Archive for March, 2017
Recently the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas announced that, as a part of their renovations that will take place this year, they would close their eight-table poker room and would not bring it back once the renovations were complete. The Monte Carlo, not necessarily known as a hot spot for poker, isn’t the first to close their room in Sin City, nor are they the first to close in Nevada. But it does lead one to ask the question: is the decline in Nevada poker rooms indicative of the “end” for poker?
To start with, let’s put to rest the “end of poker” talk. Poker has been played since the 1830s in the United States and versions of the game date back to the 17th century, so to say the closure of a few tables in one city in the vastness of the world is bringing about the downfall of the game is ridiculous. What is problematic is that, from the numbers that are readily available, there has been a slowdown in the game. In looking at the numbers, however, it is in much better shape than it was just a couple of decades ago.
Per information from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, the Las Vegas Strip has seen a huge fluctuation in the past 15 years. In 2002, there were 144 tables in the casinos on the Strip that generated revenues of around $ 30 million. Of course, that was before the “online boom” that spurred the live version of the game into the stratosphere. Just five short years later, the Strip played host to 405 tables and nearly hit the $ 100 million mark in revenues – and this was after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 was passed, which had an impact on bringing new online players into the live arena. That, along with other issues, has seen the Strip singularly and Nevada as a whole declining.
In the decade since, the NGCB counts a total of 320 tables in Las Vegas in 2016, bringing revenues of around $ 78 million. This decade decline is also seen in looking at the Silver State overall, which hit its peak in 2007 when it had 907 tables and racked up revenues of $ 168 million. Fast forward to 2016 and the story statewide mirrors what is going on in Las Vegas; there are now 661 poker tables in Nevada, bringing in revenues of $ 118 million. The percentages – a 28% decline in the number of statewide poker tables and 21% in Vegas alone – don’t lie in that poker isn’t as popular as it once was.
What also isn’t indicated is that, compared to the start of the century, the game’s health is still quite robust. Increasing by 281% in the number of poker tables between 2002 and 2007 made for a market that was due for a correction at any time. Las Vegas alone would be logical for a correction as some casinos become more known for their poker offerings (the Bellagio, Wynn, MGM, Mirage, and the off-Strip Rio are some of the top poker rooms in the world, let alone Las Vegas) while others attempt to find their niche in the market.
Furthermore, the expansion of the game across the States of America and around the planet have staked poker firmly in the psyche of the world’s denizens. California card rooms continue to thrive, with the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles recognized as the largest card room with roughly 250 poker tables in use. With other popular rooms such as the Bicycle Casino, Bay 101, Thunder Valley, the Hustler Casino and others located around the state and on Indian reservations, it is estimated that there is well over 1000 poker tables in use in the California system.
A decade ago, there was no poker at all in the state of Florida and the same could be said for Pennsylvania, Maryland, and other states. All of these locales now feature poker – and some of the biggest tournaments in the world – which poker players can ply their trade. And if the States of America is too boring for you, Canada’s poker footprint has increased significantly over the past decade, as has the European theater (just look at the United Kingdom and Rozvodov, Czech Republic, among others, for the growth).
To paraphrase writer Mark Twain, the reports of poker’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Is it the same as it was in the mid-2000s? No, it isn’t close. But it is still a thriving game with a strong community and, as such, it will be able to withstand the rigors of time.
When it comes to tournament directors in the poker world, Matt Savage has earned a reputation for being a tournament director par excellence. He has traversed the world as the arbiter of some of the biggest events in the game of poker and currently is immersed in preparations for the upcoming trilogy of tournaments for the World Poker Tour in Florida and the upcoming Tournament Directors Association Summit, which will be held at the end of June. But it is the creation of another tournament schedule for his home casino, the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, that has riled some in the poker community.
The California State Poker Championships are scheduled to take place at the Commerce between April 28 and May 14 and, as the tournament director, Savage is responsible for putting the slate of tournaments together for the event. It is the second event on the schedule on April 29, a simple $ 350 buy in tournament (with $ 50 of that for fees and miscellaneous), called “The Social Experiment,” that has piqued the interest of many players. And why not? With a 30,000-chip starting stack –equivalent to what players start major WPT or WSOP events with – and a $ 100,000 guaranteed prize pool, “The Social Experiment” promises a chance at a big reward for a minimal investment.
There are many players, however, that aren’t taking to this “experiment” lightly…and just why is it called “The Social Experiment?” Savage, who was the creative mind who came up with reentry events (he’s also had some good ideas during his run as tournament director extraordinaire!), has inserted a few rules into the game that many aren’t fond of.
Per the structure sheet for the tournament, “The Social Experiment” is quote “an attempt to create social interaction amongst players. Cell phones, sunglasses, headphones and hoods will only be allowed outside of the tournament area or on breaks (Savage has taken into consideration those with medical necessity or those with special needs and they will not be held to the rule).” On his personal Facebook page, Savage notes that the Commerce “will provide complimentary earplugs…while supplies last.”
To enforce this policy, Savage has enacted a series of penalties for infractions. Starting with a three-hand banishment, the punishments go up to one rotation around the table for repeat offenders. Such punishment at the wrong time in the tournament could be devastating to the chip stack of a participant.
The conversation regarding “The Social Experiment” is slightly leaning towards those who think it is a good idea, but those in opposition are vehement in that stance. One commentator on Savage’s Facebook page suggested that “The Social Experiment’s” banishment of sunglasses, headphones, cellphones, and other electronic devices could be compared to when cigarette smoking was banned in poker rooms in the late 1990s. Many said that poker rooms would die off without smoking allowed at the table; the exact opposite happened, but that could be partially because of the explosion of online poker at the same time. Those who don’t agree with the Savage “experiment” say that they need the devices to pass the time and that they don’t want to be socializing with their opposition.
It is only about 15 years ago that “The Social Experiment” was how poker tournaments were de rigueur in a casino. The players didn’t have all the electronic accoutrements that are available for players nowadays – the occasional newspaper or book was seen at the tables – and there was a great deal of camaraderie for those on the felt. Since the inception of internet poker, however, there’s been a change to players who are constantly looking for stimulation, for action, for something to fill “down time” between hands rather than acknowledging humans around them.
Whether there will be any of the “internet age” players on the tables for what should be a big event or not remains to be seen. It should be well attended by those who don’t have any problems with human interaction, however! Kudos to Savage and the Commerce staff for challenging the players with a twist on the everyday poker tournament and making it something that will be memorable for all involved.
Looking to finish off the Season XV schedule with a bang, the World Poker Tour will be setting up shop in the sunny state of Florida for the next 10 days. Kicking off the trio of events to finish this year’s WPT roster of events will be tomorrow’s start of the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown.
Now in its second year, the change for the WPT to playing its final events at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, FL, seems to have worked out well. When it was held last year, the WPT scheduled three events – a $ 3500 buy in tournament (the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown), a $ 10,000 tournament (the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Finale) and a $ 15,000 restricted access event (the inaugural WPT Tournament of Champions) – that were all conducted on the grounds in Hollywood. For the most part, the WPT was satisfied with the numbers for two of the events and are looking to pick up the numbers on the third.
The Showdown was quite popular with the players, with 1222 entries being received for the “re-entry” tournament (eventually won by Justin Young over Garrett Greer). Even the Finale went well, with 342 players ponying up the $ 10K to be a part of the action (and seeing David ‘Chino’ Rheem emerge as champion). Perhaps the only disappointing spot on the season closer was the inaugural Tournament of Champions, but that could have been more from the format than the lack of players who wanted to take part.
The Tournament of Champions replaced the WPT World Championship during last year’s finale in Florida. Only players who had previously won a WPT Main Tour event (not a National or Regional title) were eligible to take part in the tournament. The players who had won on the tour over the previous year had part of their prize from winning their event pulled to guarantee them access to the tournament, but past champions had to put up $ 15,000 to play in the tournament. This resulted in a rather paltry 64 players that took part in the TOC, with 2015 WPT Amsterdam champion Farid Yachou becoming the first ever champion of the WPT TOC.
There is a reason that the word “paltry” is used along with the inaugural WPT TOC. The 64 players that attended the tournament in 2016 were from the 227 previous champions that have been crowned in the history of the WPT Main Tour. The 17 players (plus two more from the Seminole Hard Rock events preceding the TOC) who have won on the WPT this season are guaranteed entry and bring the total potential number of participants to 242 (Darren Elias was a prior WPT Champions’ Club member and Sam Panzica won two tournaments during the season), but who will show up from the Champions’ Club to take them on? The WPT is trying to bring in some more former champions for the tournament by spicing up the prize package.
The tournament sponsor, Monster Headphones, has not only added $ 100,000 to the prize pool but also has put up a 2018 Audi S5 Coupe for the eventual champion, a high-end sports car that starts at $ 41,000. This is in addition to other “spoils of war” such as a custom-made poker table from BBO Poker Tables, custom fit sunglasses from Maui Jim, and a Hublot King Power Unico Carbon and Red watch, among other items.
The tournament will once again feature a different structure than the usual WPT events. Starting with six-handed tables, a 30-second shot clock will also be employed, which basically means what it says – players have 30 seconds to make their decisions on each street. If a player needs more time, they are given five 30-second extensions that they can use as they see fit (one at a time or all five at once) up to the final table. At the final table, the players will be reset with four 30-second extensions each.
The Showdown and the Finale are also the last chances players have to earn points towards the WPT Player of the Year. With those two events remaining, it is a neck and neck battle between Benjamin Zamani (2500 points), who has led for virtually the entire season, and two-time WPT champion Panzica (2450 points). If those two should falter, lurking in the background is WPT Montreal champion, WPT announcer and Poker Hall of Famer Mike Sexton (2100), who could be itching to be a spoiler in the competition between Zamani and Panzica. Elias (1650 points) and WPT L. A. Poker Classic champion Daniel Strelitz (1450) round out the Top Five, but they would need astronomically good runs in Florida to get into the race (like winning both the Showdown and the Finale).
The next 10 days will be a poker junkie’s dream and, after all the chips have been tossed and cards ruffed, the doors on Season XV of the World Poker Tour. The only question remaining is who will be the big winners? We’ll look to answer those questions starting tomorrow with the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown.
For a decade, PokerStars has used sports stars to market its online poker room, with a particular emphasis on the marketing strategy in recent years. According to a recent e-mail to the site’s affiliates, though, it appears that this strategy may be about to disappear.
The notice to affiliates reads as follows:
Starting April 1st 2017 we will be focusing on our ongoing Free Welcome Bonus Offer. In addition, our branding team has designed some wonderful creative and banners to help support your acquisition efforts and drive in some big numbers!
Therefore, as of midnight March 31st 2017, all Cristiano Ronaldo & Neymar Jr promotions materials (ie. banners, images, etc) will have to be replaced as the Cristiano Ronaldo & Neymar Jr banner creative will no longer be valid for you to use from that date.
When PokerStars first gained real notoriety, it was because Chris Moneymaker had won a satellite on the site to gain entry into the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event and then went onto win the most coveted prize in poker. From there, PokerStars looked to recruit WSOP champs and they did so, as the next two Main Event winners, Greg “Fossilman” Raymer and Joe Hachem, also became PokerStars pros. Stars became the poker room where champions played.
Later, as the age of young internet poker stars developed, PokerStars recruited a stable of online pros.
But all of those sponsored players were mostly just known to the poker community. Sure, casual poker fans probably knew Moneymaker and Raymer, but nobody who just watches poker on ESPN would know any of the online poker 20-somethings.
Thus, PokerStars dove headlong into recruiting sports stars as its brand ambassadors in 2015. Some, like tennis legend Boris Becker, had been with PokerStars for a while, but it was really 2015 when Stars ramped it up. Guys like Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, Jr. are known worldwide; both bring a gigantic following with them.
But those guys are also very expensive, something that may have led to this decision by PokerStars to halt its flood of sports star marketing (as a member of the poker media, I can assure you, the marketing is constant – I seemingly get multiple e-mails a week from Stars promoting something having to do with Cristiano Ronaldo).
The quoted e-mail doesn’t necessarily mean that all sports star marketing is done; it would be odd for it to just stop so suddenly. A simple “Free Welcome Bonus Offer” is not going to cut the mustard for PokerStars’ continued push to attract more customers. PokerStars may just be reshuffling the deck a bit and de-emphasizing athletes as spokespeople. We will find out as the future unfolds.
The Microgaming Poker Network (MPN) is preparing to make changes to both the content and storing of hand histories in order to protect casual players. The changes, discussed in a blog post by Head of Product (Network Games) at Microgaming Alex Scott earlier this month, will go into effect in April.
Scott is among the rare breed of online poker managers/executives who is actually a player, as well, and approaches problem solving from a fair perspective, balancing the needs of the company with the needs of the player. In the blog post, he talks about how while hand tracking software like PokerTracker has been a great tool for players, it also provides sharks the ability to prey on fish without really having to observe and study their opponents’ play.
We have a difficult relationship with tracking software. Personally, I think it’s really important for players to be able to track and analyse their own gameplay, and tracking software is an excellent way to improve if used properly. It’s also a great way to be a responsible gambler, because you can’t hide from your results.
But I also think tracking software has changed the game in a way that makes it less fun. It allows you to gather huge amounts of data on your opponents, without requiring any significant attention or observation on your part. It allows you to exploit the weakest opponents exclusively, if you wish.
That last point, about “exploit[ing] the weakest opponents exclusively, likely has to do with the use of software like seating scripts, which search the active tables, see who is playing, look up the players’ stats in the hand tracking software, and then seat the software’s user with players who are known to be weak.
Hand tracking software uses hand histories to compile player data.
Thus, MPN will implement two changes to hand histories. In cash games, a full, detailed hand history will only be saved to a player’s computer if that player contributed money to the pot. In other hands, only basic information like the player’s balance and hole cards will be saved. With this, players will not be able to just sit back and gather truckloads of data on other players without putting forth the effort of playing poker themselves.
Additionally, there will no longer be any hand histories at all for anonymous tables. The whole point of anonymous tables is to shield players from being tracked, so eliminating hand histories will make hand tracking software useless at those tables. MPN will still be on the lookout, though, for people who try to get around the rules and use such software.
As Alex Scott summarizes it, “The net effect of this is that you can still use tracking software to track your own gameplay, and you can still use a HUD at the tables. However your tracking software will gather much less information about your opponents in general.”
This should still make hand tracking software useful for analyzing one’s own play, as players will still have records of what hole cards they themselves had each hand. In any hand in which a user didn’t contribute to the pot, they will still know what cards they had, that they folded, and what their balance was. There really isn’t much more data necessary for self-analysis in those situations. Sure, it would probably be nice to know what sort of betting happened or didn’t happen to make me fold certain cards, but it’s probably not a big deal.