Party Poker Side Bets and Blackjack
When Party Poker broke off of its poker network to form a stand-alone poker room, there was a lot of talk about how this would affect the ease of competition at Party Poker and its former network partner, Empire Poker. It became clear fairly quickly that the games at Party Poker were now softer than Empire Poker since more fish have Party Poker accounts than Empire Poker accounts.
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While Empire Poker did not make many changes to its poker room after the breakup, Party Poker introduced two significant policies. First, it allowed players to play up to ten tables at once. More than likely, this made the competition more difficult at Party Poker than it would have been had Party kept its four tables max policy. Previously, it was possible for a person to play more than four games on the Party network if that person had a client open on another skin as well (for example, playing four games at Party and four at Empire).
Most often, casual and newbie players play one or two tables at a time. Most often it is only the sharks that wish to play four or more games at once. As described in Poker Ecosystems, allowing sharks to play many games at once has the effect of making the games more difficult. The shark has more presence at the poker room. If a good player plays six games at once, in essence that good player is represented six times at the poker room.
Of course, players do not necessarily play as well when they play multiple tables. Many can handle three or four tables as competently as they can handle one, but it is difficult to believe that a lot of multi-tabling sharks can really play ten at a time as effectively as they play two or three.
The other major change on the Party network was the introduction of house games. Party Poker now spreads blackjack, as well as side bets. The side bets allow players to bet a modest amount of whether the flop will be all black or all red. For both blackjack and side bets, there is a small house edge that is impossible to overcome. This means that unlike poker, it is impossible for players to come out ahead in the long run by playing the blackjack and side bet games.
The effect of the side games on the quality of competition at Party Poker is not totally clear. There are three possible effects of these new games. It may make the poker games tougher because people will lose money at these side games instead of at the poker table. It also could actually make the games easier because it might attract more "gamblers" to Party Poker who will be more than happy to lose money at both the side games and in the poker room. Finally, it may just not have much of an impact at all.
The first theory is that these new house games are resulting in tougher games at Party Poker. The rationale is that people who lose money playing poker are generally only willing to lose a certain amount at gambling activities. If that person would typically lose $200 a month playing poker at Party Poker, he or she may only now lose $150 playing poker because that person is now losing $50 playing blackjack. Since the less money lost at tables means the less potentially money that can be won, the games are more likely to be more difficult.
It should be noted that winning poker players often lose money playing blackjack as well. However, losing money at the blackjack tables will likely not significantly affect their ability to still win money at the poker tables. If they are still winning money at poker, there is little reason for them to play any less than they normally would. Losing money at blackjack would be a leak for these players, but it's a leak that does not materially affect their play at the poker tables.
The second theory is that these new side games may actually make the games softer. The rationale is that these house games will bring in more people who are willing to lose money at gambling activities. At brick and mortar casinos, a lot of the biggest fish are casino players who stroll over to the poker room from the craps or blackjack tables. According to this theory, some people may now signup at Party Poker because of blackjack or side bets and then play and lose money at the poker tables.
This theory does have some merit. Some of the poker rooms attached to major online casinos have some of the softest games on the internet. This is especially the case when these online casinos first open their poker rooms because a lot of their initial players are online casino players.
However, it is unlikely that people will sign up at Party Poker mainly for the blackjack or side bets when there are plenty of full-service online casinos. When Party Poker launches Party Casino in 2006, this theory may prove to have some credibility. I would not be surprised if Party Casino quickly becomes a top three casino since it will have both the Party brand as well as Party Poker's extensive marketing team promoting it.
Another problem with this theory though is that there are not nearly as many online casino players as there are online poker players. This is because most people attach a lot of the fun of casino games to the casino atmosphere and not so much the game itself. Most people who play casino games strongly prefer brick and mortar casinos. While online casinos have the same games and generally better odds, they just can't match the physical grandeur of a land-based casino. This is not so much the case with poker since most of the fun of poker is attached to the game itself.
The final possibility is that these side bets and blackjack have little to no effect on the games. There are a number of reasons why this could be the case. First, the first two theories may just work against each other, leaving no affect on the games. Also, the amount bet at these blackjack and side bet games may be so insignificant compared to the poker games that it is not worth considering.
Since Party Poker is a publicly traded company on the London Stock Exchange, they release a lot of information about their revenues. They have not yet indicated how much money they are making from these new house games, so it is not clear yet how significant they are. Once Party unleashes its fully functional casino in 2006, the poker games will start to feel the full effect of the house games. Only time will tell which theory turns out to be true.