Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hot and Cold

Hot and ColdWas playing over on PokerStars yesterday afternoon when the site suddenly became inordinately sluggish. Eventually a message popped up in the chat box saying the site was experiencing “internet routing problems.”

At the time, I was at a six-handed pot-limit Omaha table. I’d started the session well, nearly doubling my buy-in early on after drawing out a straight to beat a player’s flopped set. After that hand, my opponent, MisterBlister, had rebought and I could tell he was angling to get into another big confrontation with me, but no opportunities had arisen for that to happen. At some point before the slowdown began to occur, the other players had left one by one, leaving just me and MisterBlister.

I have gotten into the habit of sticking around whenever that happens, as I generally feel pretty comfortable with heads-up play, whereas I suspect a lot of players of ring games tend not to prefer to play against a lone opponent. We rapidly traded small pots, and I could sense my revenge-seeking opponent was burning to find some hand with which to create a bigger pot. From my perspective, it was shaping up to be a good trapping opportunity, and so I, too, was lying in wait, hoping to pounce on an overeager opponent.

But then the slowdown started, made all the more noticeable because we were heads-up. Eventually it was taking a half-minute or more for the next hand to be dealt, and after we acknowledged to one another in the chat box that the site had indeed slowed, MisterBlister and I left, perhaps to renew our battle some other day.

Made me think a little about “hot” and “cold” players or play -- that is to say, the way some players sometimes appear to us as either desirous for action and thus more willing to take risks than most (“hot”) or purposefully avoiding conflict and especially risk averse (“cold”).

Players can distinguish themselves these ways quite dramatically in PLO -- perhaps more obviously so than in hold’em. There are those who “heat up” and start betting pot again and again, regardless of position or holdings. Then there are those who seem almost frozen, afraid ever to raise preflop under any circumstances, check-calling big flopped hands, etc. I even saw a dude check behind with quads the other day on a double-paired board -- no shinola!

Anyhow, MisterBlister certainly seemed “hot” to me -- and perhaps I did to him, too -- but we both cooled off quickly when the site began slowing down.

I noted just at the start of the slowdown that the site had about 195,000 total players (including play money), and marveled to see that figure dip down to 90,000 within just a few minutes. Soon, however, Stars corrected the problem and just like that was back up over 200,000 players. I ended up tripping over to Full Tilt Poker where I played another short session before signing off. Realized I am probably playing about 90% of the time on PokerStars these days, only looking to take a seat elsewhere when something like yesterday’s glitch occurs.

PokerScoutGlancing over at PokerScout, I see Stars continues to be the most popular site by a significant margin. In its tracking of real money ring game players, the site lists PokerStars as having averaged 26,000 cash game players over the last week. Full Tilt is next with 15,400, followed by three sites/networks that are not available to Americans, the iPoker Network (5,600), PartyPoker (5,300), and the Ongame Network (2,850).

Looking at other sites that are available to us Yanks, the Cereus Network (Absolute Poker and UltimateBet) is in sixth place (2,550), Cake Poker is in 10th (1,840), and Bodog has slipped to 14th (averaging just 890 cash players over the last week).

Pretty simple to see why I’m always on PokerStars -- it is definitely the “hot” site right now, while the others (especially Bodog) have turned relatively “cold.” Always plenty of six-handed PLO25 tables for me to join at Stars, whereas Bodog often only has one or two going, if that.

Of course -- as Bill Rini noted last month in a post titled “Is Online Poker Really Doing Well?” -- it is easy to get carried away with looking at the numbers of players, a figure which he says doesn’t necessarily tell us much at all about the overall health of a given site. Rini discusses this trend in which the “big keep getting bigger and the small get smaller,” but also notes how being bigger doesn’t always mean becoming more profitable. Despite rising numbers on certain sites, the industry as a whole isn’t necessarily thriving these days, says Rini. (Check out his post for some of the reasons why he thinks this is so.)

Meanwhile, we Americans look with trepidation at the calendar as December 1 draws closer, the day that “designated financial systems” must begin complying with those finalized regulations of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. (Which, incidentally, then-President Bush signed into law exactly three years ago today.)

And hoping something happens to prevent the possible slowdown that might follow as the games (potentially) go “cold.”

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