It’s safe to say that Doug Polk and Daniel Negreanu aren’t fans of one another.
Things have cooled off a bit, but Polk poured some more fuel on the fire of a grudge that dates back several years.
In a recent podcast appearance with Joe Ingram, Polk decided to let loose on Negreanu, blasting the PokerStars Team Pro for what he believes to be Negreanu’s towing of the company line.
The genesis of Polk’s comments can be traced back to changes implemented at PokerStars in 2014. But the issue didn’t really come to a head until a 2016 interview, where, amid the ongoing controversy about policy changes at PokerStars, Negreanu discussed situations where a higher rake might be good for the game.
Polk and others in the high-stakes poker community latched on to these comments and birthed the “more rake is better” punch line.
But it’s important to look at Negreanu’s full comments, and not the shortened, bastardized version of them.
In the interview from October 2016, Negreanu says:
“If the rake is too high [In the video Negreanu used air quotes on the words “too high”] for the good players, what you’re left with is bad players… who are going to lose. But they’re losing less per 100 hands than they would be if the pros were playing with them.
“There’s a lot of games where that’s true. Where the rake is really high and it keeps pros away because they’re like “well we can’t beat this,” but overall for the game, it’s actually better because the pros aren’t playing.”
As previously noted, this statement has been condensed to Negreanu saying, “more rake is better.”
But what he actually said was it would be better for “the game,” the singular table of losing recreational players he’s using as an example, if there were a higher rake and no pros, rather than a lower rake and pros.
And in most cases, he’s right. Even if the game isn’t raked, recreational players stand no chance in a game full of professional players. A winning player is going to take more money out of a losing player’s stack on a per hand basis than the rake.
The whole mess is counterproductive
Unfortunately, the grudge is built around two groups largely talking past each other.
We can all agree PokerStars did the high-stakes community dirty when it ended the Supernova and Supernova Elite rewards early.
We can also all agree that some of the criticism is unwarranted.
Using your antipathy towards a company as the basis to dismiss every policy change or new product the company comes up with as bad for poker isn’t helping matters, or improving poker in any way, shape, or form.
Rather than helping guide the industry, and understanding where the health of the game supersedes an individual player’s win rate, these players have effectively alienated themselves from the industry, and removed what should be important voices from any part of the decision-making process.
Hyperbolic statements about PokerStars’ ultimate goal being unbeatable games and transforming everyone into a slots player have turned poker into a hyper-partisan community that resembles Fox News vs. MSNBC.
One side is almost entirely made up of industry people, and the other is almost exclusively professional players. Worse, the rhetoric coming out of both camps is accomplishing only one thing: causing recreational players to tune it all out.
Where do we go from here?
I’m a long-time advocate of targeted rake increases, particularly at the lowest stakes tables – tables with buy-ins under $10.
I’d like to see these games, as currently constituted, made unbeatable, thereby pushing most of the winning players up to slightly higher stakes, where I’d like to see the rake reduced.
Basically, I’d like to see a highly regressive rake structure.
An environment where the raked percentage of each pot, as well as the rake cap is reduced. Instead of rewards and rakeback, I’d like to see a fully transparent rake model that gives players a reason to want to move up in stakes.
In my opinion, the ultimate goal is to limit interactions between the gazelles (new players) from the lions (winning grinders). Instead of setting the lions free in the gazelle habitat, it needs to be a one-way door that isn’t opened until some of the gazelles start to think they’re lions, or big enough to fend off lions, and wander over into the lion’s territory to eat the best grass and foliage.
As the stakes rise they’ll start to encounter winning players who grind out a living. Because as the stakes increase the environment becomes more grinder-friendly.
Maybe they get slaughtered, just like an actual gazelle that runs into a pride of lions. Or, maybe they discover they have a knack for poker. And just maybe they have a blast, eat that awesome foliage, make it out alive, and decide to start taking poker more seriously.
Volatility is key
Easier lineups might make the $2, $5, and $10 games beatable again, but just barely, and not enough for a winning player to bother playing unless they have no other options. If it doesn’t, no big deal. The goal isn’t to necessarily make these games beatable long-term; the goal is to make them highly volatile, with a lot of action and a lot of gambling. That will produce a lot of short-term winners.
High volatility makes the rake a relatively moot point. For the most part, the people in these games aren’t trying to grind out a bankroll. They’re trying to move up in stakes as quickly as possible.
Anyone who’s played multiple tables spread across several stakes has run into the players that double up once or twice at one of your $25 tables and leave, only to reappear at one of your $100 tables. these people aren’t concerned about their long-term win rates; they’re just trying to run it up.
This concept is extremely important: Most players never reach the long-run. that’s why it’s better for lower stakes games to be more volatile; it allows more players to quickly win enough to move up in stakes.
A regressive rake system is just one idea; it’s certainly not the only idea.
A simpler fix that I’d love to see implemented is table caps – limiting the number of tables a person is allowed to play at any given time.
Unfortunately, table caps are unlikely to happen as they would cost the site too much money in rake.
At the end of the day, it’s imperative that operators protect new players from professionals.
The trick for an online poker operator is to find the right rake level to keep the majority of professionals out of the new player pool until the new players decide they want the challenge.
At the same time, a site has to insure the rake isn’t so high that it destroys any avenues aspiring players can use to climb the poker ladder.
That’s the tricky part.