Monday, July 25, 2011

Now What? Online Poker in the U.S., ca. late July 2011

Bad planningVery much enjoying being back home and settling into the more familiar routines. Spent the weekend mostly relaxing. And not writing about poker (for a change). I did play a little online, though, over on Hero Poker where I have a small roll.

As was the case the last few summers, while away at the WSOP I hardly played online at all, just logging on a couple of times the entire time I was there, and then only for brief sessions. Of course, this year was different insofar as like other Americans my options for playing have been reduced markedly. I hadn’t been playing that much even before I went, so during the weeks I was in Vegas there really wasn’t much change as far as my online play was concerned.

I mentioned some time back how I’d gotten myself a bankroll of sorts on Hero not by depositing, but by winning a freeroll back in May which got me a nifty hundy over there with which to play. Been piddling around with that, building it up a bit but mostly just treading water at the PLO10 tables.

I think I also said something at some point about winning a smaller freeroll on Carbon, another Merge skin, which got me started with a whole dollar. Built that up to more than five bucks via sit-n-go’s and some PLO, and felt like a genius. Then I went busto in short order, and felt like a doofus. Actually, to be wholly accurate, I’m not utterly busto. I have exactly $0.01 on there now, the penny sitting there, taunting me for my poor bankroll management.

Bad planning, I guess. Of course, we’ve seen a lot of that sort of thing in online poker.

Of course, when I say “I did play a little online” I’m referring to something decidedly different from the hobby I pursued for many years before. I no longer look forward to or plan sessions. It has been a good while since I’ve studied the game or my play with any real earnestness. And I can’t say I feel part of that larger community of poker players -- extending from recreational, casual types to the most serious grinders -- like I always did when playing online before.

When in Vegas I had several conversations with various people about playing online. Often I found myself awkwardly caught between past and present tense when discussing the subject. Since I still play (a little), present tense seemed correct. But I realized as I spoke that most of what I was talking about with regard to the experience of playing online was over and done with, relegated to the past. For now, anyway.

Because it has all changed for us here in the U.S. as far as online poker goes. Black Friday hit. We got our money back from PokerStars. We wait and wonder about Full Tilt Poker. We wonder a little less about Absolute Poker and UB, whom many of us wrote off long before.

But years of habit mean we still instinctively think of those sites when we think of online poker. And now, as far as playing goes, the great majority of us are either sorta kinda playing once in a while (like me), or not bothering at all. For some (like me), the WSOP distracted us for much of the summer. But now we are back home and thinking about playing again. And realizing the game isn’t really there for us at the moment.

A feature over on the CNN Business page from yesterday asked the question “Will the online poker business become a ‘busted flush’?” The headline writer was no doubt eager to apply the game’s lingo to describe the situation of unrealized potential presently characterizing online poker in the U.S. But it works. As far as online poker in the U.S. goes, a lot of heavy betting on the come was going on (to apply some more lingo), and the river blanked.

The gist of the piece is to point out that healthy turnouts at this summer’s WSOP should not be taken as an indicator that here in America the prospects for poker generally speaking or online poker in particular are healthy as well -- that, in fact, the WSOP numbers “put a misleading gloss on an industry still mired in controversy.”

Our buddy F-Train is quoted in the piece (under his less jazzy-sounding moniker, “David Behr”) describing how Black Friday and the frustrations caused by Full Tilt Poker’s continued inability to pay back (or even communicate clearly with) U.S. players “put a damper on the whole Series,” muting some of its “pageantry” even if it didn’t affect numbers too greatly. F-Train goes on to suggest that the “steep drop” most predicted would happen at this year’s WSOP is more likely to occur in 2012.

I’m inclined to agree with F-Train on both points.

Looking back, the mood at the Series this summer -- at least for the final four weeks when I was there -- was certainly toned down a bit from year’s past. Still a lot of excited folks about, and some genuine drama marking both the prelims and the Main. But the whole “last hurrah” thing (mentioned in the CNN piece) weighed fairly heavily, I thought, affecting the players and perhaps some of the media a bit, too.

(By the way, on that latter point the Wicked Chops guys recently suggested a “nasty, toxic atmosphere among poker media” at this year’s WSOP. I get where they are coming from, but my personal experience working with and alongside others didn’t suggest that at all, once again being very positive and marked by a lot of mutual support and camaraderie. The fact is, I’ve worked in environments which were a whole helluva lot more “nasty” and “toxic,” to be sure.)

Looking ahead (to address F-Train’s other observation), even if some sort of legislation is soon passed to license and regulate online poker in the U.S., we’re still facing a mighty lengthy ramp-up period -- one likely to take much longer than the 10 months or so before the start of the 2012 WSOP.

As I tried to explain to my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class in late April, poker took a huge hit in the U.S. on April 15. Many will still play, of course, but without the online option fewer new players will find the game going forward. And a lot of us -- again, like me -- will find ourselves playing less frequently and less seriously, the likelihood of our becoming part of the fields at WSOP events decreasing as a result.

Am starting to miss online poker. And I know others are missing it a lot more than I am. I mean the game we used to play, the one where everyone (essentially) was invited. Poker will endure, no doubt. But right now it seems that years’ worth of growth and momentum has been seriously slowed or even halted -- that poker in America will recede from the cultural spotlight for a while, perhaps to return to the dark corners where it mostly dwelled for so many decades before.

Plan accordingly, I guess.

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Blogger Ernest said...

Love your poker writings, and I feel the need to throw my two cents in on this one. Reports of poker's demise have been greatly exagerrated! Poker will not only survive, it will thrive. It may not be the multi multi billion dollar juggernaut providing jobs to thousands of people in auxillary roles (like media and marketing), but eventually it will be back online again. And even if it isn't, what's the worst that could happen? Poker will go back to being a social game where you have to face down your opponent in casinos, card rooms, and refinished basements across the country, instead of a game played alone in the dark by pimple faced teens who might as well be playing World of Warcraft, and don't have a clue about a hard day's work??? Personally I enjoyed the fact that players weren't covered head to toe with ugly online site patches at this year's WSOP! I'm halfway through Cowboys Full (I've been dying to read it ever since seeing it heavily peppered throughout your Poker in Pop Culture syllabus) so I feel like I have a particularily good historical perspective right now. America's true pastime has survived much worse, and it will survive this. Time to get those dormant home games fired up again in your friend's den, and have fun doing it!

7/25/2011 7:34 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response, Ernest. I certainly agree that poker isn't going anywhere... and truthfully, the "boom" that created all of these new players over the last decade helps ensure the game will continue to be popular going forward, very likely in the ways you're envisioning in your comment.

Didn't intend to be overly pessimistic in the post. I think the class has gotten me thinking in broader historical terms, which is why I say the game may well "recede from the cultural spotlight" in the near term. But that's not announcing its demise!

Thanks, though, for the pick-me-up. Here's hoping my new bright background will chase away any further dark thoughts.

7/25/2011 8:03 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have a little roll at Bodog and have played zero "real" poker in the past two months.


I still can't figure it out, it's still real money against real people but Thursday nights when I break from work/school/kids for a night I have near no desire to play.

When the US does offer online poker again, I wonder if the will to play again will come back.

7/26/2011 2:57 PM  

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