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Full Tilt Poker’s Cash Game Changes Finally Address Problems Head-On

I tend to hold grudges. It’s not that I can’t move on, but I don’t necessarily just forgive and forget. As such, it is difficult for me to sing the praises of Full Tilt Poker after all the bullshit we had to go through with them after Black Friday. I know, I know…the old guard is out of there, but trying to make myself think highly of the site just makes me itch in bad places. That is why I tremble as I write the following: kudos to Full Tilt on its recent cash game changes.

As you may have read, Full Tilt Poker committed to a major upheaval of its ring game system. While Managing Director Dominic Mansour warned us about it before the changes were announced, I think everybody was still blown back a few feet when everything was revealed. I mean, it’s pretty amazing. The traditional lobby is gone; players can no longer choose their tables. Players just select the type of game and stakes they want and the software plops them down in a seat somewhere. Heads-up cash games no longer exist. Stud, Draw, and Mixed games have been put out to pasture. Nosebleed stakes, the types of games fans loved to rail, have been forced into early retirement.

If there was ever a time for a viral news click-bait headline, July 29th would have been the day.

“FULL TILT’S CASH GAME CHANGES WILL BLOW YOU AWAY.”
“I Read About Full Tilt’s Ring Game Changes, But When I Saw This One, I Was Moved to Tears”
“Full Tilt Poker EVISCERATES Its Cash Game Lobby”

What Full Tilt did was unheard of before about a week ago. But you know what? I applaud the site’s management.

I have nothing against online poker pros, nothing against huge volume grinders who use hand tracking software and HUD’s. That’s all part of internet poker. But I also fully understand that as the sharks have acquired more sophisticated tools (many of which, despite what I just said, have no place in poker) and have become more sophisticated players themselves, the recreational players have been processed into chum faster and faster. From about 2003 to 2006, the wonderful growth period of the poker boom, there were still plenty of sharks online, but the population of fish and average players was just so overwhelming, that the sharks could gorge themselves and not really have any ill effect on the poker economy. Easy-to-clear bonuses subsidized losses (I was a total “bonus whore” back then) and poker was such a new and exciting thing to most people that it was just fun to get involved.

Things are different now. The sharks are significantly more ravenous and generally much more effective hunters than they were a decade ago. By the time a casual player realizes he is being targeted, it is too late. Some people might say, “Who cares? There are always going to be skilled players. There are winners and there are losers. If a losing player wants to get better, they have to get back in there and practice.”

Without nosebleed stakes, we probably won’t see much of the likes of Tom Dwan on Full Tilt anymore.

But it doesn’t work like that. It is one thing to lose money playing poker. Everyone has done that. But it is another thing to lose and feel like you didn’t have a chance, feel like you were victimized. If I wade into the ocean and accidentally step on a sharp shell, I might get out of the water, but I know that I’m not always going to step on a shell, so I’ll get back in later. After all, splashing around was fun, so why let a little boo-boo stop me from giving it another go? But I get bitten by a shark, a shark that I could tell was just sitting there, waiting for someone to get too close, I’m probably going to stay in my hotel room. Sure, I might have fun in the water if I go back out there, but what’s the point in risking it?

Poker rooms have known the abuse of recreational players has been a problem for years. They need the casual players, the ones who lose money, to come back and re-deposit. But if those players aren’t having fun, if they just feel picked on, they aren’t going to return. And poker rooms have certainly tried lots of things to solve the problem, they have only attempted minor fixes here and there, mostly amounting to Band-Aids. Full Tilt gets a whole hell of a lot of respect from me for saying that the status quo isn’t working, that a complete overhaul was needed.

Eliminating heads-up games and the ability to table select is a gigantic risk. Full Tilt knows this. But it also knows that it is necessary to try to affect real change in its poker economy. Many players who generate tons of rake for Full Tilt will likely leave and that will hurt in the short-term. But the short-term isn’t important when the long-term could be non-existent if things continue to play out the way they have been. Full Tilt saw that new players who try heads-up games in their first month on the site are less likely to return for a second month. They saw that sharks use seat selection software and other tools to hunt their prey around the lobby. They saw that the more things stay the same, the less fun poker is for the majority of their customers.

While we all want to win money playing poker, we have to remember that poker is a game. It is supposed to be fun. Most people who logon to Full Tilt Poker want to spend their time enjoying themselves, even if they lose money. In implementing these revolutionary changes, Full Tilt is not trying to protect casual players from losing money. People are going to lose. Full Tilt is trying to protect them from players who suck all the joy out of playing poker.

Cute promos can work to bring recreational players to the site for a little while, but the problem is that they don’t actually improve anything. When the promotion is over, the poker room is still there, just as it was before. As the saying goes, “shit is still shit no matter how you dress it.”

I mean, look at PokerStars’ latest promotion, the Mega Bonus. It is 100 percent geared towards recreational players, as it gives people a chance to win free money – potentially huge money – for a relatively small deposit. That’s great and all, but what is that going to do to help the poker economy? So people deposit some money. Then what? When they can cash out, most of them will cash out.

Full Tilt has decided it doesn’t have time for any of that bullshit anymore. If it wants change to happen, it has to commit to change. We may think it is weird and it might not work, but I have to give Full Tilt a solid high five for recognizing the problem and actually taking serious steps to do something about it.

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