Monday, March 13, 2006


Back in my dumb old days, when I fancied myself a fair-to-middlin' poker player (though I'd never cracked open a book on the subject), my one and only online site to play at was Paradise Poker. I'd tried a couple of others, namely Party and Pacific, but Paradise ended up winning the largest share of my business. To my view, Paradise's software was slicker than the the others, they had a decent selection of tournaments and sit-'n'-gos, and I was actually able to turn a modest profit in my few hundred hours of play. Soft games, you say? Well, certainly, Paradise always has had some of the softer ring-game action around. Actually, if memory serves me, I spent most of my time playing seven-stud ring games, some pineapple (!) and occasional fixed-limit hold-'em sit-'n'-gos. (I'm from northern Wisconsin, you see; we come out of the womb up there knowing how to play cribbage and seven-card stud.)

Life events took me away from online poker for a while a couple of years ago. Since I wasn't that good, I didn't miss it. And when I returned to at least a semblance of active online poker-playing, there was Paradise, same as always. The prodigal son --- err, daughter --- had returned to the fold.

Or so it seemed. Today I don't play on Paradise much at all. How could that be? A combination of factors came into play, and despite the relative high quality of the site, it's clear that Paradise is resting on their laurels on reputation.

Paradise proclaims themselves as the oldest of the well-established sites, being around since Marco Polo brought back Chinese handcuffs from the Orient... or at least since 1997. Therefore, the logic goes, you should trust them with your dead prezzies. Paradise is trustworthy enough, in that respect; your deposits go in, your withdrawals come out (without, for the most part, lengthy delays), the sun sets in the west. All is copacetic.

And at Paradise, the more things change, the more they stay the same. There are large numbers of players to be found, including sizeable schools of fish; only during the wee hours will you have trouble finding a game that's comfortable for you to play. The software works well, too. Only occasionally does a lock-up occur, and that's as likely as not to be a problem with WinDoze, not the Paradise software. The graphics are stylish but not obtrusive, their cute "Refreshments" menu serves little purpose but is fun nonetheless, and the game play flows easily from hand to hand and table to table. My favorite drink avatar, should you be wondering, is the rum-and-coke; I've been far luckier with that at my seat that anything else. Not that I'm superstitious or anything, y'know...

So what's wrong? Just this: Until their recent "Million Dollar Freeroll" promotion --- not coincidentally, also the first time I'd seen a Paradise ad on the tube --- Paradise wasn't working very hard at expanding their customer base. They seemed to be quite happy with their 9.09% rake (or whatever), didn't offer a lot in sign-up offers and bonuses, and pretty much let the players be. I'm sure their customer base grew, but note that they're the oldest online poker site, not the largest. They could've done better.

As for attracting new customers, Paradise doesn't really go after the bonus whores among us. They offer a modest $25 sign-up bonus (requiring, if I recall, a $100 deposit), and they have occasional, not-very-lucrative reload offers. As more sites enter the fray, using more aggressive tactics to garner new players, Paradise risks becoming less imperative, perhaps even less relevant.

Which is, I suppose, the reason they went with the Million Dollar Freeroll promotion in the first place. Funny thing, though; it wasn't at all easy to track one's progress in earning a qualification to one of the entry satellites. You'd play and play and play, and --- presto! --- out of nowhere, a pop-up window would appear notifying you that you were again eligible to try to qualify for the main event. Glad you were tracking it for me, Paradise; I sure couldn't.

Oh, yeah, those interminable pop-up windows. Knock it off, Paradise. Whenever a larger tournament is about to commence, Paradise send pop-up windows to every online player, reminding them of the fact. Several times, usually, not to mention the sales pitches obliterating the usefulness of the chat window. "T minus three minutes and counting..." Well, fine. I'm still not joining your $250,000 Guaranteed with re-buys and add-ons, Paradise; check my bankroll before sending the damn pop-ups and you'd see I couldn't even afford the entry fee. And I mutter, under my breath, like that would stem the flood.

So what about this Million Dollar Freeroll thingy? Did anyone else take a look at the fine print? It turns out that Paradise is actually awarding only 3,400 of the 4,000 seats to the main event through the three daily play-in satellites. (I tried twice, made the top 60 both times, but crapped out just short of a seat to the big show.) But about those missing 600 seats --- it turns out that Paradise has reserved them to be used at their discretion to complete the lineup. Hmmm. That one continues to raise my eyebrows. Far be it from me to suspect that they'd privately sell some of these seats to top players for a nominal fee, knowing damn well that those better players would expect a lot of "dead money," relative to the million-dollar pool, to be present in the form of weaker players who lucked their way through the play-ins. Of course, there might be other explanations, though I really can't imagine Paradise giving away SIX HUNDRED COMPLIMENTARY FREAKIN' SEATS to poker media.

Po', po' cynical me. Figured another way, 600 of 4,000, times a million Georgies, equals $150,000. That's a chunk of expected value for those anonymous seats to carry. Got it. Either it's a helluva lot of "goodwill" asset padding, or it's a hidden way to recoup some expense.

Ah, well, back to the ring action. Being able to play pineapple is a definite plus, even if there isn't actually a lot of pineapple action from which to choose. Not only is it a fun variant, it's got high-profit potential as well. Pineapple entices those possessed by chase mentality, making for bigger pots; you'll see tons of people who start with junk like a two-suited 3-4-7 and play it hand after hand. "Bet it up, dude! It's a contrary investment opportunity!"

And, as mentioned, all the action is soft at the lower limits, not just the pineapple. Now that I've finally started to learn how to play this game, after thirty-plus years of dinking around, Paradise offers a lot of potential. And yet I find higher profit potential elsewhere --- so Paradise'll just have to wait.

Who Thinks Up These Table Names, Anyway?

Now there's a job that deserves to be on one of those Miller Brewing radio commercials, extolling the virtues of you, Mr. Underappreciated Paradise Poker Table Namer. You sweat it out, day after day, mixing those vowels and almost-Hawaiian consonants together in faintly exotic ways, coming up with names like "Barobas," "Kaluutu" and "Pelmonta" that might exist in reality or might not, if only we weren't too lazy to check. (Actually, they're all real, as far as I can tell. But this is piece is a satirical farce, so go with it.)

But look what you've started. Now, everybody's doing it; everybody, that is, except my local brick-and-mortar, which still uses designations like "number five".

Absolute uses a lot of generic-sounding street names instead of real and make-believe islands... not that Absolute's ever stolen any of your other gimmicks. FullTilt uses suburbs and subdivisions, because Ultimate Bet has the biggest city names locked up. (Although the capital city of the Philippines is not "Manilla".) And over at Prima they're even running out of servicable categories; they've gone through Beatles Song Titles, Names of Movies, Classic Books, Historical Figures... rumor has it that Medical Procedures and Parts of the Possum That Stick to the Tire Tread are the next ones in the works. God forbid any of you should stumble upon a Pantone color matcher --- or even a super-sized Crayola box --- and start drooling over exotic-sounding hues like Burnt Umber or Royal Mauve. And don't even think about touching an astronomical catalogue --- I don't think I could take it.

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