Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oh, Bill and Me, We Disagree...

Yes, yes, I sniped at Bill Rini recently, after yet another one of his glass-half-empty posts. And before we go further into this, let me add this: I like Bill and respect him deeply --- he's done a lot of behind-the-scenes things to make the poker-blogging world a better place for all of us. He's also not afraid to tackle deeper issues, and on a personal note, he was one of the very first poker bloggers to notice that I was trying to do some real poker content on my own sites. Thank you, Bill, I've appreciated that and duly note it here.

Now, on to the topic at hand. I called Bill to task on his making another one of those overly negative Henny-Penny posts of late, this one concerning attendance at last Sunday's major online events. I said in a comment to the post that it was out of context and misleadingly negative, when he wrote this:

"Stars’ $1 million guarantee tournament had about 900+ less players than the week before but still managed to make the guarantee. Full Tilt and Bodog weren’t so lucky and had to add a little moola to their guaranteed prize pools."

In the context of his post, I interpreted his use of "managed" in its most negative connotation, as in "just barely managed to scrape by." Notice also the implication of the phrase "Full Tilt and Bodog weren't so lucky...."

Bill wasn't pleased with me, to say the least.

Well, I tried to explain in a third comment to his post exactly why I found fault with his piece --- and with a very similar (and to my mind, even worse) piece now up at Card Player. It has to do with wanting to write a negative piece and fitting the facts to the piece, regardless of applicability. Unfortunately, his comment beastie accused me of not knowing how to add "0+6," so it ate my comment, and I decided I'd write this piece instead.

The real story is this: Based on attendance at the Stars Sunday Million (which due to its size and cachet is probably the truest bellwether of the situation) the arrests last week of NETeller's founders caused a shock to the online-poker world in the range of 10-15%. However, no one wants to write that story, because it's not as juicy as the "missing the guarantees" angle, which sounds scarier. The problem is that the missed-guarantees angle is a lousy test in this instance.

Bill and Card Player both cite exactly three major events in their respective pieces, the big Sunday events at Stars, Full Tilt and Bodog. Both Bill and CP grab this salient fact for the piece: Stars' Sunday Million attendance was down by 900 in the most recent event. It was actually 890, from 7,632 to 6,742, for a decline in attendance of 13.2%. There are lots of reasons why a tourney could be down 13.2%, among which just might be that the NFL conference championship games were on, and this was the first playoff weekend where all the remaining action was on Sunday alone, rather than split between Sunday and Saturday. Still, the NETeller issue likely had some sort of dampening effect.

But what angle did everyone take? They went for the "down 900" line, which, despite being rounded up a bit, just flat-out sounds scary, if only because the Stars event has so many more players in it than any other. What sounds worse, "down 900" or "down 13%"? Stars was indeed lucky to make its guarantee, at that; they only topped it by $348,000, or 35%, down from 53% a week earlier. (It's still a 13% decline, from 152.6 to 134.8.) The point is, it's not the numbers themselves, but in how they are being used. Bill's working hard to use them in the most negative way possible.

Right. Onward.

I'll go to the Bodog inclusion next, concerning a $100K event which didn't meet its guarantee. Ummm, Bodog's $100K frequently does not meet its guarantee. And wait --- isn't Bodog the site that advertises frequent overlays? And isn't Bodog a sportsbook site first and foremost, and more likely to be affected by the football games as mentioned above? Not mentioned, was it?

To be fair, Bodog has made its guarantee in most recent weeks, but as it's included here, the Bodog example is Swiss-cheesy. To simply assign this single occurrence in its entirety to the NETeller news is improper.

Now, let's go on to Full Tilt, my fave of the three. This was cited by both Bill and CP for not meeting its guarantee. The guarantee was $750,000, and player-paid contributions to the pool were $690,000, meaning that Full Tilt was on the hook for a $60,000 overlay. Now here's the problem: the only way that Full Tilt's attendance on Sunday can be fit into a scare piece is by using the fact that it didn't meet its guarantee. No other statistical interpretation offers as negative a spin.

Bill correctly points out that Full Tilt is not generally in the habit of providing overlays on its major events, and I agree with him 100%. I also agree that the reason this tourney fell short was the NETeller situation. But the only reason that this tourney feel short of its guarantee was that Full Tilt chose the wrong moment to try to jump the guarantee by an incredible 50%, which simply could not occur in light of recent events. What I called Bill and CP to task over was the fact that a whole bunch of positive-spin news was intentionally omitted in order to buttress this inclusion in the "woe is me" canon. Take a look at these facts:

Prize-pool contributions generated by players in the 12/17/06 Full Tilt December $500,000 Guarantee (the prior $535 occurrence of the once-a-month event): $618,500

Prize-pool contributions generated by players in the 1/14/07 Full Tilt $400,000 Guarantee (the most recent major tourney before last Sunday): $494,600

Prize-pool contributions generated by players on Sunday, 1/21/07, in the brand-new, probably-not-going-to-do-it-again-next-month $750,000 Guarantee: $690,000

One could have written that despite the NETeller situation, prize-pool contributions were up by 11.6% over the previous month's high-buyin extravaganza, or by a whoppin' 39.5% over the previous week, despite the arrests. And by the way, that $690,000 was an all-time record for player-paid contributions on Full Tilt, outside of FTOPS events. The previous mark was that $618,500 in December.

But that would have been a good-news spin, and neither Bill nor CP had any interest in that angle. Bill also points out that Full Tilt would never have increased its guarantee if they'd known the NETeller arrests were imminent, and that's true, too. But so what? What's Full Tilt going to do, back out of an already announced tourney? Full Tilt bucked it up and took the hit in a responsible manner.

Now, I really do like Bill, and this is just going to piss him off worse, but them's the real facts. Both his and the Card Player pieces are intentionally skewed to the negative. I respect Bill, but this really is Henny-Penny b.s. Right now he reminds me of Ernest Borgnine's "Detective Mike Rono" character in "The Poseidon Adventure." Not the crappy remake, but the crappy Irwin Allen original.

In case you're wondering, once the boat rolls, Borgnine's character tries to sabotage attempts to erect the Christmas tree and climb out of the soon-to-be-flooded ballroom, and in one of those wonderful plot contrivances only a bad screenwriter would dare to slide by the audience, still manages to be one of the first to climb the tree before its impending collapse, dooming a whole bunch of anonymous extras who probably never had a major bitch with the Christmas Tree plan in the first place. Of course, one has to have an antagonist on hand to create additional plot tension, logic be damned.

Not that "The Poseidon Adventure" is otherwise logically sound. Far from it. Unless that liner's hull had an open screen door in the bottom of it, there's no way that the water inside the stupid boat would rise past a certain point, due to the trapped air inside. It could go to the bottom with lots of trapped air, but the water would not rise much past the level of the main deck, barring damage to the hull. And if the hull was breeched, then air-flow patterns would lead everyone right to the breech in the overturned boat, thus offering the likeliest route for escape. Bad science makes for a dumbass movie, big budgets, sequels and remakes notwithstanding.

Back to Bill and Card Player and all this other stuff. I still don't see that Bill is being anything but counter-productive with negative-spin pieces like this, despite his immense knowledge. As I said in his comments, I do hold him to a rather higher standard than I do Card Player, whose fiduciary resposibility to the poker world seems to end just shy of the sniffing range of Barry Shulman's wallet. Bill's a lot better than that, a handful of recent weak posts aside.


Anonymous said...

Haley, the answer is 7 for sufficiently large values of zero :-)

All I can say is exactly what I said in my comments which is that I did not try to spin the numbers in any way. I was doing a post which was mainly about the cash game drop-offs and then mentioned how the sites did vs. their guarantees.

And I think you're doing just the opposite. You're trying to spin this as overly optimistic. If you wanted to do a true telling comparison then you would count up all of the prize pools week over week. Obviously FTP cut other tournaments in order to push their larger than normal guarantee. That's what sites do when they pump up a higher guarantee and I imagine if you add up how much they took in in tournaments last week and how much they took in the week before, you'll likely find the numbers are far from being as positive as you paint them.

I think my only crime here is not in doing a more in-depth analysis. And that's where I think you and I disagree. You attribute some sort of malicious intent while I see it as simply a case of throwing a few random factoids into a post that I didn't even originally intend on providing tournament numbers in. That is why I took issue with your comments. I can genuinely state that there was no malicious intent and while you're free to call me to task for not providing enough information I am going to take offense when someone begins calling my integrity into question.

Sites don't make their money on tournaments. Cash games is where the real money in online poker is at. The tournaments are publicity vehicles designed to get players to play in the cash games. That's why the focus of the post was on cash game results. I included 2 sentences mentioning tournaments and you seem to have blown those two afterthought collection of words into some sort of conspiracy on my part to malign the entire industry. An industry that I happen to be employed in and have no vested interest in seeing crumble.

And while I'm becoming known for my glass-half-full posts of late, I am doing this because there needs to be a wake-up call. Go read 2+2 and see how many folks are pretending this is all some sort of freak occurance and things will return to normal in a week or two. My words are often chosen for their shock value for that very reason. This is a major change in the online gaming world and anyone who denies it has no clue what's going on.


PS. I still like you :-)

Anonymous said...

If you two aren't careful, there might be actual poker journalism going on somewhere, and we know that ain't allowed!

Good stuff both of you, and thank goodness SOMEONE is being held to a high standard of writing and reporting, since we certainly can't count on the Shulman empire to report anything close to the facts on anything (or to write it well, but there's not enough space in comments to get into that rant).

I tend to agree with Bill's half-empty vibe right now, but am encouraged that both you and he are willing to put so much time and energy into research and reporting. Like I said, it gives me hope that there might someday be poker journalism instead of just industry-sponsored spin.

And I'm as big a shill as anyone, before somebody decides to point out the mote in my eye, as it were.

Well said, Haley.

Anonymous said...

It's really simple. This is only going to get much, much worse. I'm a perfect example of someone who has abandoned online poker because of recent events. It's just not worth the effort and risk - I have a family, a job, and play for fun. It's not fun when I'm chasing my tail to do something as innocuous as fund my account.

Haley said...

Thanks for the words, all. 'Tis appreciated.