. This will force players to play for the privilege of action at a ‘juicy’ table and will also resolve the problem of casual players seeing huge waiting lists of people wanting to play against them.
- Phil’s final suggestion was that rewards could be offered to game starters to encourage them to open new tables and play with anyone who sits with them.
Phil made it clear that he didn’t think his suggestions were ‘the’ solutions to the problems or even that he had identified the problems correctly. His aim in writing his blog was to stimulate discussion in the poker community as to how to improve the games and infrastructure of online poker. These are tough times for poker players and we should be giving some thought to taking measures to curb individual greed in order to ensure the survival of the poker ecosystem for the long term benefit all players.
Phil has succeeded in his aim of sparking widespread and serious discussion in the poker community. All of the above points have been analyzed and dissected and many people have come up with some ingenious new ideas and solutions. The nature of the problem has also been widely discussed. We’ll be taking a look at the best of these ideas in part two of this article.