In early July, Full Tilt Poker announced it would be increasing the rake it collects at select tables to help offset new casual player-friendly policies the company planned to roll out in the near future.
On Tuesday we got our first look at some of these changes, which include:
Calling these changes sweeping would be 30.
Full Tilt is making major changes, and it begs the question, should New Jersey online poker operators follow suit?
But first, let’s examine the changes.
The changes are seemingly designed to do three things:
These three things create a better environment for new players and eliminate several “trouble” spots online poker operators have been trying to deal with for several years.
One issue online poker has been trying to solve for several years is the disturbing attrition rates of new players – a rate that has gotten progressively worse over the years.
Competitive advantages such as bumhunting and mass multi-tablers have taken their toll on the online poker ecology, allowing online poker grinders to target lesser players and wipe out their bankrolls with alarming alacrity.
By minimizing the ability of online poker grinders to hand pick their tables, Full Tilt is helping to protect casual players. Additionally, the new table selection/combination policies cut down on a second problem: players starting a game and sitting out until a player they wish to compete against arrives.
High stakes games may bring in a number of railbirds and create a buzz on the forums and poker media sites, but they also create a situation where the money exchanging hands is such that some people are willing to partake in illicit behavior.
This same behavior can happen at any stakes, but the rewards generally don’t justify the risks at the lower limits.
By eliminating all high-stakes tables, Full Tilt reduces the likelihood of outside forces (hackers and the like) targeting online poker games, and reduces the benefits of high-level collusion.
The elimination of heads-up tables is perhaps the most disruptive change.
It completely eliminates bumhunters starting games and sitting-out until a weaker opponent shows up.
It also helps assuage the fears of poker bots.
Poker AI has come a long way and the best developers are focusing on heads-up games as they are the easiest (don’t mistake that for easy) to solve.
The elimination of less popular games, high stakes games, and heads-up tables means all of the players who frequented these tables will be consolidated into the greater player pool.
Stud and Draw players will move to the Omaha and Holdem tables.
High stakes players will be forced to move down to mid-stakes tables.
Heads-up players will join six-handed and full ring tables.
Even though this consolidation doesn’t increase overall traffic, it does increase traffic for the more popular games.
The changes instituted by Full Tilt are unlikely to have a significant impact (positive or negative) in the near-term, as the players these changes are geared towards are unlikely to be aware of them or understand them, while the players most negatively impacted are keenly aware of the changes and what they mean.
To new players you're selling USPs they don't naturally understand. To old players you have to sell USPs that will upset existing players.
— Kim Lund (@InfiniteEdgeKim) July 28, 2015
That being said, these changes weren’t adopted with the near-term in mind; these changes are designed to improve the poker ecology in the long-term, even if that requires taking a small short-term hit to overall traffic due to bumhunters and mass multi-tablers moving on to greener pastures.
The larger problem occurs if, everything else being equal, other sites don’t follow suit.
In this scenario, it would likely lead to a sustained migration of Full Tilt grinders to other sites, and the increased liquidity at these sites could persuade new players (unaware of the better environment at Full Tilt) to choose those sites over Full Tilt.
Which brings us to New Jersey.
888 or party (or in the best case scenario, both) could adopt similar policies without the fear of other sites poaching the majority of their grinders.
In addition to the lack of other alternatives, the market is small enough that grinders are likely playing on both sites simultaneously.
888 and party could also set a precedent for future New Jersey operators to follow.
As noted, the fear isn’t that these changes are necessarily bad; the fear is that other operators won’t follow suit in implementing similar shifts. But if the market standard is to protect new players, future operators should be more than happy to follow Full Tilt’s lead.