Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Learn, Chat, and Play with the Non-Pros

Post-Black Friday, I kept Full Tilt Poker on my laptop even though as an American I was no longer able to play real money games on the site. I occasionally goofed around a little with play money on there, although my main purpose for not deleting FTP was the fact that I still had money left on the site (even if my balance was no longer showing it).

A full two-and-a-half years after Black Friday, I submitted a petition to get my balance back, then in June 2014 (more than three years after BF), I finally received the cabbage.

Incidentally, I vaguely suspect that getting that transfer of my FTP funds from the Department of Justice might possibly have precipated my Fifth Third Bank account -- which I’d had for nearly 11 years -- being suddenly closed four months later with zero explanation. (Would be a suitably nutty postscript to the absurd funds-retrieval saga, if so.)

Meanwhile at some point a while back I got a new laptop, and didn’t bother to download FTP this time as I had little reason for it. I still enjoy play money games, but have always like PokerStars better, anyway, and so when I do play I just do so on PS.

All of which means I’m not really in the loop so much anymore when it comes to the news like that from a couple of days ago that Full Tilt Poker -- or just “Full Tilt” (as they style it now) -- has made some fairly significant changes to the client affecting their cash games.

For starters, it sounds like there is no lobby anymore and thus no way for players to choose particular tables. Rather, they choose their game and stakes, then get seated automatically.

Over on the Full Tilt blog, Dominic Mansour, Managing Director at Full Tilt, likens the procedure to seating in live games where players get on a list or “tell the poker room manager what game they want to play and the poker room manager will take them to a table with a free seat so they can start playing right away.”

In a video about the changes, it is explained that “online ring game lobbies can all too often look like fast-moving spreadsheets, which can be a little confusing” -- which is kinda true, actually, even for some of us with lots of experience on the sites. (Such is why filters are needed on Stars.)

Relatedly, when games become short-handed reseating automatically occurs to merge the tables, which I guess could be said partially to resemble what happens in live rooms as well. In any case, the major difference here is not being able to select particular opponents against whom to play, although I guess players can still choose not to play against certain players by simply getting up after being seated with them.

Another big change is the removal of all heads-up games, which according to Mansour had become “adversely affected by the minority of experienced players who targeted ‘weaker’ opponents rather than take on all challengers” -- i.e., by the practice of “bum hunting.” He also argues that heads-up games were “intimidating and confusing” for new players, who maybe couldn’t figure out why people were sitting out and opponent selecting.

They’ve also gotten rid of higher-stakes non-hold’em offerings like stud, draw, and mixed games, although the comment from Mansour regarding that change doesn’t specifically address why. “The new structure will present a clean offering for all players and we consider these ring game changes to be key to Full Tilt’s ongoing commitment to provide a level playing field and attracting and retaining more casual poker players,” he says.

I used to think a lot about the “ecology” of online poker, although never really felt as though I had too much insight into how it all worked (despite occasionally opining on the subject). Clearly Full Tilt is responding to its having slipped traffic-wise since the site’s relaunch in November 2012, falling well behind other second-tier sites like 888, partypoker, the iPoker network, and Winamax, and the still-U.S.-serving Bovada (Bodog).

These changes seem designed to focus on promoting the segment of the player pool (recreational players, including new ones) where the potential for growth still exists while diminishing the importance of serving full-timers or professionals. I suppose I get it, although for those who are fans of the site and long-time players on it, I can’t imagine they are all that enthused by such radical moves.

Thinking back to the original Full Tilt Poker and its launch more than a decade ago, it’s a 180-degree turn away from the “Learn, Chat, and Play with the Pros” campaign of old, as well as a distancing from the faint echo of that idea demonstrated by “The Professionals” campaign that arose with Full Tilt 2.0 and has since been abandoned.

I guess trying to sell amateurs on the idea of playing with pros was always sketchy as a marketing strategy, even if learning from the pros and chatting with them might have once seemed an attraction. Now it seems there is a desire to sell the idea that the poor newbie will be protected from the pros so as to be able to learn, chat, and play exclusively with those on their own level.

Or maybe just to chat and play, and not learn so much.

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