Monday, July 02, 2007

Hasenpfeffer is Indeed a Stew....

There is so much crappy and pointless writing in the poker world that's it hard to remember that the good stuff exists as well. One site that I'd forgotten all about was the 'Bigger Deal' poker blog, featuring Anthony Holden, Al Alvarez, Lee Jones and several others. Catching up on Short-Stacked Shamus's postings --- and where does that guy find the time?? --- I remembered that I hadn't visited that other site in a good long while.

I was poorer for it, too.

Those guys can write. Anthony Holden has up a wonderful 'Nixon in China' piece that's way too good to be wasted on us poker cretins, while Lee Jones tossed in a well-constructed piece on something he thinks is going to occur in online poker in the next few years: the adaptation of anonymous user IDs by the online sites. This means that you wouldn't know the identities of the other players at any given table, and the logic behind it is to short-circuit all the third-party software add-ons (like PokerHUD and PokerTracker) that are in many ways the bane of the average online player's existence... even if they don't know it.

What Lee correctly points out is that the shark-to-fish ratio in the online game is getting out of whack and is only going to get worse, in large part due to these third-party products. I couldn't agree more. There are some that are largely innocuous and have value in a historical way, while others were designed solely as technical system 'cheats' and really have no place in a 'fair' poker game.

But the devil's in the details. Lee added in some additional thoughts in a follow-up comment to one of the site's visitors, and it's here where I disagree. Not the first time I've ever disagreed with Lee, either, in the form of a post. One of the very first pieces I ever did for the Kick Ass Poker site was an examination of a Card Player piece Lee did that was in essence of a haranguing of players who stall at the online bubble. I don't like stalling, but the way it occurs online is something that Stars has always had it in its powers to alleviate, but has chosen not to. That post is available here (scroll down a bit); it's a real blast from the past.

I actually had a line in that old post, reading back through it, that I'm rather proud of:

There is no difference between a poker player who "takes the clock," and a winning football team, in the last minutes of a game, that lets the play clock wind down to "1" before snapping the ball. Both are playing within the constructs and rules of the game, at a time when the situation demands strategies markedly different than during most other periods of play. That the play is tedious and maddening is a sign that the structure and rules of the game itself are imperfect, not that the participants are "cheaters."

Anyhow, back to the current Lee Jones post, and another point where this unfortunately-not-modest voice from the peanut gallery disagrees with Lee. Lee says this:

Comment from Lee Jones
Time: June 29, 2007, 11:53 pm

Reply to tuff_fish…

Hi Tuff - multi-tabling is a fact of online poker life, and we can no more eliminate it than we could (e.g.) the chat box. Note that even if a site offered “no-multitabling” tables, a player could still play at such a table on that site, and as many other sites as he wished. So a “no multi-tabling site/table” is an impossibility.

Furthermore, multi-tabling is actually *better* for individual fish. Let’s say that player Shark456 is capable of 2.5 BB/100 (”big bets per hundred hands” - a common metric among serious online players). Wanting to increase his hourly income, he plays two tables instead. It’s a virtual certainty that he will *not* make 2.5 BB/100 at both tables. Instead, he’ll make perhaps 2.0 or 1.8 BB/100. Well, he’s happy because he’s making much more money per hour. But the fish at his tables will be happier because he is taking less money off each individual table. The more he multi-tables, the lower his per-table income, but until he hits some threashold, the greater his hourly income. As long as his per-table income drops, the fish get happier (and healthier).

Ultimately, yes, Shark456 is taking more money away from the poker site, but by spreading the pain over many fish rather than just a single table’s worth, he probably leaves the fish population healthier.

At least, that’s my perspective.

Regards, Lee

And I responded to it like this, long-winded to be sure, but I wanted to illustrate the point:

Hi, Lee,

Noticed your argument in the response to Tuff; pardon me for saying this, but that's where your logic breaks down. Your argument about the per-table rate by sharks leaving the fish comparatively healthier would only work in the case of a single shark (or a small, finite number of sharks) in the pool.

Unfortunately, your original post quite dramatically indicates the opposite, that the shark-to-fish ratio is increasing, and because of this, the fish aren't likely to keep voluntarily diving in. If all of a sudden there are eight multi-tabling sharks at each and every table, then the fish are going to get pounded... no matter what.

I mentioned the Malthus thing for a reason, as a way of hinting that the issue here is indeed one of diminishing resources, otherwise known as new fish. Perhaps a more relevant reference would have been the example of the effects of hunting on populations of rabbits and coyotes (or wolves, in some instances) in controlled-population studies. In those, it's been repeatedly shown that left on their own, rabbit and coyote populations will repeatedly cycle from high to low, as long as a base source of food for the rabbits is available. The rabbits keep on breeding --- as rabbits are wont to do --- and after a couple of seasons lag the the coyote population also takes off, because there are so many juicy bunnies to eat.

The coyotes have happy times, so they keep on breeding, too, and build up so fast that they also overpopulate, eating too many rabbits. Both populations collapse --- the rabbits first, then the coyotes (or wolves), who experience starvation --- and the whole process starts anew.

The cycle can be influenced from outside, too. Usually the studies introduce a hunting season, showing that by allowing the culling of the predator base (the coyote or wolf), both populations can be maintained at artificially high levels.

What's happened in poker is an influence from the opposite side, translating the bunnies to fish and the coyotes to sharks. The difficulties encountered by new fish in funding accounts or in reaching a point of competitiveness with the ever-evolving sharks is like a drought for the rabbits in the above: it removes the base food source and is likely to make the population crash occur earlier --- it chops off the high point of the cycle.

Your argument re: multi-tabling also leaves room for debate. Yes, players could multi-table by playing one table each at a multitude of sites, but that would be a bit more difficult to manage in the massive quantities that some multi-tablers perform. I'm not sure that there are 24 distinct poker networks out there, but there sure are 24-table players. And trying to get the software of 24 different sites to work in harmony would be... interesting, wouldn't it?

What you haven't touched on at all is the fact that opening up multi-table play in the first place was a case of the poker sites wanting to (a) increase rake and (b) grab a -relatively- bigger slice of the online pie. Unfortunately, business pressures are a part of that, but I can't imagine a world where "grow the business" pressures don't exist. No one -forced- poker sites to allow multi-tabling; they did it to make money.

The biggest flaw in your theory that I can see is that it implies a voluntary cooperation on the part of all sites to allow anonymous-ID poker. The only reason some sites would have to go to anonymous-ID poker would be to short-circuit the third-party products that exacerbate the shark-to-fish problem, but a lot of those sites add money into the poker cycle as well. Given that there are sites out there that actively allow the promotion of ads for these products, it seems unlikely that the entire poker world is going to turn altruistic all at once. Poker's always been an "I got mine" type of existence, but the players aren't the only ones doing it. The sites do it as well.

Would I play on a site that featured anonymous ID's? In a heartbeat. But there's a whole class of players out there that would consider it an affront to their existence --- and they do generate lots of rake.

At least for the time being....

I respect Lee very highly, but the argument he makes still seems a bit myopic. It's not just the players who've created the current imbalance, but a whole slew of market factors working in concert. It's also why, though I'd absolutely love to see Lee's idea come to pass, I'm less confident that it'll occur in the time frame Lee envisions.

I hate playing devil's advocate. Unfortunately, I'm good at it. (*sigh*) Back to the prison, now.

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