Enemies of Poker
THE WEEKLY SHUFFLE, 2007-12-02, by TwoGun, OzoneIt seems mandatory in the poker world to have the occasional "sky is falling" article. Ever since the poker boom started, various people have speculated that this-and-that might cause the downfall of poker, or at the very least, bring it back to pre-boom levels.
While poker's growth has slowed as a whole, it is still larger and more vibrant than ever, despite the various boogeymans that people have speculated would harm the game. In this article, we'll describe three various "enemies of poker" from a poker player's point of view. It's important to differentiate whose viewpoint it is from, since some things are bad for poker rooms but not necessarily bad for players and vice versa.
One of the biggest potential threats to online poker is bots. A well-programmed bot could steadily drain money from an online poker room and thus kill much of its action. Bots are not restricted by the need to sleep. They run no risk of going on tilt and dumping money back onto the table.
However, it is likely that bots are more damaging to the poker world in theory than in actuality. Currently, bots probably aren't a serious issue, especially in no-limit hold'em games (which compose the majority of poker games played on the Internet). Online poker rooms having nothing to gain and everything to lose from the existence of bots at their tables. In other words, they are highly motivated to ensure that bots aren't playing on their network. Just because they are motivated to stop bots doesn't mean they always will. But even mediocre policing efforts on their part should be able to detect the unwavering patterns bots are likely to display.
Even if bots didn't exist, the mere possibility that they might is very detrimental to the poker world. They provide a convenient reason for those prone to believing conspiracy theories not to deposit money to an online poker room. That, in and of itself, is a shame. Generally the type of person who will readily believe that "online poker is rigged" is exactly the type of person who you'd want sitting at your table.
One good way to significantly reduce the effectiveness of bots at online poker rooms, should they exist, is to implement random prompts. This would involve poker games being randomly paused while users answer a basic question or decipher jumbled characters. At the very least, this would give rule-abiding users more peace of mind.
Gambling, especially online gambling, is a controversial issue. There are significant amounts of anti-gambling politicians in both Europe and the United States. Some wish to protect the government gambling monopoly whereas others just have a moral opposition to gambling. In either event, they both desire to restrict their citizen's access to online poker sites.
Anti-gambling legislation that affects online poker greatly hurts the online poker sites, at least the ones that make an effort to comply with local gambling laws. The passage of the UIGEA resulted in Party Gaming's profits being slashed by over 50%. Executives of online gambling sites have to fear anti-poker politicians since a change in law can land the executives in jail if they fail to comply with the law, and if they do comply, a dramatic drop in profits can occur.
While anti-gambling politicians have a great effect on the poker industry, their effect on players is significantly less than the poker sites. When anti-poker laws are passed, players may find themselves with fewer online poker sites at which to play and fewer funding options, but they likely can still play. Also, unlike the online gambling executives, players generally don't need to fear going to court over poker playing since most laws are targeted at gambling operators. While anti-online gambling politicians are an annoyance to players, they are a far bigger threat to the poker site operators.
Good Poker Players
The biggest enemy to poker players are other good poker players. Over the past five years, games have progressively become more difficult. This is because when a new player enters the poker world, he tends to either become at least competent at playing the game or he quits playing. Few people find it fun to continue dumping tons of money at the table over years; the people that generally stick around playing at least have some idea what they're doing.
A player that used to be a consistent winning player can become a losing player if everyone else as a whole is progressively getting better. If you are unable to improve relative to your competition, you may soon find yourself one of the losing players at the table. Furthermore, at the very least, your hourly profit will go down since there will be a smaller proportion of fish at the table. No matter how you look at it, the fact that poker players as a whole are getting better at the game is very bad for us.
While it is in the interest of online poker rooms to keep their games soft, it is not as big of a deal to them as it is to the players. Players who are "good" in the absolute sense tend to play a lot no matter what. Even if their hourly rate is down, and even if they become a slight losing player, they will still likely continue playing. Tough games do make it harder for poker rooms to attract new players (at least ones that will play for awhile). Nevertheless, the effect on the poker room's bottom line is far less than those of the poker players.
Thankfully, one of the biggest blessings to the poker world is the abundance of players who think they are good, but are actually losers. If a bad poker player gets lucky and wins one of the first tournaments they ever play, it could take them several years of giving all that money back (and then some!) before coming to terms with the fact that they just got lucky one time.
The Weekly Shuffle is our Sunday column with our observations and commentary on the poker world. Have an idea for an article? Leave a suggestion on the feedback page.
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