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MPN Nixes “English Only” Rule: Is That a Good Idea?

About a month ago, MPN (Microgaming Poker Network) made the decision to eliminate the “English only in chat” rule from the entire network. Put into place in the early days of online poker a decade and a half ago, the rule was designed to help prevent collusion. Most networks and poker rooms still have it in place, but with MPN’s policy change it is worth asking: should all languages be allowed at the virtual tables?

As Microgaming’s Head of Poker Alex Scott wrote in his May 30th blog post, the “English only” rule goes back to the late 1990’s, when online poker was in its infancy and most players were American. It seemed to make sense at the time to restrict chat to only English, as it would be easy for two countrymen to sit down and share information in their native tongue while the Yanks at the table remained oblivious.  Language

Nowadays, Scott said, online poker is very much an international game. In fact many of MPN’s long list of sites play home to more non-native English speakers than those who do speak the language. Thanks to Black Friday most only poker players live outside the United States and a large percentage of them either don’t speak English, or speak English as a second language. Scott adds:

…and players who chat in other languages are actually penalised for doing so. They are warned, or their ability to chat is revoked. Since most players don’t speak English, this leads to an environment where nobody chats at all. How ridiculous is it that a table can consist entirely of people who speak and understand Danish (for example), but they are not allowed to chat to one another?

Consequently, the game becomes less social, and less fun. So people who play for fun stop playing, the game gets tougher, and everybody complains about how the game has become unbeatable and how they need to play more tables to eke out the same win rate as last year.

He has a great point. The vast majority of online poker players are casual players. They aren’t all of the “yay, I’m playing poker, I don’t care if I win or lose” ilk, but even those who have some concern with winning still aren’t all that serious about whether or not they make much of a profit. Most online players are there to enjoy playing poker. And part of that enjoyment for many is at the very least being at a friendly table. Putting restrictions on the language that can be spoken can really dampen the experience for everybody.

Of course, there is still the issue of preventing collusion. Frankly, I don’t really buy that it was ever a problem. On the surface, it seems to make sense. If most of the players at the table speak English, as was the case in the early internet poker days, a couple guys could just sit there and share info in another language without their opponents’ knowing.

But really, would that happen with any sort of regularity whatsoever? Do we really think that a couple players would be so brazen as to collude right there in the chat box? They would be taking the risk that someone would know the language (How would they know for sure they are in the clear? Ask everyone what language they speak?) and catch them right there, red handed. Chat logs are also kept by the poker room – if there was any suspicion of funny business, it would be simple to root it out if it was displayed right there in chat. It would just be way too stupid for people to put evidence of their cheating right out in the open for all to see.

There would be absolutely no reason for people to collude via in-game chat when they could just as easily do it via instant message or phone.

Alex Scott essentially confirmed what I thought in his blog post:

I have spent a long time working in this industry, and have been involved in Game Integrity for most of that time. I honestly can’t remember a single case where colluders used the chat box as part of their scheme. The fear of collusion is understandable in theory, but it just doesn’t happen much in reality. In addition, our methods for preventing and detecting collusion have come a long way in the last 10 years. There is no point keeping a rule simply to appease fear.

I suppose people could trash talk, curse, and be completely obnoxious in another language, but if their opponents don’t understand it, who cares?

I disagree with one thing Scott says, though. “Let’s be honest – there’s also a little bit of bigotry baked into this rule,” he said. “I delight in the possibility that by making this change I will be upsetting the world’s xenophobics.”

I don’t think there’s anything nefarious behind the rule, even unintentionally so. There was a legitimate reason for the rule, even if it was unnecessary, and it just became something everyone accepted as part of online poker policy. Nobody ever questioned it; people probably didn’t care all that much, either. But getting rid of an antiquated rule is a good thing. Allowing all languages at the table will allow all online poker players to feel comfortable and feel like they are welcome.



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