Monday, May 01, 2006

Site Review: Poker Heaven

It's fun to jump into a less-known network and see what's what, as I did recently when I had the chance to explore (or just Poker Heaven), for the guys at KAP.

Top-level stuff first, so we can move on to what's more fun. Poker Heaven is one the largest rooms on the St. Minver Limited network, with St. Minver itself a Gibralter-based concern. It's important to know only because it explains why Poker Heaven is barely known in the States, but it does have implications for other parts of play. Why? Because there is a truism in online poker these days:

The lower the percentage of American (and perhaps Canadian) players at a site, the easier and looser the site's overall play.

This isn't some provincial Yankee's rip on furrinnerrs... trust me. Rather, it's a logical step in the evolution of the game and a comparative measure of the overall improvement of its practitioners.

Poker first "took off" here, so it's only natural that many North American players here have had --- and still enjoy --- a large jump on the competition. There are great players that hail from everywhere. Just check any recent winner's board from a WSOP or WPT event and you'll see what I mean. But the rank and file? Those who follow a trend?

Chances are, they don't play as well as you do. And they're waiting for you at Poker Heaven. There are drawbacks here, too, primarily with the software, but the games themselves are soft. Way soft. Even giggly soft. I recently sat down at a 1/2 table with a 61% flops-seen percentage that wasn't one of those statistical flukes.

Yummy. It's the closest thing I've seen to the 2/4 game up at the "Pot" (Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee). It doesn't mean you won't get slapped around in some ungodly beats, or take some huge variance swings, because you will. But when the horseshoe does swing your way, it's a fun, fun thing to behold. I've had people five-bet me with a top-pair/second-kicker hand.

Nor does it matter what poker version you choose. From ring games to SNGs to multi-table affairs, the player softness is always there. However, it's time to to stop the drooling, because if you're going to enjoy the good, then you have to accept the bad; Poker Heaven's (read: St. Minver Limited's) software is subpar, omitting several things that are vital to serious online poker play. So, in no particular order...

Player-performance stats.... there aren't any. As I've said elsewhere, I think data-mining is a practice that should be outlawed. It's not a problem here; in fact, the lack of statistical information goes to the other extreme. There's no mechanism here for tracking your own recent play, even for things as basic as flops seen or raked-hands played. I find the lack of information to be a recurring nuisance, as I'm sure the live customer-service reps do when they're bombarded with requests in the interactive chat feature to find out how many raked hands a player has played. That can't be fun.

Awful software rules for the administration of the blinds. The software allows the projected small and big blinds to make their decision to participate in the next hand independently of one another; the software also does not take into account what needs to happen when one of the blinds leaves at this point. As a result, you'll often be playing hands where only a small blind, or only a big blind, has been posted. This is demented.

Multi-language chat. Us English-only speakers have always had it good in the chat windows, as most sites adhere to "English-only" standards. (English is the accepted language of international commerce, much as it is the international language of air-control and flight.) But who are we to demand this, particularly in rooms marketed largely to players of other nations? As a result, you'll see lots of Russian and Slovak, a bit of Turkish and German, a smattering of Swedish... just about anything is likely to pop up. And you won't be able to understand it. This isn't bad, or unfair; I just like knowing everything that's said.

Poor disconnect-protection rules. Remember the bad ol' days on the major sites, when certain players used to automatically take their one-a-day disconnect to "protect" a large investment in a hand when they knew they were way behind? The bad ol' days are still in effect here --- St. Minver Limited is years behind the curve on proper administration of this aspect of play. So, assuming that you don't cheat poker's ethics in this manner, you'll still have to deal with folks that do, and these players are also quite happy about to talk their ability in making their "daily one" of this type of "play."

Banking options are unusual. You have no other choice here than to use WebDollar, a second-tier online wallet service housed in Sweden. NETeller, FirePay, Click2Pay, and the rest... all unavailable. But though WebDollar isn't widely known in the States, it is legit, and it has one security measure in place that the other systems don't. I haven't done a withdrawal with WebDollar yet --- soon! --- but I don't expect it to be a problem.

The top-level table grid is an over-informationed mess. It has lots of sorting and separating functions, but many of these work at cross purposes to one another or don't really work the way you expect. One example of this is the default "title" sort of tournaments --- because it's alpha-based, it goes something like $10--$100--$2--#20, with multiple entries in each area. It can be hard to identify precisely the game you're looking for. Another example is the mixing of four different currency denominations into the same grid --- until you get a general idea of each one's relative worth, you'll founder a bit in determining whether a given table is right for you. You don't get to see the conversion rate --- always live, with no penalty --- until you're ready to take your seat. This is not good.

Multi-tabling is good, but it's a bit choppy. One problem is a persistent animation that swivels up each player's physical location whenever your mouse passes over that player's generic avatar. (It's not an avatar; it's just an information circle.) The effect soon becomes bothersome and distracting, and this increases when you're trying to multi-table.

It's written elsewhere that the site has lots of late-night drunken Brits, all there for you to plunder. Nahhh. That's William Hill. This site has more drunken Russians and Slovaks, and the Eastern European influence is readily seen in the peak hours of play. The number of players tops 6,000 most days, but those hours coincide with early afternoon for North America. By late evening our time, Poker Heaven's player base dwindles to scarcely more than 1,000. At these times significant play at comfortable levels is difficult; I'll normally have one table open here while I'm playing other tables on another site.

The site gets a 2.5 rating out of 5. Big ups for soft and easy play, but they give most of it back for software issues.

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