Some Online Poker Network Actions Interfere with Skill Debate

August 23, 2013
Some Online Poker Network Actions Interfere with Skill Debate

There have been several recent discussions about whether the “Poker is a Skill Game” position has any merit.  Quadjacks published opposing views, while Pokernewsboy published their own article on the topic.  In my opinion, the skill debate was lost when several major poker rooms decided to change their attitude towards winners. 

Poker is a game of skill with luck involved to some degree.  A highly skilled player will prevail over weak players in the long term.  The sample size required to determine this is debatable due to the short term luck, often referred to by poker players as variance.

Some poker networks decided to find a way to discourage action from skilled players.  Some changes are subtle, while others are clearly an attack on winners.  Networks that take this position are admitting that skill is an element of poker, while at the same time they either want to eliminate skill or at least diminish its effect on their poker room.

Those that are still using the poker is a game of skill argument need to consider these actions that are being taken by some online poker networks, some of which are attempting to receive licensing in the regulated U.S. market.  If some online poker networks are doing their best to remove some or all skill from the game, which alters the game as we know it, then in my opinion the skill argument has already been lost. 

Ongame Essence

The Ongame Network was the first to introduce a program to even out the player pool.  Ongame Essence takes a player’s skill into consideration when issuing player points.  A certain amount of points are created based on the amount of rake taken from a cash game.  The rake is then distributed to players based on their skill level versus their opponents. 

Weaker players, which are presumably losers, will climb the VIP ladder faster than winners.  Losing players will also clear a bonus faster.  This type of product makes it impossible to properly advertise a bonus clearing requirement or VIP structure since there is no way for a cash game player to know how points are earned.  Ongame Essence also affects affiliate commissions. 

Bodog Recreational Player Model

The Bodog Poker Network, which includes U.S. facing Bovada, is proud of its Recreational Player Model. published a number of opinion articles promoting its poker ecology position.  Bodog eventually rolled out anonymous tables and removed full tables from its lobby.  The lack of full tables in the lobby prevents players from joining a waitlist.  Players must find tables with empty seats or start a new table.  This process also made it difficult for dataminers to fully access the system.  Bodog stopped allowing rakeback for new players and started paying affiliate commission based on a formula similar to Ongame’s Essence system. 

Bodog had a number of critics.  Admittedly, I was one of them.  The traffic on the network has exploded since the recreational player model was rolled out so Bodog got to have the last laugh there.  The Recreational Player Model is not the only reason Bodog has succeeded.  Bovada pays U.S. players extremely fast.  It also has quality support and strong brand recognition.  These are all reasons for the impressive growth experienced by the Bodog Poker Network.

Party Poker Policies Aimed at Winners

Party Poker has been criticized a number of times about its policies.  One concern from players is that the moves are often not transparent.  For example, Party Poker quietly removed access that winning players had to tables populated by fish earlier this year.  The secrecy combined with the attack on winning players drew the scorn of some players. 

Some players have reported that this form of player segregation has stopped, while others disagree.  There is no debate that the network’s traffic is down substantially since this feature was implemented. 

That was not the only attack on winners.  Just this week, the Party Poker Network quietly introduced a withdrawal fee on ewallet transactions.  Players will be charged 3% on all Neteller and Skrill cashout requests.  In addition to the percentage, there is also a fee of about $4, depending on the currency.

These moves are contrary to Party Poker’s past beliefs.  Party Poker was once involved in the promotion of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), a proponent of U.S. online poker.  The PPA has long held the belief that poker is a game of skill and has repeatedly used it in its lobbying efforts.  It still holds this position.  In 2006, Party Poker paid its U.S. players $10 cash to join the PPA while the group unsuccessfully attempted to defeat the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.  Party Poker still discusses that poker is a skill game on its website.

Microgaming Network Management Board

The Microgaming Network Management Board was launched by Microgaming in an attempt to create rules that would benefit and retain recreational players.  It was also seen as a way for each major skin to have a voice in the network moving forward.  Optional anonymous tables were among the ideas that were implemented on the network.  It also moved its Texas Hold’em heads up tables to its Blaze Poker format, which is MPN’s fast fold product.

Revolution Gaming Fair Play

Revolution Gaming made several attempts to create a system similar to Party Poker’s where winning players were excluded from tables populated by weaker players.  A number of factors contributed to the demise of this program, including the lack of support from some skins and the lack of liquidity to ring fence losing players from its network sharks.  There is still a table segregation system on the network where some skins do not share their tables with others on the network.  In my opinion, those skin specific tables were created to address the network liquidity issues and are not aimed at winning players.

Some Actions Taken Due to Winning Player Behavior

While some of the actions taken are related to rake generation, it is clear that some operators had to address issues related to experienced players stalking novices.  This is especially true at heads up cash tables.  Some features mentioned were important to save some forms of games that were being damaged by players that would stalk weaker players and refuse to play known winners. 

Some Operators Contradict Skill Argument

There are several actions taken by operators that compromise the poker skill game debate.  While the largest poker rooms and networks have taken no such action, several smaller networks others have.  If the skill argument ends up being a convincing one then there must be rules in place that cover what practices are allowed by regulated U.S. online poker rooms.


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