Online Poker: Past and Present
As far as online poker players go, I'm a dinosaur. I started playing at online tables over four years ago, well before sites like Titan Poker or Everest Poker even existed. Back then, the games were primitive compared to today's standards. Many of the features now taken for granted simply did not exist when the industry was in its infancy. In this Weekly Shuffle, I'll describe some of the major ways in which the online poker scene has changed in the past four years.
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Past: No-limit cash games were played for low-stakes, if at all.
Present: No-limit cash games are played for a wide range of stakes at all major sites.
Limit hold'em cash games have always been popular online, but no-limit games were fairly rare before the poker boom. When no-limit cash games did exist, they were generally played for low-stakes. Online poker sites were reluctant to spread high-stakes cash games since they did not want fish losing their money too quickly (Party Poker did not spread no-limit games with a buy-in larger than $200 until March of 2005).
No-limit cash games used to be so unpopular that there was not even a universal method for describing the stakes of the games. For example, today a $1-$2 no-limit game means the small blind is $1, the blind blind is $2, and the minimum bet in each round is always $2. In the past, a $1-$2 no-limit game could mean just that. However, it could also mean that the blinds were $.50-$1, the minimum bet pre-flop/flop was $1, and the minimum bet turn/river was $2.
Past: No-limit tournaments were a novelty. Few were played with a buy-in above $100.
Present: No-limit multi-table tournaments are held around the clock. No-limit tournaments frequently feature prize pools above $200,000
No-limit multi-table tournaments took even longer to become popular at online poker sites. For awhile, most sites did not even offer tournaments. Others, such as Poker Room, spread only limit hold'em tournaments (yes, limit hold'em tournaments were actually popular in the past).
Chris Moneymaker's WSOP victory skyrocketed people's interest in online no-limit multi-table tournaments, forcing poker rooms to offer them if they wished to retain their players. The rapid increase in no-limit multi-table tournament players also increased the size and stakes of these tournaments. Other features, such as re-buys and shorthanded tournaments, are now offered as well.
Past: Sign-up bonuses were almost always 20-25% up to $100 with a clearing rate of $1 per 10 raked hands.
Present: Almost every sort of sign-up bonus scheme imaginable is offered.
With the increase in the amount of poker rooms, it is becoming harder and harder for poker rooms to distinguish themselves from the competition. Almost every perk and feature that could satisfy players has been thought up and utilized by now.
Unique bonus schemes still offer online poker rooms a chance to target different players. Some offer a large bonus amount with a slow clearing rate (such as Titan Poker), whereas others offer a smaller bonus but a fast clearing rate (such as Party Poker).
In the past, almost all poker rooms offered a bonus of 20-25% up to $100 with a clearing rate of $1 per 10 raked hands. Such a clearing rate is fairly fast by today's standards. This bonus scheme was so common that sites that deviated from it were often looked upon with suspicion.
Player's distrust of sites with bonuses larger than 25% up to $100 was largely the result of ProPoker, a scam poker site that shut down several years ago. ProPoker used to offer players elaborate sign-up and reload bonuses, but used bots to quickly scam players out of their money. ProPoker's deception became quickly known among the poker community, which resulted in its quick demise.
Past: 7-Stud games were unpopular.
Present: 7-Stud games are unpopular.
The world's fascination with Texas Hold'em has not spilled over into the stud variants. More stud games are played now than in the past. However, this can simply be attributed to a raw increase in the number of poker players. Overall, stud games remain unpopular today. This is because compared to Texas Hold'em and Omaha, 7-stud games have very little action.
Past: Online poker rooms were aquariums by present-day standards.
Present: Competition is fairly tough at most online sites for higher stakes.
The one great thing about the old days was the soft games. Online poker games have gotten significantly tougher over the past few years for several reasons. First, in the past, most sites only allowed players to participate in one table at a time. Some sites would allow participation in up to three tables. This had the effect of greatly increasing the fish:shark ratio (a detailed explanation about why multi-tabling results in tougher games can be found in our Poker Ecosystems strategy article). Today, many sites allow players to compete at a virtually unlimited number of tables.
Furthermore, when new players sign up at online poker rooms, good players are likely to continue playing longer than losing players. After all, winning money is much more fun than losing. This has resulted in sharks accounting for a greater proportion of active online poker players.
There are other reasons that games have become increasingly tough, such as more poker strategy literature being available. Nonetheless, no longer are online poker games the easy money they used to be for skilled players.