Saturday, January 21, 2012

Re: Phil Galfond: Let's make some changes

I have been a actively following Phil Galfonds post about how to improve poker. Since the discussion is a little chaotic on 2+2 i decided to post my ideas how to improve the game here .

First of I want to reiterate what the goal was that Phil posted:

In determining if a rule or feature is “good for the game,” I believe the goals are as follows:

1. Make playing poker an easy and fun experience for both pros and recreational players

2. Close loopholes that allow unethical players to gain an advantage over those who choose to be more honest.

3. Promote the play of more hands

I think those a fabulous goals. I have come up with what I believe a way to solve all three of these objectives.

I will state all my solutions in an overview/summary then explain how they would work and also explain how they would achieve the goals Phil defined.

I am working with three assumptions:

1. These ideas are to improve the current situation of the existing economy. I.e. i am not trying to increase the amount of players etc. but simply try to make poker as good as possible with how ever many players we have at the moment.

2. The solution should not be overly complicated and work everywhere, so they should apply for all games (HU to FR) and stakes.

3. Everything should be targeted as making the game environment better and more enjoyable as a whole which means for as many as possible. thereby it is not important who benefits as much as how many.

The solutions that I am proposing are the following

S1: A Global Wait List (GWL)
There will be a global wait list that everybody has to sign up to play any game. The List will then seat players (FIFO) or create new tables when enough players are available. Payers that get seated have to play at least one (or more) hand(s) or post.
Key Purpose: Fairness of how seats are distributed. Avoid bum hunting by seat selection. Faster table creation (esp for HU and when fewer games are running).

S2: Breaks vs Sit-Outs (BSO)
Players cannot sit out at single tables anymore. Instead one can take a break thereby sitting out at all tables. Breaks have a min and max time and are limited per time frame (i.e. 1 in 15 minutes and 3 in 60 minutes).
Key Purpose: Disallow bum hunting and only playing when fish are in the game.

S3: Winner pay all - Remove Rake (WPA)
No more rake and no more tournament fees. They will be removed. To pay the poker site the winners of the game have to pay part of their winnings. The fee will be deducted after every transaction to the the players account, i.e. after every win/loss so that the player never has to worry about managing it. The determination of being a winner has to happen in reasonable time window to be fair for the player and to allow adequate cash flow for the sites.

Key Purpose: More Fun (more winners) & Increased poker economy. Both leading to higher player retention and ultimately more hands played.

Detailed explanation and how the solutions contribute to the goals:

S1: The GWL has been discussed the most on 2+2 and I think it is the most simple and easy to implement. I also believe it will increase the enjoyment of every player from the first time they use it, because every time we play we have to find a seat. With the GWL that process becomes random and as efficient as possible. So we can all focus on playing poker vs having to figure out on which table to play.

The GWL could be implement strictly or loosely. Loosely would mean players can get up right away if they do not want to play on the table. Implemented very strictly would mean that if you get up, you will not get a new seat for a set time.

Personally I think the best solution is somewhere in the middle. I would force every player to play at least one to 3 rounds before they can sign up at a new spot in the GWL. Of course players always can sign up for more than 1 seat (up to the table maximum of the site). I.e. start a new session by requesting 12 seats from the wait list. However once seated further spots will only be distributed if the player has not quit tables for the min amount of rounds or hands played. I would also make every player post if they will not be seated in the blinds, to promote the play of more hands, make the seating process faster and because it is not unfair if everybody has to do it. Alternatively we could simple deal everybody in without posting (provided there is a min amount of rounds one has to play).

GWL would solve a few problems Phil G has indicated. First and foremost it would make the bum hunting by seat selection impossible. I really hate logging into PS and seeing 20 people waiting to play on one game. It always feels like i don't have a shot at the best games. And I also don't like that people are actively going after certain players for the reasons Phil G has stated. That alone for me is reason enough for the wait list.

The other thing that the GWL list does is distribute seats fairly and efficiently which means less games break up and games are created faster. This would solve the HU problem Phil has pointed out. Hu players not playing each other is not just a high stakes problem. I have the same problem when I play HU on cake for 50nl. If i want to play HU and see a bunch of tables occupied by regs I don't wanna play anymore. With the GWL HU players would have to decide if they want to play HU then they would sign up on the wait list and will immediately get seated. They then have to play a few hands with the opponent they have been matched up with before they can move on to the next one if they feel outmatched. Essentially playing continuously or not at all. Perfect solution in my mind with enough flexibility and freedom for everyone because we have some control over who we want to play but cannot decide to only play a certain part of the player pool.

The global wait list also helps a lot when there are only few games running, which is often the case on high stakes and now on many US sites (due to fewer players). When i play on cake there are often only 4 games running but 8 players on various waiting lists in groups of 3-5. When I then open a new table no one joins for a long time. Once 4 players are seated the game fills up right away. That sort of silliness would be avoided by the wait list.

S2: BSO is a solution to make bum hunting impossible by sitting out and only playing when the fish are there by getting rid of "sitting out" function all together!

How would that work:

- Players cannot sit out any more, but can take breaks
- when a player sleeps or misses his action he simple folds, but does not sit out. Meaning he simply misses that one action where he did not react. future hands are not affected
- Players can take breaks, which lets them sit out on all tables at once (they may continue until their blinds)
- Breaks have a certain min. time they take (i.e. min 3 minutes) and max time
- You can take only so many breaks in a certain time frame (i.e. one every 15 minutes 3, every hour)
- If players miss their actions twice they get a pop up if they want to be on break and have to click no or will get put on break automatically.
- If players lose their connection they get put on break

I think this solution with the global wait list, would solve most of what PG was talking about already.

However to really change the game we have to go to the third solution and get rid of the rake:

S3: Winner pay all - Remove Rake (WPA): I believe this would really be the evolution poker.

This will be very very hard to do, or to convince PokerStars to do because it really would change how they get their money, turn a lot of things up side down, thus poses quite some risk for them.

Before I go into how it works I want to explain why I think rake is so bad. To do so i first have to define what poker is:

Poker transfers money from one player to another. If you are smarter than your opponents you make money else they get your money. The ratio of this exchange depends on the difference of skill between the players.

The poker site or casino makes money today by charging rake (or time). The rake is taken from every transaction we make. Every cash hand we play or every tournament we play. A percentage 5-10% of each of these transactions is taken as rake.

That works fine as long as the money changes hands fast enough (skill difference is high). However today the skill of players has come together much closer (due to the internet, training sites, HEM, PT3, TV etc.) and the fact that online many regs play many tables against few fish that play very few tables.

So now money changes hands slower but the rake is still as high as before. The skill between players not unavailable is often complained about. On 2+2 i have read many post about how poker is all over cuz there are no more fish, not enough new money etc. I disagree with that. There are many players joining and many players playing and staying with the game. The poker economy is strong but it has changed and has become more sophisticated.

The problem is not that too many players are playing to well, the problem is that the amount that is raked is not in balance any more with the amount of money that is changing hands. And when changing hands I meant really transferred from weaker players to stronger players.

So we have to fix that balance!

To me the solution is simple: Charge for what the game actually does. Charge for the transfer of money. The player that wins should pay the system. This of course would have to be a %age that generates similar income for the sites/casino than the rake would.

Now that is gonna suck for our best current rake customers: the big winners. Those that win so much they can do this for a living will now have to pay most of the rake.

However the impact on the poker economy will be so substantial that i think it will be worth it especially for the pro's, because it will really make the game grow and become more sustainable.

Before I explain how let me ask you: What makes poker fun to play?


The most important thing for the enjoyment of poker is winning. As long as we do not lose all but the professional will enjoy the game. The pro probably must win at a certain rate.

In 100nl FR game about 30%of players win. That means 70% will not enjoy the game very much and have a great incentive to move away (down or out). If we remove the rake the win rate of players will change and increase by the amount that would have been raked before. This will make many players that are losing players winning players. It will also make the winners win more. Everybody's (!!!) win rate will increase. Talk about more fun!

Just think about how making everybody win more will change the enjoyment of the game.

The difference between WPA and rake is that everybody that would naturally win at poker still is going to win with WPA. With rake you might play against players that are worse than you and still lose.

So there is a great band of players between the absolute fish and best players that will greatly benefit from this change. The super sharks will win less (or will have to share a big chunk of their profit) and the fish that lose more than the rake will still lose it all (albeit a little slower).

So I believe this will benefit the most players the most possible. What is more important than winning or making it easier to win?

I truly believe that this will even benefit Phil G because new players will much, much faster be able to advance to his stakes. Since it is now easier to win, more people will move up and when moving up actually be successful! Or be successful faster. This will lead to much more enjoyment of the game which will in my mind also lead to better adoption of the game and more new players being able to join (because it is easier and more fun now). So I think this change would start a snow ball effect of making the game more popular again.

Lets look at how this would work:

First how are the winners determined and when is the money taken. Second how is the money withdrawn:
- the winners have to be determined over time. I think for cash games every quarter would make sense and for tourney every year (but pokerstars might disagree with me on that one). This is a balance of cash flow for the sites and variance to the players.
- the money would be withheld for every transaction that affect the player balance (as long as the player is a winner). Basically every time money is transferred into chips or chips into money the site will adjust what has to be withheld and either pay back less into the account (winning session) or deposit more into the account (after losing session).


new player start a new account with $1000

-Deposit 1000 > no withdrawal
-lose 100 in a session >> no withdrawal
-win 50 in a session >> no withdrawal
-win 100 in a session >> withdrawal on 50
-win 100 in a session >> withdrawal on 150
-lose 100 in a session >> payback of 100 withdrawal
-lose 10 in tourney >> payback of 10 withdrawal

Example 2: How would eliminating rake increase economy and change win rates

Take a 1 hour session of a 1/2 table

10 players with 200 each sit down

Player1: win rate of 200
Player2: win rate of 70
Player3: win rate of 20
Player4: win rate of 5
Player5: win rate of 5
Player6: win rate of -5
Player7: win rate of -5
Player8: win rate of -20
Player9: win rate of -70
Player10: win rate of -200

After 1 hour 300 has been distributed from the losers to the winners. Lets assume this is natural way of distributing money between these players. Lets also assume that winners withdraw their money. the house collects 10 per hour. lets also assume that the house has to make the same in either case.
Lets look at the win rate and the poker economy with rake and without rake for one hour.

With rake:

Player1: win rate of 200-10 = 190
Player2: win rate of 70-10 = 60
Player3: win rate of 20 -10 = 10
Player4: win rate of 5 -10 = -5
Player5: win rate of 5 -10 = -5
Player6: win rate of -5 -10 = -15
Player7: win rate of -5 -10 = -15
Player8: win rate of -20 -10 = -30
Player9: win rate of -70-10 = -80
Player10: win rate of -200-10 = -210

Rake Poker economy = 2000 - 100 (rake) - 300 (winnings) = 1600

This is how things change with rake. Without rake the win rates stay as in the original table. But we now have to withdraw 100 for the house. In this example we have to take 1/3 of each winner to pay the house.

With WPA:

Player1: win rate of 200 - 67 = 132.5
Player2: win rate of 70 - 25 = 50
Player3: win rate of 20 - 6.6 = 12.5
Player4: win rate of 5 -1.6 = 3.6
Player5: win rate of 5 -1.6 = 3.6
Player6: win rate of -5 = -5
Player7: win rate of -5 = -5
Player8: win rate of -20 = -20
Player9: win rate of -70 = -70
Player10: win rate of -200 = -200

WPA Poker economy = 2000 - 300 (winnings) = 1700

So what is the difference? There are three key differences

1. There are more winners with WPA. Everybody but the top2 benefit from WPA. A benefit of 80% of players.
2. Winners win less with WPA, especially if you win a lot. The highest winners have to pay most of the house fee.
3. There is more money left in the poker economy. That means as a whole poker economy benefits.

Growth of economy:

If 2 new players enter the economy every hour than the economy stays the same with rake. It will grow without rake.

What is the right amount to withhold? I don't know. This would have to be determined and we would have to analyze some data that I don't have. I am guessing that higher stakes would have to pay a lesser %age than lower stakes (as they also pay less rake relative to the amount bet/won) today.

In summary i believe these 3 solutions would solve what Phil G is looking for. I also think that all the negative posts and comments i have read about there not being a solution is wrong. I truly believe we can make a difference.

I also know that my mind is very far from perfect and thus believe there are things i have missed, misunderstood and that these examples can be improved. So I hope the community will read this and comment and improve the ideas. And maybe someone important can take notice and use this to improve the environment of this beautiful game for the benefit of all of us.


  1. Punishing winners doesn't seem very sporting. Also, while WPA might work in games where top players have a significant edge, think about something like FR LHE where winners are only pulling in 1ptbb/100. The WPA structure would make such a game unbeatable.

  2. NO its more the opposite.

    If there is a small edge the rake is high and eats up the economy. Think about two guys of the same skill playing lots of hands. they would both lose due to the rake. With WPA they would lose nothing and the house gets nothing.

    In WPA the house only gets paid when money is transferred. And the house gets payed on the amount that is transferred.

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