The Reshaping of Merge, Part 1: High-Stakes Cash Games Removed
If there’s a network that’s undergone more of an internal restructuring in recent months than the Australia-based Merge Poker Network, it’s hard to find. Merge’s continuing transition to a final state as yet unknown continued in recent days with the network’s removal of most of its high-stakes cash-game offerings, particularly heads-up and short-handed and including both no-limit hold’em (NLHE) and pot-limit Omaha (PLO).
Merge made no official announcement regarding the removal of the stakes and tables, with players themselves reporting on multiple discussion forums, after contacting the network, that the move may have been done to keep more money in play longer. The disappearance of these higher-stakes tables, which also includes fixed-limit hold’em games above $15/30 (which actually did get played once in a while at Merge) continues a restructuring that’s seen the site overhaul both its cash-game and tourney offerings in recent months.
“Carbon Ryan,” one of the network’s online public-relations reps, confirmed the move without paying too much attention to it, posting this at 2+2:
I assume that the decision was based on the analysis done by the poker room team.
As it stands, $3/$6 is the biggest NLHE game, and $30/$60 is the biggest FLHE game at this point.
But how much substance is there to the move? Forums have been afire in recent weeks with the table-segregation efforts recently implemented at both Lock/Revolution and PartyPoker, a subject other writers here at FlushDraw have reported on in recent days and which probably bears multiple looks.
The driving force behind the Lock and Party moves is, frankly, to de-fang the sharks, which makes sense if you realize the extent to which online poker has transitioned into a computerized stat game at the highest stakes in recent years. The segregation or partitioning as practiced by Lock and Party seeks to protect weaker players from those sharks, while the move at Merge isn’t that dissimilar. Instead, Merge appears to be saying, we’re not making enough on those tables relative to the amount of cash that flow through our site but doesn’t stay there, so take that action elsewhere.
Whether it’s fair or not hardly seems to matter; Merge runs the site, and they get to set the rules. That all these moves are popping out at virtually every online poker network in the business — and yes, Bovada’s Anonymous Player Network is yet another way to deal with the same basic skill-disparity problem — leaves unchanged the basic fact is that the networks are changing course, in an effort to protect their own food chain.
So Merge’s cash-game structure gets the top of its pyramid lopped off, while the network’s tournament offerings remain, frankly, just a pale imitation of what was available three or four years ago. Today’s tourneys are almost exclusively re-buy affairs and special gimmick offerings that are designed to squeeze more money out of players under the pretense of an initial low buy-in. As marketing schemes go, it’s a one-trick pony.
Nor are the changes isolated. Merge recently, as of March 1st. discontinued its rakeback program, another move that will likely improve the network’s liquidity but disproportionately affects the same high-stakes grinders this latest move affects. Some of the highest-volume players were able to garner a real rakeback-return rate of more than 50%. At Merge, those days are over.
We’ll see what happens next, and we’ll return to the ongoing realignment of Merge skins in a subsequent post. Is Merge suffering from liquidity issues? Almost certainly not, at least relative to the problems that seem to be occurring at Lock/Revolution. It looks more like Merge looked at the trends that were developing throughout 2012 and decided that a serious overhaul of the business was in order.
Some of what players view as “problems” may not even be problems as seen by Merge itself. Those high-stakes players, for instance: If they’re costing to much per player to support and not adding enough to Merge’s bottom line, it makes sense that the network would attempt to find ways to disincentivize them, and these recent changes appear to be exactly that. Other Merge problems remain, of course; Merge’s payout times appear to be trending longer again after a short period of marked improvement following the transfer of many of the network’s main sites’ cashier operations to Antigua–based Jazette.
The interesting times at Merge continue. We can hardly wait to see what comes next.