Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Stars 'Monopoly'

I just wanted to address some of the 'monopoly' talk going on since the jaw dropping news came out about a potential Stars purchase of FTP. There's a lot of worry out there about what Stars would do with an outright monopoly on the online poker industry. After thinking about this for a while here's some of my thoughts.

Stars basically already had the market share post-FTP-shutdown that they will have with a FTP2 acquisition. So whatever you're worried about now, you should have already been worried about when FTP switched to server upgrade mode and went silent. I say this because, while some of the ROW players have of course gone to iPoker or Party, by scale of sites it stands to reason that the vast majority moved to Stars. I also don't recall another site seeing a massive boost in traffic when FTP closed their doors, which leads me to conclude that they were quietly merged into the Stars player pool where the effect would not be as pronounced. Based on this line of reasoning, it would seem to me that, while there might be a few people coming back from the networks, by and large FTP2's customers are going to be coming directly out of the Stars player pool.

There's also an issue with how you define monopoly. Stars does have the lions share of the market, but if you look at cash game traffic, they don't even make up 50%. The perception, I think, comes from the fact that if you take any of the other market slices and compare them with Stars one on one, it's David and Goliath every time. When we use the term industry standard, Stars is the industry, but what does that mean in terms of how far they can push the envelope?

I've put together a couple quick charts here. The first is based off of peak time cash players for all sites listed on Pokerscout. The second is if there were magically 15% more cash players out of nowhere on FTP2 to illustrate what I think would be the far upper bounds of Stars total market share with the new company. It's much more likely that the Stars slice from the first image decreases somewhat to make room for the FTP2 slice and the larger mini slices get a bit of a shave.

Stars 46% (Current traffic)

Stars 40% / FTP 12% (Max future traffic)
So I don't really think the comments about runaway rake increases, degradation to customer service and software innovation due to lack of competition really have any merit. If that's what they want to do, it's going to happen whether they own FTP2 or not. It's a massive shock to the online community right now because it is the most outlandish thing plausible, but that's really all it is. Nothing's changing that much in terms of industry share or control.

Contrary, assuming FTP2 retains somewhat of a resemblance to their former self, the players that liked playing there and plan on going back are going to be extremely happy, never mind recouping their bankrolls, considering that they will know their money is safe with a company that has proven it handles player funds appropriately and, by virtue of economies of scale, should be able to see a huge boost in the level of customer service.

The angle I can see here, besides having their legal problems reportedly cleared up with the DOJ, is that Stars/FTP can now work towards that monopoly from two separate approaches. They can run abc type of promotions, VIP structure and player experience on Stars to attract a certain type of player while simultaneously running xyz type of promotions, VIP/rakeback structure and player experience on FTP2 to attract a different type of player. It's much easier to make everyone happy when you have two products.

The only way that Stars/FTP2 is going to end up with a true monopoly, though, is by continuing down the path that got them where they are: keeping customers happy.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Full Tilt / Stars Rumors

In case you haven't heard, here's the quick rundown for today's big news:
  • Group Bernard Tapie's deal with the DOJ has fallen through, and they're saying their dealings were sabotaged.
  • PokerStars is rumored to have reached a deal with the DOJ for a sum of $750 million to both settle their legal issues and purchase Full Tilt Poker. $330 million of that will go towards paying back FTP customers.
Pokerfuse Article

My facial expressions as I read the initial reports, checked dates to make sure I wasn't reading some bumped April fools joke, and realizing this is for real:

GBT apparently wanted to issue cashout privileges for rest-of-world players over time according to how much was in accounts and how much the accounts were played on. The DOJ was set on full withdrawal options within 90 days for all ROW players even though GBT's plan would have paid back 94.9% of all players the first day.

MTT grinder Shaun Deeb made a post on 2+2 (now removed) stating:
"Anyways the deal is already done by what I am told;

Players will be paid within 90 days
FTP will be open in the US  market
Isai will be stepping down from the company

If these statements are true I feel that Isai deserves all our thanks + business in the future with his company he is bailing out the igaming industry's tarnished reputation."
PokerStars corporate responded to the speculation by posting a 'no-comment but we'll comment soon' post in the PokerStars Blog. Considering they are typically fast to squash rumors with no basis, neither confirming nor denying says a lot in my opinion.

FTP's lawyer sent the following response to DiamondFlush confirming that the GBT deal has fallen through, yet are very optimistic:
"To address issues reported today in the media and on blogs, Full Tilt Poker confirms that its agreement with Groupe Bernard Tapie has in fact been terminated.  Despite this development, Full Tilt Poker is more optimistic than ever that its number one goal will be obtained: Full Tilt players will be repaid. Full Tilt Poker has been in settlement discussions with the US Department of Justice.  As such settlement discussions are always confidential, we are unable to comment on any rumors related to the details of those discussions.  As soon as we have information to share publicly we will do so."
Posting about the cease and desist letter Stars has sent to dataminers PTR, which they are playing up as the poker community watchdog turned victim while complying with it, seems rather like small news at this point.
I am beyond blown away at this FTP development. I didn't have anything in my FTP account when they unceremoniously switched to indefinite server upgrade status since I felt like my last $200 remaining when all of my cashout options were removed was basically monopoly money, which inevitably leads to a 5/10 or bust session. I've felt really bad for the people that had liferolls there, but I haven't been following it closely recently because as they often say on the Pokercast, developments kind of felt like Lucy holding the ball for Charlie Brown again.

I'm not sure what to think about essentially making the online poker industry monopoly virtually complete, but if the substantial number of rumors out there turn out to be even close to true, this is great news for anyone that has had money tied up for the past year.

Things are about to get interesting.

Book Review: Crushing the Microstakes

As I briefly mentioned in my last post, Nathan Williams sent me his book, Crushing the Microstakes, earlier this year for a review. You can find it on his website at

Now with my schedule and my mind cleared, I read through it over the past week. It's nice to see some of the smaller stakes online players starting to publish with relevant strategy for micro stakes as opposed to the standard authors that have never played online or online players that play much much higher.

It's a solid 230+ pages plus glossary. The layout is very easy to read and concepts are grouped together well and in logical order. He's generally nailed the his audience with the level of detail and difficulty in the content, that being those trying to become winners at 2NL and 5NL.

He covers pretty much all of the fundamentals: player types, how to identify them and how to play against them, positional awareness and hand selection, cbetting and barreling, 3bet pots, bet sizing, equity, and even a bit of pyschology along with other concepts.

I like the way he's structured his explanation of the more difficult concepts. As a more advanced player I often found myself reading a concept definition and explanation followed by an example, leaving me thinking "That's not all there is too it, there's also _____." And then he followed up the example with the appropriate caveats and addendums to complete the concept. This should make it much easier for beginners to grasp these ideas in small pieces rather than trying to wrap their heads around the entire bit all at once. Nicely done.

I've found with some of the recent ebooks (and even a few in print) that authors are taking full advantage of the platform to promote their site and their affiliations a redundant number of times making me feel as though I'm reading an infomercial. So I'm quite appreciative that Williams put his full disclosures and affiliate links up front and did not mention them again.

I only had two small disagreements with the book:

The first being what I think is an over-statement that he has the most experience and highest winrates at 2NL and 5NL. That may be technically true due to the shear number of hands played, and while his results are very good, I don't think they are extraordinary. I don't believe any of the good 50NL and 100NL regs would have any trouble sustaining the same winrates immediately at those stakes if they dropped down today. I'm of the mindset that logic should stand on it's own, and it certainly does in this book, but posting results is of course expected by the community at large in today's poker climate.

The second was a theoretical issue where he prefers to incorporate a polarized 3bet range into his overall game strategy because it's easy to fold the light end of it while he doesn't want to have to 3bet/fold strong hands like AQs which can't stand a 4bet. He correctly states a few pages later that 4bets are rare due to the passive nature of the game. I would argue that you should have a wide value 3bet range instead of a polarized range in these games because you're often going to get called and you want to have hands where you can value bet often postflop instead of the occasional flopped monster. For example, I would rather 3bet AQs and get value from all the Ax and QT+ that's going to call (along with all the worse suited connectors and low pocket pairs that have to fold postflop) and cold call 76s with massive implied odds on our speculative hands. On the flip side when they do have the nuts and 4bet, everything's a fold anyways and I'd rather 3bet/fold AQs to avoid the reverse implied odds against the top of their range and call with 76s to stack them. I can see how his method would keep newer players out of trouble if they don't have the discipline to fold preflop, but I do think in theory a wide 3bet range is much more profitable.

Other than that I was really impressed with the overall flow of the book and the concise covering of all of the topics a beginner or struggling micro stakes player needs to get on their feet and moving up the ladder towards small stakes. The concepts discussed are the building blocks to a solid game and Williams explains them very well and in context for the games his audience will be playing.

I would highly recommend this book to new players, live players transitioning to online, your friends and family that keep asking you to teach them, and even the intermediate player that is looking for a refresher course to tighten up their game.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Awesome and then not.


The first 2 weeks of the month were so amazing. I was on track for my best month ever running at something crazy like 12 bb/100 over every stake I was playing. Obviously unsustainable but I didn't think it was a requirement to even out variance by having massive downswings accompany massive heaters, haha. The last week has put me in the tank where I just can not win at showdown, and everyone always wants to see a showdown, and the board can never just brick off when I have a flopped monster and get action.

So because of my run good I'm still at an above average for me 5 bb/100 on the month, but despite that I'm feeling kind of shitty right now. Zoom has gone from super passive to super aggro, and it doesn't help that I'm running really terrible in 3bet pots right now, like getting my 4bets called by half stacks who think it's a good idea to 3bet to $7 and call my 4bet to $14 leaving them $36 behind to set mine getting 8:1 stack+pot odds with their 22-66.

I'm considering heading back to regular tables for a while to see what game quality is like there. I'm kind of interested in how Zoom has affected liquidity and I'm kind of surprised that they added 200NL and the new 500NL for full ring considering the traffic at regular tables for midstakes was already pretty sparse.


I was sent an eBook by Nathan Williams (BlackRain79) a while back. I didn't get around to actually reading it with everything rake and meeting related going on. I am now more than 90% finished so you can expect that review posted here over the weekend.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

IOM Trip / Zoom

Another long interval between posts... I need to start updating more often again.

Edit: The lack of photos that I took is really an injustice to how nice the island is so I took some pictures to add in when I got home (from Google street view).


I returned from the Isle of Man meetings with Stars several weeks ago at their headquarters. Thanks to everyone who gave me their messages of support and ideas, it was very much appreciated. It was a really long flight there for me and flying ~14 out of 20 hours was pushing the limit. I basically didn't sleep at all on the way there and was feeling the vertigo, but American played a decent selection of movies and TV from NBC which kept me entertained.

After a day of recovery and meeting up with the other invitees, we had two brain storming sessions on subsequent days in mid March with Stars staff. I obviously can't say a lot compared to what the January elected reps were able to report back as their meeting suggestions were implemented immediately and public knowledge, while the March meetings were pretty much all regarding future considerations.

Here is the list of what was discussed. I'm not going to go into detail on anything:

  • PokerStars Financials
  • VIP History
  • Game Security
  • Software
  • Impact of WC Change
  • VIP Program
  • High Stakes Issues
  • Micro-Rake
So I can't really offer much else up besides my opinion. I found the meetings really productive from a problem solving and site improving perspective. I'm cautiously optimistic that things are going to improve given that Stars follows through of course.

There is still the odd concern out there that I would like to address that reps/invitees are just in it for their own personal gain. Logically I think that's actually impossible to accomplish even if it is their goal since there are always more than a handful of extremely intelligent players and staff around the table that are more than capable of picking any of those self serving interests apart.

Our schedule was pretty full so there was pretty much zero time for any sight seeing. I managed a half hour walk attempting to go around the block early one morning. That plan does not really work when you keep spiraling up around a hill. I also managed to run around 5 minutes prior to my taxi showing up to take me back to the airport trying to snap some poor quality, non-post worthy pre-dawn photos.

We didn't have any pizza, but the "chips" in the hotel bar were excellent! We also happened to have a few minutes left on our lunch break in the meeting room when real money Zoom was launched on .com. One of the other players grabbed the laptop hooked up to the projector to try it out while I loaded up my laptop. Despite my ability to super use him via projector screen, 4 tables of $0.01/$0.02 PLO was too much for me to handle on a tiny screen to even realize he was at my tables and bluff raising me off a number of pots, much to the amusement of everyone else watching the projector.

Edit: Here's a few pictures I've taken from the internet and google street view. They are basically the pictures I would have taken had I had a spare minute =)

Recovering from the flight, playing poker on the balcony

Out for chips and beer at the hotel on arrival the night before meetings begin.
Out for dinner with players and Stars reps and management at JAR - 2nd night

King Edward Road - Sefton Hotel
Out for a walk early morning
Driving up to Stars HQ
A view of Douglas Bay

I had a great time though interacting with the other players and the staff and would recommend that if you have the opportunity, you should go. The ability to actively discuss issues and ideas is orders of magnitudes greater than forum or email interaction.


The main reason for my lack of posts lately has been a direct result of Zoom, which I've played exclusively since they released it. Along with my new G13 which was super easy to program with Table Ninja, I've been playing some monster sessions that feel like nothing.

I got an email response earlier this from Stars that my January VPP reduction due to WC was 19%. I got a follow up email last week saying 15% of players had been calculated wrong and my actual reduction was only 12%. I am a bit on the laggier side.

However with Zoom, I seem to be a lot more laggy given that I'm only playing 4 tables and can concentrate so much better on postflop hand reading and identifying +EV situations. I'm actually seeing significant VPP rate increases over 2011 rates at all stakes I've played (25NL-200NL). I've also been running really hot and playing fairly well and am currently maintaining a whopping 12-14 bb/100 at 100NL Full Ring over a growing sample. I've also had a good amount of similar uccess at 200NL over a smaller sample, but I had a bit of a 16% W$SD implosion yesterday which wiped out nearly all of my profits from that stake for the month.

I think this is exactly what I needed. For the longest time I've wanted to cut tables to improve and focus more but I just can't bring myself to give up the volume. This lets me keep the volume and cut tables. I've considered trying to 6 table it, but right now I'm thinking why mess with something going so well?

The other great thing about Zoom is the complete lack of startup, sitout and shutdown times. If you're a mass tabler, with the state of the waiting lists in the lobby it's going to take you upwards of a half hour to get 12-24 tables going, and probably longer yet the higher you play. Which means you can't really take a break either once you're in full swing. It's also going to take you a considerable amount of time to shut down while waiting for hands to play out to finish your orbits. Plus you're always going to have that one troll table where someone sits out ahead of you giving you the privelege of playing a discounted orbit at the expense of your agitated wife wondering where you're staying 30 minutes after she told you dinner would be ready in 15 minutes. The discount is all fine and good if you're happy with slashing your hourly rate and don't have anything better to do than not give up that dollar in EV to go do something else. I would literally rather volunteer 3 hours a month at McDonalds if I could get back those 10 extra minutes every session.

With Zoom, you are instantly dealt in to all your tables the moment you join the pool. If you want to take a break you have a reasonable amount of time where you can sit out and come right back where you left off. And shutting down your sessions is as simple as fast-folding your hands to the big blind. This takes a matter of minutes depending on how many playable hands come up.

So with all of this time removed, it makes mini-sessions extremely easy to put in. Instead of playing mindless games on my phone to waste 10 or 15 minutes before leaving the house for something, I can fire up Zoom, put in 50 VPPs and 200 hands. If I did this on average every day with a very modest winrate, it would come out to an extra $1k FPP value and $1.5k winnings on the year and a significant boost towards my next milestone.

With all that combined now, I've gone from a 65k VPP reduced Supernova maintenance goal to a 200k VPP goal. I could potentially go for 300k but it's going to require a significant amount more work so we'll have to see what kind of volume I can put in over summer before deciding. Right now I need a 650 VPP pace for 200k and a 1025 VPP pace for 300k.