Friday, February 09, 2007

FTOPS Begins, and the Real Effect of the Neteller Withdrawal

OK so tonight is the beginning of the FTOPS, with Event #1 going off at 9pm ET, a $216 buyin, 200k guaranteed tournament where the first prize is set at a minimum of $38,000 and change. Niiiice. As I've said here many times, for a guy like me who only ever plays at night, playing in a 200k guaranteed nlh tournament is really sweet, so I am looking very much forward to that whole series beginning this evening. When I checked this morning, there were already over 550 signups, and with the $200 buyin and the 200k guarantee, that means full tilt is expecting at least 1000 signups, which I bet is just under where the actual number of signups will come in. I'm going to guess a little more than 1000 signups, but in the end I bet the final number is within 10% or so of the 1000 needed to reach the guarantee. Full tilt cannot be happy overall that the whole Neteller business happened shortly before their latest series of high-buyin guaranteed events, but I am guessing they will reach the guarantees on all of the big ones at least.

Which leads me right to what I really wanted to write about today. A lot has been written lately, by fellow bloggers and otherwise, about one of the most nasty, dastardly effects of the anti-gaming legislation in general, and specifically the recent payment processor issues stemming from Neteller's withdrawal from the U.S. market last month. The argument is that, not only has it per se become harder for U.S. players to deposit and withdraw from online poker sites, but, because of this increased difficulty, as the theory goes, over time the "fish" -- you know, the guys who rebuy every third day and just endlessly deposit, donk, deposit and donk some more, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat -- will see their online rolls shrink away to nothing, and eventually stop playing entirely since they cannot easily continue to replenish their bankrolls. The end result, many people familiar with the online poker world argue, will be a world where only the good players remain as regulars on the major online poker sites. And with the fish gone, and only the sharks left to roam the online seas, the games themselves will become far less beatable, and that will essentially be the end of online poker for most people for all intents and purposes.

This is an interesting theory to me, and I'm not sure specifically how one would argue with the logic there. But here's the thing -- so far it certainly does seem to me, as a purely multi-table tournament (and never cash game) guy, that there is more or less no difference at all in the overall level of skill player I'm running into in my nightly pokerings. I mean, there clearly has been some dropoff in the sheer number of players in my nightly tournaments. We've all seen the numbers from Bill Rini et al -- traffic on pokerstars and fulltilt appears to be down somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15% since the Neteller arrests and pullout from the U.S. market last month. The attendance in my regular nightly tournaments bears this fact out, as something like the nightly HORSE mtt on full tilt, which used to feature around 200 or so players every night, is now down to more like 150 players. The nightly 25k guaranteed nlh tournament at 10pm ET on full tilt, which was just coming into its own up around 1800-2000 players a night, is now much closer to 1400 or 1500 on a regular basis. So the aggregate number of players has definitely dropped off, no doubt about that.

But I have to be honest here -- as someone who plays many of the same mtts almost every single night on the major poker sites, I am simply not seeing any difference whatsoever in the level of play among the players who remain on the sites. Now, to be sure over time this may change, as the theoretical argument I described above continues to come to fruition (it is, by definition, more of a long-term issue than a short-term one, as the bad players will need time to work off their existing rolls). But for now, although I am definitely seeing fewer players on the sites, I'm not seeing anything relating to better players among those who remain. That is to say, I still see more or less the exact same number of HORSE donkeys, and basically the exact same number of preflop AJo donkeycallers in holdem, early-stage pushmonkeys, you name it. I can honestly say that the people who remain on the major poker sites (pokerstars and full tilt, for me) and play in the regular multi-table tournaments are not one whit better today than they were a month ago, or a year ago for that matter.

Does anyone else have the same or similar experience thus far?

Now, I will disclaim again by saying that I am not a cash game player. Although I may not be able to put my finger on exactly why this is, it makes sense to me that in the cash games, the difference could be much more pronounced. I guess maybe it's because in the cash games, the skill players, the grinders, the 1 bb an hour profitable guys are the ones who tend to survive and make the money in the long run. And when even the good players are basically subsisting on 1, maybe 2 big bets an hour in profits, I could see how a slight increase across the board in the quality of play could have a noticeable impact on one's overall profitability. But in mtt's, from my perspective anyways, I am just not seeing a difference. Maybe it's because so much of mtt success is based on luck anyways -- not that luck doesn't play a significant factor in the cash games as well, because clearly it does, but just because long-term success in mtt's is so much more based on luck than long-term success in cash games, which seems to be more based on making the right plays, grinding it out, not tilting, etc. Maybe I am manufacturing that entire distinction, I don't know, but again I would be really interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject. All I know is, for me I'm not seeing any discernible improvement as yet in the general quality of play of my opponents in any of the multi-table tournaments I regularly participate in online since the whole Neteller fiasco began.

And my results have borne this fact out. I've been focusing largely on satellites to larger buyin tournaments over the past 4 or 5 months in my online play, and a quick look at my stats shows that I am far and away qualifying more through satellite tournaments over the past month or so than I ever used to before the whole Neteller shit first hit the fan. Now some of that is due to me playing more satellites over the past month, which is probably true, but believe me I was playing plenty of them (and qualifying a decent amount of time) for at least the month or two before that as well. Yet, my overall tournament performance is probably at its best in several months -- if not ever, for that matter -- if anything since the whole Neteller thing happened in mid-January.

Which leads me to my second point/query about this whole theoretical issue. Let's assume for a minute that the level of play is inching slightly higher over time as a result of the difficulty of moving money into and out of online poker as a gambling medium. Is this necessarily a bad thing? I for one have definitely been 100% serious when I've complained over the past 18 months or so online that I would love nothing more than to get the donks out of my mtts, so when I reraise allin preflop with my medium stack and pocket Tens, the donkey with the AJo will fucking fold instead of always calling me, and invariably spiking his Ace, Jack, straight, board two pair higher than my pocket pair, whatever it takes to steal these pots away from me with their nasty donkey suckouts. I know this is something that a whole lot of people say, but believe me when I say I have actually meant it every time I've made the statement -- I really have long thought that I would perform far better in my mtts without the lowest level donkeys in there phucking things up with their incorrect, stoopid play. And again, unlike in cash games where I am interested to hear everyone's thoughts but where I can accept that raising the overall level of play of one's opponents is all bad for everyone, in my tournaments there are just so many phucking donkeys out there, eliminating me with bad play after bad play and lucky pull after lucky pull, that I really believe that getting rid of the whole bottom class of uberdonkeys will be beneficial to my overall mtt performance.

What does everyone think of this idea? Too pompous, too brash of me, to think that getting rid of the worst donkeys in the mtts will actually improve my performance overall in these things? As I've said, so far so good for me since Neteller went away. I'm scoring in more mtts than I ever used to, and although a lot of this is clearly due to me just playing very well generally right now, I am man enough to admit that my tremendous skill is likely not the only factor going into these good results.

So, I would be very interested in hearing your experiences on this topic. Are you, as either a cash game player or a tournament player, noticing a difference in the skill level of the players you're playing against overall in your online poker experience since the Neteller withdrawal from the U.S. market? How do you know this skill level has changed? What's the measuring stick you're using? Is it just a general sense based on the quality of play you're seeing, the quality of calls or strategic raises, etc.? Or, is it something you can see on pokertracker or another simiilar application, as I have read in a few places out on the Internets? And, is anybody else out there having my experience where they actually think they might be benefitting from eliminating the very worst donkeys in their usual games?

Let me know your thoughts, as this is something I am certainly interested in and something which I would think is of value to all of us regular online poker players. And in the meantime, come check me out tonight if you like in FTOPS Event #1, which begins at 9pm ET on full tilt. Oh and hey, last night I pulled another of my favorite moves -- I played one more of those peep token sngs to end the night, this one once again with both Smokkee and jeciimd, and by the time the final table hit (remember, the top 5 finishers out of 18 players win the Tier 1 tokens) with me in 3rd place of 9 remaining players, I was feeling really tired all of a sudden so I just got up and went to sleep. I log in this morning, and Boom! 2nd place. Won my token anyways. How that could possibly happen with how big the blinds get in those things is beyond me. Seriously. But happen it did. I love that. Oh yeah, and thanks LOK1 for the suckout elimination again last night from yet another blogger tournament (CC's Thursday Bash, for the first time I've ever played in the event, which was really fun of course until The Suckout) -- that's two major tournament-ending river suckouts at the hands of LOK1 in two blogger tournaments in two days for me. What fun. I'm sure LOK is enjoying that immensely as I know he has had some issues with me in the past. Enjoy man, I'm happy if you're happy!

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Blogger jjok said...

because I've taken a large hunk offline, I'm not playing much in cash games any more.

But when I have played, I've been seeing a little bit tighter play....not sure if it's due to scared money or not, but the play
has definitely changed a little.

10:33 PM  
Blogger ScurvyDog said...

I think you're being results-oriented and focusing only on the suckouts, as far as the desire to rid MTTs of donkified play.

Strip everything else away, and what you're saying is this:

1) You want fewer players in the MTTs you play who will commit all of their chips when they have a weaker hand.

2) You want more players in the MTTs you play who will correctly fold when they have a weaker hand.

I can't see how either of those two things could ever be desirable for anyone playing MTTs, regardless of your skill level and whether or not you're the best player in the field or the worst player.

10:51 PM  
Blogger BuddyDank said...

I'm not normally a cash game player but I played a little last night and it just felt different. It was like people were more desperate to win hands and could easily be put on tilt because of it.
So, I agree that it is affecting how people are playing but I don't think it's the fish and donkeys that are missing from the game. I would guess that it is more so the middle ground players that are taking a break from poker right now.
You should teach Poker Theory 101 at a University near you Hoy.

11:08 PM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Scurvy, thanks for your input. Here's the one (maybe major) correction I would make to the two summary points you mentioned:

What I actually want is fewer players in the MTTs I play who will commit all their chips on race situations early on, when clearly the "smart" play is to fold (because smart mtt play clearly dictates avoiding race situations for all your chips early on in a large tournament). It's the preflop races that kill me most in these mtts. The guys who will donkishly call my allin reraise with their 44 when I have reraised them preflop with my AK. And, similarly, the guys who will donkishly call my allin reraise with their AQ or AJ (or AK, really), when I have reraised them preflop with my 99 or JJ. That's where I think the advantage, if any, would be to getting the lowest form of donkey out of the mtts I play in.

That said, I certainly do agree 100% that I want as many players as possible who commit all their chips with weak hands, and as few as possible players who fold when they have weak hands. That should certainly obviously be true.

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cash games are more game selection for me right now. There are slightly less games to choose from in the $200 level and from that I'm finding more multi-tablers per table.

By Multi-tablers I talking about guys that play 8 tables in a very predictible tight-passive style where they only play pocket pairs in hopes for stacking opponents with AA or sets.

My preference per table is three multi-tablers tops, it used to be two, so I have to search the games a little more thoroughly so I can find the proper mix.

This also means having to move tables too if the multi-tablers start taking over all the busted players seats. So far its not that big of deal but in time we'll see if it stays this way.

To most it makes no sense but I also do much better in smaller field higher buy-in MTTs that have less donkeys. For some reason I become a donkey magnet and take some stupid beat as a big favorite. Ah there is nothing like someone who can fold a hand.

Good post. I'm at the crossroads of time and effort between online and live. I like online because of the convenience and it was usually how I payed my nut every month but if I'm unable to withdrawal money on a regular basis I'll have no choice but to play 90% live and keep the online for donking around.

11:12 PM  
Blogger Pokerwolf said...

If you want to see how cash games have been affected, go look at the less popular games like Stud/8. I wanted to play some online to improve my skill there, but when I went to look at the low limit section I found one full ring game at .25/.50 and one full ring game at .50/1.00. All the other tables were empty. The more popular cash games, such as LHE, are now loaded with multi-tablers who are trying to take each other's money. The waiting lists on those low limit tables can get up to five people deep.

You haven't seen much of a change because MTTs are the most popular form of poker and they allow people to play poorly and possibly win anyway.

I'm surprised that you'd want the complete donks out of your tournaments. I can understand prefering to play against solid players who can make laydowns, but those players will also fold when you're trying to make a move on them most of the time. Add on to the fact that the donks add a large chunk of dead money to the money prizes, and I'd rather have them around.

11:19 PM  
Blogger wigginx said...

I don't know if this is typical of what other people were seeing, but the largest difference I've seen in cash game play on Stars was after Party shut down. For a time, I could sit down to a table and double my stake within 30 minutes. I was winning upwards of 40% of hands while at the table, usually post-flop when there was some money in the pot, hardly ever taking a hand to a showdown. Admittedly, I had dropped down levels to take advantage of the abundance of fish, and it turned me into a bit of a hit&run artist.

The games seem to have gotten a little stronger recently. Whether it has to do with Neteller or just the level of play improving by necessity, I don't know. What I do know is that my two-barrel plays and check-raises are getting called more, and I'm having to rein in the hyper-aggression that was paying so well for a while.

I haven't been playing enough mtts lately to form a valid opinion, which is an entirely different problem that I need to correct.

11:39 PM  
Blogger Boneyardxxx said...

When the legislation came into place I unloaded most of my stack into neteller and my bank. It was very easy to move money between sites and accounts. However I did not leave enough at the poker sites to handle the normal swings and what I am now doing is bankroll protection. Instead of playing 3 tables simul I may play 2 or even 1, Instead of a $26, I drop down to $10 or even $5 just because its such a pain in the ass to reload. I think others are doing the same thing.

But I won't quit, unless its just gets impossible. I may be a fish, I don't think so, but I will continue to plug along and improve as long as I can.

12:16 AM  
Blogger Patch said...

In cash games I've played mostly low-end limit. I've never made it above 3/6, even though my bankroll would support it (or used to support it before it got tied up in the Neteller debacle). In general the limit tables have tightened up considerably since I first started playing a bit over two years ago. I used to regularly be able to find tables with % seeing flop in the 40's. This has changed to being lucky to find a table in the 30's. Since the UIGEA, particularly at PokerStars, the low-end limit tables have gotten squeaky tight. There are clearly dozens of sharks circling, waiting to pounce on any table with a VP$IP over 30. This, of course, quickly drives the percentage back down below 20. While tight does not necessarily equal good, it certainly does make it a lot harder to get paid off on your big hands.

I'm seeing the same thing you are in tournament play. Discounting the blogger tournaments, regardless of the size of the field, half or more of them are gone by the first break. It's been this way since I first started playing tournaments, and nothing appears to have changed.

I suspect the far greater impact of luck in tournament play is what allows the donkeys to continue playing. One very lucky night can win enough to take you through lots of normal nights of donkery.

As for The Suckout, let's be honest, that was just the final blow. What killed you last night were back-to-back pair over pair hands where you had the lesser pair each time. Brutal two hand sequence. Your nines vs my tens, then your kings vs Byron's aces. After that I'd think you'd be glad to have been put out of your misery.

The night before, well, we've analyzed that one enough already.

1:22 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

So Patch, you're actually seeing a measurable difference in your pokertracker stats on the cash tables you frequent on the big sites? And this difference was not present before UIGEA's passage last year, or is it that it wasn't present until the Neteller pullout last month? That is very interesting.

And yes, no doubt the back to back pocket pair losses were the biggest culprit. Doesn't change the fact that two suckouts by you in two days essentially did me in. It's not like I'm actually pissed about it or anything. But I kinda am ;)

2:07 AM  
Blogger bayne_s said...


As long as there is Smokee hanging around you will see plays like re-raising an EP raiser with AT (but it was soooted) and sucking out against my JJ.

Obviously he failed to take to heart your "Hey Jack-Ace" post or thinks it does not apply to A T.

2:51 AM  
Blogger Irongirl01 said...

First... Monster Pots and Good Cardma in your FTOPS events!!

Secondly I like Boneyard am facing bankroll protection. $1946.20 (a little more then half my roll) is stuck with the Feds right now. So the $1000 i have scattered amongst a bunch of sites has forced me to grinder status again, even though my recent play indicates Im ready to do much bigger buyins. I can afford an $8.80 token for a $26 buyin but not cant risk using a $26 for a $75. I also have some funds in a bank account (sites that sent me checks back in October, now I wish they all had)

Ill be playing more live now too as there seems to be a ton of tourneys popping up in Upstate NY

2:52 AM  
Blogger slb159 said...

I think you know I don't play cash games on a regular basis, but as far as my input on the quality of players, I believe it goes something like this in my opinion:

Now I'm definetly not the best player out there, but I haven't had to deposit-donk, deposit-donk (lol...that was a funny line, bud) in months, so I can attest to my statements somewhat from experience.

I personally haven't seen any level of improvement in the playing field either (well, at my level), but I think this is partly due to a critical mass situation. Meaning, there are only a finite number of players who actually make $ playing, so that is going to run out at some point in time when people get tired of alternatives like epassporte and other ways of depositing.

You said you have seen the nightly MTT enrollments drop by a few hundred lately and I expect that trend to continue due to the go-for-broke mentality.

My theory as to why you're not seeing better play? People are running their bankrolls dry with little or none of it left, basically giving up on online poker and just trying to hit a big score. They hardly have any money left, so they just don't care if they go busto, 'cause they're done with it anyway. That's just what I think.

Unfortunately, these people will eventually be gone and I DO feel that the level of play will increase (skill, not # of players) in due time. You should be satisfied with this either way, since yes, beating the donks is fun, but playing a better-skilled field makes you a better player yourself.

Good post and best of luck tonight in the FTOPS.

3:10 AM  
Blogger steveray00 said...

Great blog. As a father of 2, can't understand how you have time to write so much an play so much, ut more power to you.

I think the simple answer to your problem is that you wouldn't mind sacrificing EV to remove variance. More donkeys mean more "donkey overlay" in every tournament, but more races etc. mean more suckouts and more variance.

Think of it like the stockmarket. Some people invest in safer stocks, but in return for the predictability the expected return is lower. A 100 person tourney with 99 other donkeys in it would be a great thing, but you'd need to play more of them to realize your underlying return.

3:13 AM  
Blogger Patch said...

When I first started playing online, I spent a lot of time at PokerRoom. I'd regularly be able to find tables with VP$IP in the high 30's and low 40's. When I started playing the Cryptos it was the same thing, particularly on the GBP tables. Those tables were incredibly juicy.

Then, about 18 months ago, things started to change. For no reason I was ever able to pin down, the overall play started getting tighter. It became difficult to find a good table. (Somewhere along the line the Cryptos ruined things by opening micro-limit tables, allowing all the horrible recreational players to move down there and off the 1/2 and 2/4 tables.) Maybe it was the plethora of "how to" poker books that finally started educating the masses.

So, things have been getting progressively tighter over the last year and a half. But they seem to me to have gotten even worse very recently. It's almost impossible to find a full ring limit table (at least in the shallow end of the pool) that's worth sitting at. I find little point in sitting at a table with a VP$IP of 16%. For the most part the money is just going to move around the table at the whim of the cards and the house is going to steadily reduce the currency supply.

Even the last couple weekends, usually decent fishing time, have been so tight it's not worth wasting time on.

I've been wanting to move away from limit and play more ring NL, so this seems a good reason for making the move. I only play limit to chase points anyway, and there seems little point in that at the moment.

As for your being pissed, you should work on that. You'll give yourself an ulcer.

Personally, I tend not to get too upset if I get sucked out on by somebody I know is a decent player. It's when the obvious donkeys hit the suckouts that I get perturbed. I don't know, maybe you're the same way.

3:23 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Very good comments, steveray. I like your example of a 100-person tournament with 99 donks in it, as I think it illustrates my point exactly. Given the choice, I would rate my chances of victory as a lot higher in a 200-person blogger tournament (since it's bloggers, let's say it's only maybe half donkeys) than a 100-person donkeys-only event. I'm just thinking about it -- it would basically be impossible to win a tournament with 99 donkeys and me. The amount of times I would have to win races, 55% favorites, 60% faves, and even 75 and 80% faves would make it mathematically nearly impossible to win. In a regular (non solely donkey) field, even one with twice as many players, I would have much higher confidence in my ability to get to the finish line.

3:23 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

And Patch, I'm like you in that I have different levels of pissed off, depending on the type of suckout I suffered in an event. But for me it's not so much related to the quality of the player who sucked out on me, as it is on the quality of the play I made that led up to my suckout. I've written about this here before, but like, if I move allin from middle position with Aces, get called by Kings preflop, and then a King hits on the flop and I lose, that is super annoying. But it doesn't bug me nearly as much as when I make a very sneaky play, execute it to perfection, lay a perfect read on someone, set things up awesomely for me to basically double up in a key spot, and then the river effs me. Those are the ones that really stick in my craw.

And, while I'm not the kind of guy who would ever end up with an ulcer, I can't help but be very competitive in basically everything I do. I hate hate HATE to lose, and I think that perspective is largely responsible for the successes I've had in the online poker world.

4:10 AM  
Blogger lumpy said...

I've been playing the 6 max cash games and have noticed no difference since the closing of Neteller. I went to the 6 max games because even before the Neteller debacle(think UIGEA back in October) the full ring games were no fun, all multitabling TAG's.

4:35 AM  
Blogger Patch said...

lumpy, for some reason I always get my ass kicked at 6-max limit. I've tried it a bunch of times and have always walked away a loser. But I LOVE 6-max NL.

I guess it's mostly what I'm used to. I started playing limit at full ring tables because that's mostly what was available and having those extra players reduced the impact of the blinds. I was so used to 10-player limit that it really threw me when I started playing at Stars on the 9-player tables. I've gotten over that, but I still feel rather lost at a 6-player table.

But I've spent a lot of time playing short-handed NL, so I'm perfectly comfortable there. Far prefer it, in fact. I'd actually be okay with a 4-max table in NL.

Even I think it's kind of weird, but that's how it is. Perfectly at home with 6-max NL. Like a fish out of water at 6-max limit.

5:20 AM  
Blogger Blinders said...

I put up a post that went a little deeper on the subject rather than hijack your comments. The games are tougher, and this is not good. Donks may increase your variance, but they also increase your profits in MTTs or Cash Games. Also you play a lot of the Token type buy-in tourneys (donk-fests by definition). Play only the $100+ buy in ones without satalites and try to do better w/o the donks. I don't think it will be possible. Never got any important chips from donks when you had a big tournament success???

6:26 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

No Blinders, of course I get tons of chips from donks in all my mtts, no doubt. That's not the point I'm trying to make here. But see my comment above here, where I make the point that it's the early-tournament racers who give knowledgeable mtt guys the most trouble. Those are the donks I would like to remove from the mtts in general -- and yes I would be willing to sacrifice their donkeychips in exchange for avoiding their propensity to push with early-tournament garbage and then get lucky against me early. In a cash game where you can always get more chips, losing the donks is clearly bad because they are your bread n butter. In mtts, however, those donks are just the guys who eliminate you early from the event, and then you're done for that event. Those are the biggest obstacle to constantly cashing in my mtts.

No way am I trying to say I don't get chips from donks in every mtt I play. Clearly yes to that.

Thanks for the comments. I'm looking forward to reading what you have to say.

7:15 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

And btw Blinders, I am nearly 100% sure you are correct that in the higher-buyin mtts, losing the donks will have a much more noticeable impact. But that just doesn't happen to be what I play as a rule. It's a very good point though, no doubt.

7:16 AM  
Blogger KajaPoker said...

Hoy, I watched your exit from Event #1 last night and can't wait to read your review. I'm not sure I liked the way you overplayed that hand (I'm sure you didn't like it either).

If you want to see what effect Neteller had on the US sites just look ow they all declined across the board here:

Good Luck in the rest of your FTOPS games.

5:48 AM  

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