The State of Online Poker Post-Black Friday
When Black Friday happened, the online poker world was turned upside down overnight. American pros lost large chunks of their bankrolls and the ability to play online. But what did it mean for the rest of the poker world? This week's Shuffle is going to look at what happened throughout the rest of the world in the aftermath of Black Friday.
The first thing that happened is that guarantees were slashed overnight due to the fact that just under half of the global player-base vanished instantly. PokerStars was the least affected by this, losing around 30% of its traffic, while the other indicted rooms, AP/UB and Full Tilt, lost a far larger share of their player-base.
It soon became apparent that UB money was worthless, although to anyone who had been following the superuser scandal on AP/UB, this was not a surprise. What did shock players everywhere, however, was when evidence came to light that Full Tilt used player funds for advertising and operating expenses and couldn't cover withdrawals. This lead to the Alderney Gaming Commission suspending their license, effectively closing Full Tilt's doors. Now players everywhere who weren't smart enough to withdraw most of their bankrolls from the indicted sites are in the same boat as American players.
So with UB/AP and Full Tilt out of the picture as serious poker rooms, who's left?
The answer is basically PokerStars and the Eurosites who haven't accepted U.S. customers since the UIGEA was passed in 2006, such as Party Poker and William Hill.
What are games like on Pokerstars now? Well, for a lack of a better term, they're 2007-ish. The games aren't as soft as they were during the early days of the poker boom, but they're softer than they have been at any time since 2008, which is around the time that it's generally accepted that poker became tough to beat at a decent winrate for your average 'good' player.
Before Black Friday, my standard multi-table tournament (MTT) table for a $75 or 109 buy-in freezeout would look something like this:
Seat 1 - Me
Seat 2 - Good American Reg/Pro
Seat 3 - Decent American Amateur
Seat 4 - Good American Reg/Pro
Seat 5 - Good European Reg/Pro
Seat 6 - European Fish
Seat 7 - Russian Fish
Seat 8 - Good American Reg/Pro
Seat 9 - Decent American Amateur
In any given upper mid-stakes tournament, over half of the field consisted of good American professional or decent American amateur poker players. With the difficulty in depositing that the UIGEA caused for the fish and the general feeling among amateurs that online poker 'may' be illegal in the U.S, the weak amateur players or 'fish' simply no longer bothered to play online poker. As a result, on average, the American online poker players were on average among the strongest players in the world.
Currently, my standard table in one of these tournaments looks a little more like this:
Seat 1 - Me
Seat 2 - Weak Australian amateur
Seat 3 - Decent Brazilian amateur
Seat 4 - Brazilian aggro-fish
Seat 5 - Lithuanian call-station
Seat 6 - Hungarian passive fish
Seat 7 - Good European Reg/Pro
Seat 8 - Good Canadian Reg/Pro
Seat 9 - Weak Venezualan amateur
The MTT scene, on Pokerstars in particular, is softer than it has been in a long time. Players 3x raising and folding to a re-raise with 11 big blinds behind is commonplace. Players limp-calling a 5x raise with 15bb then check-folding the flop is also commonplace.
There are still a decent number of European, Australian, Canadian, Russian and Brazilian pros on the tables, but as a percentage of the field, the reg to fish ratio has halved. The field sizes are a little over half of what they were before Black Friday, but only contain about a quarter of the regulars you had grown accustomed to seeing at your table day in and day out. With far more South American, Eastern European and Asian players at your average table, the games are simply much softer than they used to be.
A $75 freezeout plays like a $26 freezeout did pre-Black Friday. A $100 rebuy plays like a $50 rebuy did pre-Black Friday. A $10 rebuy plays like a $5 rebuy did pre-Black Friday. Although the games aren't as soft as a typical live poker game, they have become far more beatable for most players than they were three months ago. This is mostly thanks to the influx of terrible Brazilian, Russian, Venezualan, Hungarian, Lithuanian and Czech players you now have on every table in every single MTT.
Now, that isn't to say that online poker players (specifically MTTers) should expect to earn significantly more money than they did before Black Friday. Unfortunately, about half of the tournaments with guarantees that made them worth playing no longer exist. This is due to the closure of Full Tilt and UB/AP. Although a good player's average big blinds won per 100 hands in cash games and ROI in tournaments has increased, the amount of action that these players are getting has also dropped due to the overall decrease of traffic in the online poker world. So win-rates are higher, but overall income is not necessarily increasing.
Other sites have been affected by Black Friday as well. Non-American players who steered clear of Eurosites in favour of grinding on Stars/Tilt/UB are now seeking out games on these sites in order to boost their volume, making these games marginally tougher than they were before. The 'Eurosites' do however remain softer than any site that ever accepted American players. You just have to tolerate the inferior software.
One puzzling thing is the fact that Bwin/Party hasn't offered to buy Full Tilt in order to gain access to their player-base and software. For a few hundred million dollars, the newly merged Bwin/Party company (bwin is the main Ongame network skin) could create a 'super-room' and take Full Tilt's position as the undisputed number two poker room behind PokerStars. If they had Full Tilt's software and player-base, a Bwin/Party superroom could even look to challenge PokerStars for the number one position in the future. Such a surpassing might be rather easy if PokerStars is excluded from the American market in the event that it is reopened.
Overall, I expect that most non-American professional poker players will earn a similar amount of money over the next year as they did over the previous year, with a higher ROI or rate of big blinds won per 100 hands, but lower volume due to the decreased availability of games across the board.
Personally, I'm hoping that the next World Series of Poker Main Event champion is Eastern European, Asian or South American. A poker boom in any of these areas would be great news for those of us that play poker professionally. Poker still has plenty of room to evolve in these regions compared to North America and Northern Europe in particular.