The Segregationists: Recent Lock, Party Moves Part of a Larger Trend Targeting Grinders

The partitioning of highly skilled online poker players away from lesser skilled opponents is one of those unethical developments whose time, nonetheless, has sadly arrived.  The topic jumped to the top of the headlines recently with news of table-segregation efforts at both PartyPoker and at Lock Poker’s Revolution Network, with both cases involving the creation of artificial barriers in an attempt to keep the sharks and the fish swimming in separate aquariums.

grinderThe moves aren’t the first time these networks have been involved in such ring-fencing of tables, either.  Just weeks before Lock and Revolution rolled out its table segregation under the moniker of “Fair Play Technology” — a bit of political-speak if ever we’ve seen one in poker — Lock had already ring-fenced its own higher-stakes tables away from other Revolution sites, in an effort to shield its own perceived fish from a greater percentage of sharks present on some other Revolution skins.

Lock may un-ringfence its players in conjunction with the latest move, since both of the changes were done with the same goal in mind — to stop money from moving quickly from weaker players to stronger ones, and instead keep it circulating for more hands on the site itself.  That means less money leaving the site in cashouts by the best players, and more staying at Lock through increased rake.

The exact same thing is going on at Party, which drew extra cries of “Foul!” from players for instituting the segregation across the entire site without doing any notification, and it was only when some sharp-eyed observers who were monitoring others’ accounts noticed some differences that Party’s segregation became public knowledge.

It’s not the first time Party has done this, either.  The site for years has run “beginner” tables, which were open only to players during their first 30 days of play on the site.  The difference between that is that the “beginner” eligibility was temporary, while this latest skill-based segregation is permanent… and insidious.

Now here’s the catch to it all: What Party and Lock have done may be unethical, blatant and offensive, but it represents the extreme end of an entire wave of sites who continue to try to find a way to balance out the skill gap between their most- and least-experienced players.  It’s a subject we’ve touched on before, but the very nature of online poker, combined with the types of software assists that are available (for a price) to players, creates the very environment in which skilled players have too much of an advantage over the fish.

None of it is healthy for the poker economy, and it takes forms different than what Lock and party have done, too.  The recent changes at Merge, in which the site has removed many of its highest-stakes tables and taken efforts to freeze out its most aggressive skins?  That’s not table-segregation, but a different form that still targets the most successful players.

And that brings us to Bodog, and its US-facing brand, Bovada.  Bovada is known for implementing its “Anonymous Player Model” last year, which among other things, keeps sharks from identifying those fish upon which they’d become increasingly skillful at identifying.

That was and is the big plus about the Bodog model; the tradeoff, as implemented by the site, is that players lose transparency and have to rely on trust, a substance in lesser supply in the post UB/AP-scandal online poker world.

If there’s one thing that Bodog’s choice did create, however, it was the chance to avoid the sort of “slapping the players in their faces” move that the recent changes at Lock and Party contained.  Maybe Bodog saw this one coming?

One thing’s for sure: Bodog/Bovada didn’t wait very long to take its own shots at the player segregation going on elsewhere, which as we’ve already stated, is just a radically different way of attacking the same cash-flow problem many sites face.  It’s a long-term problem, too, meaning it affects the very viability of the sites themselves.

Earlier this week, a Bodog rep e-mailed the latest take by Bodog Poker Network President Jonas Odman, which includes the following.  It’s part commercial for Bodog, but there’s enough meat to it to warrant inclusion here:

…The latest move, segregation, is, actually, the complete opposite of the Bodog Recreational Poker Model. While we try to create a more level playing field for all players, Party Poker is actively removing parts of the playing field.

Let us take a look at these two systems in more detail. First of all, Party Poker has been very secretive about their system which itself is quite always a risky strategy. According to an article from Pokerfuse, Party Poker has a formula to calculate the average player strength of each table and if the player strength is low the table will be hidden from all strong players in the lobby. A Party Poker representative defends the system by explaining that “[weak] players are free to play on any table they choose”. While that might be true but the opposite is not true: Strong players cannot play on any table they choose. Party Poker even has a quite generous VIP program with their top VIP’s currently getting the equivalent of more than 50% rakeback, but now Party Poker secretly hides tables for these VIP’s? Not exactly VIP treatment, huh?

Revolution Poker is introducing their version of a Player Segregation System which they, ironically, call Fair Play Technology. They are going to divide their player liquidity in two equal parts: Strong Tables and Weak Tables. The theory being that at Strong Tables only strong and normal players are allowed, on Weak Tables only normal and weak players are allowed. New players are considered normal players until proven otherwise. Since the three groups will be equal in size this means that Revolution is decreasing the number of available tables for two thirds of their players. On the plus side for Revolution, after this system is in place Lock Poker has agreed to lift the ring fencing. I am not sure what is worse, ring fencing or player segregation, but to me these are signs of Revolution trying to treat the symptoms instead of the disease. With a fair rake distribution model and Anonymous Tables there should be no symptoms or disease to treat.

Odman doesn’t define the disease itself, which, again, is the increasing gap between strong and weak players, due to the artificial aids available to these players.  To some extent the poker sites themselves created the incentives for those tools to be developed, first by introducing multi-table play, then by allowing HUDs and advanced forms of statistical data gathering and interpretation, none of which is available in brick-and-mortar play.

The reasons for doing all that stuff were obvious, back then: Grow the market faster, and grab a larger share for one’s self.  Now the online poker market is mature, and the old ways don’t work.  From Party and Lock on one side to Bodog on the other — and with a lot of other sites and networks in between — the ways in which these sites treat their players is changing.



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