Forum Files: What’s Killing Poker?

Alex Weldon : September 7th, 2015

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The question of whether or not poker is dying is one which has come up frequently in online discussion ever since the boom began to fade, and especially since Black Friday. It’s rare that one can look at the first page of Two Plus Two’s “News, Views & Gossip” sub-forum and not find at least one thread on that general subject. This past week, however, we’ve seen an unusual clustering of such topics. It seems that few people these days still feel that the poker ecosystem is healthy, but everyone has different ideas about the exact nature of the problem. In this week’s Forum Files, we take a look at just a few of the many things which are supposedly killing poker.

Software is killing poker
Thread: “if you don’t use software it’s not a fair game anymore” – Patrick Antonius

In a recent interview for PokerListings, Patrick Antonius said that he no longer plays online because he doesn’t like the direction the game has taken due to the advancement and proliferation of assistive software. He claims he’s never used such software himself, preferring to play on feel, but has come to realize that he can no longer remain competitive online without it.

Antonius’s interview has sparked a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion on the forums. Some of the topics covered include the up-front costs now required of players – in terms of coaching and software – to be competitive even at the lowest stakes; what types of software are ethically acceptable; whether using software to beat poker requires as much skill as succeeding in the live game without it; and, of course, whether or not the technological arms race will ultimately kill online poker.

Rake(back) is killing poker
Thread: Profit V Rake

In his first post, thread-starter Amadan wondered about how much profit top players generate for the sites they play on, relative to how much they make themselves. He gives as an example the user Jorj95, who has made a profit of $300,000 over his online career on PokerStars, but has paid over $2 million in rake in the process.

It was quickly pointed out that Jorj95 has Supernova Elite status on PokerStars, and will therefore have received about 70% of that rake back in the form of various bonuses, meaning that in reality he’s made about three times what the site has from his play, rather than one-seventh. This, however, sparked additional debate about whether such reward programs are really a good idea, as they actually make poker look less beatable than it really is.

Small stakes are killing poker
Thread: Poker Too Small

Surprisingly, this is not a thread about the online micro-stakes games, but rather about the proliferation of 1-2 No-Limit live games, especially in Las Vegas, where such tables are, according to thread starter “tilt10,” make up about 85% of what’s on offer at any given time. It’s common knowledge that it’s very difficult to make even the equivalent of minimum wage playing live 1/2 cash games, but is an abundance of such entry-level games good or bad for the ecosystem as a whole? I’m not sure I agree with tilt10’s thesis that poker would be healthier if the losing players were forced to play for higher stakes – probably, this would just mean that many people wouldn’t play at all – but he does make one interesting point: When it comes to many forms of gambling, the house will offer better odds to players willing to risk more money. In poker, it’s the reverse – although the rake is proportionally lower at higher stakes, the competition is tougher, so the odds of turning a profit become lower the higher you play.

Twitch is killing poker
Thread: Twitch – this gonna be the nail in the coffin

There’s no doubt that online poker has become more difficult to beat in recent years. The winning players are better and more balanced, and even the losing players tend to have a grasp of the fundamental strategy of the game. In part, this is an inevitable consequence of the boom and its aftermath – many people entered the game ten years ago and all but the best have since quit, while those who’ve stuck around now have a lot of experience. But the boom also created a big secondary market for strategic resources, including the forums themselves, as well as coaching sites and the like. The live streaming of poker on Twitch is the latest such development, and thread starter TimStone feels that this is the straw which will ultimately break poker’s back. In his view, Twitch will bring lots of new players into the game, but bring them in pre-educated, which will only toughen the field rather than feed it.

This isn’t a new thread – the latest posts date back to May, actually – but it’s in keeping with the theme of this week’s roundup, so I’m including it. TimStone’s opinion was a polarizing one, and ended up generating thirty pages of discussion. Many posters agree with him, but many others feel that bringing new players into the game cannot possibly be a bad thing, and that no one is likely to be a winning player when they first start, regardless of how much education they’ve received beforehand. Whichever camp you’re in, it is undoubtedly true that way more information is readily available about Hold’em than ever before, and games are unlikely ever to get softer again as a result.

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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