Forum Files: Wishful Thinking

Alex Weldon : November 23rd, 2015


Playing poker for a living has never been an easy career choice, and things have been particularly tough for poker pros since Black Friday. Those living in the US have been prevented from playing online at all, while those living elsewhere and continuing the grind have found it increasingly difficult to profit in a player pool which is both shrinking and growing tougher by the day.

It’s no wonder, then, that a lot of words on poker forums are dedicated to the subject of how great things used to be, and what it would take to make poker great again. Unfortunately, it’s often the case that dire times lead to fanciful ideas, and poker is no exception. In this week’s Forum Files, we take a look at a few recent examples of wishful thinking when it comes to the poker economy.

Why does it have to be recs or regs?
Thread: Pokerstars should have separate busines models for regs/recs

Things have gone from bad to worse for high-volume online grinders lately, due to PokerStars’s overhaul of its rewards system to reduce the incentives formerly offered to the players generating the most rake. The reason given for those changes is that they encouraged grinders to increase the numbers of tables they play rather than moving up in stakes, and consequently threw the player balance out of whack and made for a poor experience for those playing poker for the fun of the game, rather than profit.

PokerStars has thus followed on the heels of other sites in adopting a more “rec-friendly” model, to come into effect as of January 1, 2016. This has, of course, led many to wonder why catering to “recs” – that is, recreational players – has to come at the expense of “regs,” i.e. regulars, the professionals and would-be professionals. One forums user, by the name of “Somtum,” has proposed a segregated model for PokerStars, under which the site would offer some games with a structure to favor recreational play, and others with a model to favor professional play.

The idea has rightfully been lambasted in the thread for the obvious reason that professional poker is only possible due to the presence of long-term losers who play for fun. Splitting a site in two this way might indeed produce a different proportion of recs to regs on each side, but without a way to drive players from the recreational side to populate the “pro” tables, it’s hard to see how anyone’s ability to profit at poker would be improved.

American players should get a freeroll because…
Thread: Idea for $100 million online freeroll for US players.

Another poster, by the name of “steelhouse,” has identified a possible loophole for online poker in the US, namely that it’s only “gambling” in the eyes of the law if the players are required to put up their own money. Having a big poker tournament with a prize pool collected from people other than the players involved should therefore be legal.

A large poker website – Full Tilt being steelhouse’s suggestion – could then offer a yearly freeroll for US players without breaking any laws. If the prize pool were big enough, like the $100 million figure steelhouse tosses out, then it could partially make up for the fact that most Americans can no longer play online poker legally and those who can – residents of New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada – suffer from a dearth of opponents due to mandatory ring-fencing.

Again, it’s a nice idea, except for one obvious question: Where is the money going to come from? Steelhouse’s proposal is to place donation boxes at live card rooms around the world, and then ask well-known whales like Andy Beal and David Einhorn to supplement it. The only thing missing from the suggestion is a reason why anyone – live 1/2 player or billionaire businessman – would want to do this.

What if we just do away with the rake?
Thread: Rake-free PLO and NLHE

Surprisingly, and unlike the others, this thread is based on actual facts, rather than complete fantasy. As reported last week, TonyBet Poker has launched Pot-Limit Omaha and No-Limit Hold’em cash games and is attempting to recruit a player base by making those offerings rake-free for the time being.

The rake is – along with the toughness of competition – one of the two factors most responsible for the difficulty of profiting at poker, so naturally the prospect of rake-free play is very appealing to those looking to poker for a living.

Of course, the only reason that TonyBet is extending this offer is because it has so little traffic and is attempting to drum up a player base. A site needs to profit to stay in business, and rake is the way to do that, so it’s inevitable that eventually either the rake-free offer will expire or the site will. Some have expressed hope that TonyBet will be able to continue offering zero rake or low rake in future because the poker players thus attracted will end up supporting the site’s sportsbook operations, but of course the players most likely to care about the rake – that is, those looking to grind out a profit – are the least likely to drop money on sports betting, unless they can win at that as well.

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