Segregating poker players based on skill goes a step too far

1 March 2013
There are a lot of online poker grinders who are none too pleased with Party Poker right now.
There is evidence that the online poker room is segregating ring game players based on skill, allowing players at lower skill levels to see more tables in the client's lobby, while hiding tables with a higher percentage of new and/or losing players from those who have a long record of winning.
The company responded to accusations with a post on the 2+2 message boards yesterday that read:
"We are continually looking for ways to balance our poker room ecology. As we have said before, we are testing various features to make poker a more fun and entertaining game for both new and inexperienced players. Our extensive research shows that new and inexperienced players enjoy the game more and continue playing for longer if in the early stages they play with players of a similar ability, this includes, but is not limited to our welcome lounges. These players are free to play on any table they chose."
While fairly vague, the statement seems to verify the claims.
My initial reaction was shock. It made me think that Party Poker was turning itself into a skill game site, where players are matched up in games based on their previous results. The end result of these types of matchups is that no one can beat the rake and everyone slowly loses.
After further reflection, I understand what Party is trying to accomplish. When new players lose all of their money right out of the gate, they’re not going to have a positive experience. If they don't have a positive experience, they're not going to stick around. But if they run up a $50 deposit to $70, then see it drop down to $20, go back up to $40 and then go broke, they're going to remember their wins and make another deposit.
I'm all for taking steps to preserve the poker ecology. I'd love to see an end to data mining and hand history purchases that allow players to amass vast stores of information on opponents, many of whom they may have never played before. I'd rejoice if poker rooms could eliminate the use of software to target weaker players. But I think Party took things a step too far here.
Part of the beauty of poker is its egalitarian spirit. You don't have to climb the ranks to sit with the best. And the best can be beaten by a pure novice. Segregating tables based on skill destroys that whole notion. What's next? The World Series of Poker deciding to hold a bracelet event only for players who have entered at least 10 tournaments but have yet to cash?
The fact of the matter is the great majority of online poker players are losing players. However, when you factor in the number of "butts in seats" that are losing players, the percentage of losers drops, and here's why.
At a live poker room, you can only play one table at a time. If your win rate at $1/$2 is three big blinds per hour ($6), while your win rate at $2/$5 is two big blinds per hour ($10), you're going to play $2/$5 because you'll make more money doing it. The problem is that you're going to see much bigger swings, likely with some big losses that may be demoralizing or could cause you to go broke.
If your win rates are the same online, instead of playing at higher stakes, you can play two $1/$2 tables at the same time and have an even higher profit ($12/hour). In fact, if you want to lower your variance even more, drop down to $.25/$.50 and play eight tables at the same time, if you can manage it. You get the benefit of playing for much lower stakes to decrease your swings while still booking a steady profit. If consistent winners are often playing at lots of tables, their butts are filling more seats.
As an example, let's imagine there are 100 players at Party Poker playing $.25/$.50 no-limit Hold'em. Say 50 of those players are only playing one table, 20 are playing two tables, 20 more are playing four tables and 10 are playing eight tables. Put it all together and you've got 250 butts in seats, with half the people taking up just 20 percent of the seats and less than a third filling nearly two-thirds.
Obviously not all players who play multiple tables are online grinders with solid win rates. And not all players who only play one table are new or inexperienced players. But I'm willing to bet there is a very good correlation.
So here's my solution: Instead of hiding tables from winning players, create tables at low and medium stakes that do not allow players to sit down if they're playing at another table.
There are a number of reasons why a player might like to do this. Maybe they're sick of waiting for a player to act because he's sitting at so many tables he's having a hard time keeping up. Maybe they like the improved social aspect of the game when everyone is paying full attention to one table. Or maybe they want to avoid the online wizards who are playing eight tables at a time.
Every player, regardless of skill, should be perfectly welcome to sit down at any table they wish. But providing players with the option to play at tables that don't allow multitabling would be good for the poker ecology.

Aaron Todd

Articles by

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.