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Online Poker Playing Halved in October

Whatever you think
of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act’s (UIGEA)
medium-to-long run impacts, the short run effects are clear. WaPo’s
blog reports, “According to Nielsen/NetRatings, which tracks Web use, traffic to the top 10 Internet gambling sites dropped a staggering 56 percent in October” (via Iggy).
PartyPoker, which promptly banned US players, apparently dropped from
7.5 million unique users in September to 2.5 million in October.

In time, many players will likely turn to various work-arounds or switch to sites like FullTilt and PokerStars so long as
they accept US players. But the switching costs aren’t solely
responsible for the decrease in online poker playing. With online poker
and casino gambling booming before, sites like Party Poker were able to
liberally hand out bonuses to customers — free money just for signing
up or making a new deposit. These bonuses helped lure in new players or
bring back existing ones, and a larger playerbase meant they could
spread more games and increase the value of the site overall.

Given the current uncertainty,
I doubt these businesses can hand out large bonuses — at least, I
don’t see any sites providing bonuses comparable to PartyPoker’s past
offers. In the short run, that’s also going to hurt businesses’ ability
to bring in players.

See also: this interesting post at 2+2, also via Iggy.

Could Online Poker Law Raise The Stakes on Free Linking?

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act rocked the online casino industry mere days after its passage this month, and, with the president expected to sign the bill on Friday, most commentary has focused on how it will impact
the millions of Americans who enjoy playing poker and placing bets
online. As in many other instances, this attempt to stamp out an online
activity could also impact anyone who wants to link to or help you
access sites online.

Blocking unlawful gambling-related activities shouldn’t mean
censoring people who simply reference the existence of gambling sites.
Linking, like publishing a phone number or street address, is a form of
expression protected by the First Amendment, and this bill raises some
subtle free speech concerns.

Instead of changing how federal law treats the individuals who
place bets, this bill prohibits businesses from receiving certain types
of wagers and puts restrictions on financial service providers, like
banks and PayPal, that help transfer money to gambling sites.

In so doing, the bill also singles out “interactive computer services”
(ICS) like ISPs or website hosting services and then defines what a
court can force them to do under this law. So long as an ICS is not
running an unlawful gambling site itself, a court can at most require
the service provider to remove hyperlinks or block access to sites
hosted on their servers. The bill states that ICSs need not any take
action before receiving proper notice from federal or state Attorneys
General, and they’re under no obligation to actively monitor their
systems.

That’s a good start, but the door to such legal responsibility
could have been more firmly shut. The law has often recognized that
Internet intermediaries and users shouldn’t be held to account for
someone else’s bad deeds, and this bill could have made that crystal
clear with respect to gambling-related activities. Absent other acts
that are themselves violations of the law, those who merely link to or
host someone else’s content shouldn’t be responsible for that site’s
activity. You shouldn’t have to check with a lawyer any time you simply
want to point people to someone else’s site.

Sustaining the Internet’s vibrant, free flow of information
depends on appropriately limiting liability for search engines, ISPs,
bloggers, and other information-middlemen who help you discover sites
and go where you want online. When trying to stop any unlawful online
activity via regulation of such middlemen, it’s extremely difficult to
ensure that lawful activity is not incidentally blocked in the process.

For instance, despite the DMCA’s “safe harbors” for service providers that host or link to materials that infringe copyright, providers have sometimes censored non-infringing content in order to avoid the possibility of costly copyright lawsuits. Google is currently fending off a lawsuit
from porn vendor Perfect 10 alleging that linking amounts to
infringement. Meanwhile, the chilling effects on lawful speech would be
quite severe if bloggers were responsible for all unlawful speech that
other people posted as comments. After receiving even the hint that a
link may lead to expensive lawsuits and perhaps liabilty, bloggers
would have strong incentives to remove the commenters’ material in
order to stay on the safe side of the law. Fortunately, Section 230 of Title 47 offers broad protection for bloggers, bulletin board creators, and other service providers that qualify as ICSs.

The new gambling bill does offer fairly broad protection for
services that qualify as ICSs. If an ICS receives proper notice but
still refuses to take down a link or block access to an unlawful
gambling site, federal or state Attorneys General still can’t get any
monetary damages in court. However, for those who don’t qualify as an
ICS, this limitation doesn’t apply.

Regardless, this bill shouldn’t be seen as a concession that
the acts of linking or hosting can, by themselves, violate the law.
That would be a dangerous precedent for regulation of Internet
activities far beyond gambling.

Instead, legislators and courts should clarify protections for
intermediaries and users who help you locate information online. After
all, we don’t send the feds after phone book authors — why should we
sick them on the online equivalent?

[edited slightly 10/17]

(Cross-posted at DeepLinks)

Whither Online Poker? PokerStars Says Business to Continue as Usual

Cyberscholar Tom Bell argues
that the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act won’t stop most Americans from
playing poker and placing bets as they did before. He makes a solid
argument, but color me skeptical
in light of PartyGaming’s and 888’s massive stock price drops and
public statements about blocking US customers. At the very least,
investors think the future is highly uncertain, and that will impact
the trajectory of online poker and betting.

But here’s one more reason to believe Bell — PokerStars will,
at least for the moment, continue business as usual. The way I read it,
they’re waiting to see how the financial transaction regs play out, and
that will take many months. Stay tuned…

Hat tip: Iggy.

Congress Sneaks Through Online Gambling Restrictions

Last week, Congress dead-locked on many dangerous surveillance, IP, and other cyberlaw-related bills. But they did manage to sneak a new online gambling ban
[PDF] into the port security bill — it’s an embarrassing,
disappointing instance of our country throwing its weight around
online, crippling a burgeoning industry and taking away a favorite
hobby of millions of ordinary Americans.

For
those who needed a wake-up call that the Internet is indeed regulable,
this ought to do it.  Sure, some people will be able to work around the regs, but many won’t, particularly in the near term. Three days after the bill passed, the stock prices of major online gaming companies crashed, and major companies like Party Gaming and 888 vowed to ban all US customers.

The
online gaming business is still rather young, yet it was already
roughly as big as the US record industry — around 12 billion dollars.
While the gaming industry was cut off at the knees, online payment
companies like Neteller also took a nose dive.

The
bill doesn’t impact all gambling — it exempts fantasy sports,
lotteries, horse racing, and purely intrastate gambling. Domestic
gaming companies were either indifferent to the bill or happy to be rid of foreign competitors. The US has ignored WTO rulings against this protectionism before, and it could very well do so again.

But
forget about the companies — what about the ordinary people that
Congress is ostensibly trying to “save?” What evidence is there that “we’re addicted to online poker as a people?” Addiction implies disease.

Let
me make my bias here clear: I play online poker for about 5 hours a
month and head to Vegas with friends to play about twice a year. I make
a tiny — but, for me, quite significant — amount of spending money
that way. And I have a ton of fun doing it. My poker blog is now defunct, but it should give you a sense of how much and why I love this hobby.

Sample my blogroll, and you’ll find many others like me. Some have even make their whole income from playing poker — it’s their livelihood.

Like
the many people who flock to local cardrooms, Vegas, and Atlantic City
every year, most people don’t win money, but they do have a lot of fun.
The Internet brought to the fore ordinary Americans’ desire to play
poker — it’s no coincidence that poker on TV has grown in parallel,
and, at least in California, local cardrooms are sprouting up.

And,
yes, some people do get addicted. My point is not to marshall a
complete argument against this paternalist policy-making in general or
this policy in particular, as distasteful as I find both to be. Rather, I want to highlight that there are millions of ordinary Americans just like me who didn’t ask for this ban, who don’t want this ban, and will be harmed by it. The industry invited regulation and taxation, and yet poker players are now facing an outright ban.

Congress completely sold us out — if you care about this issue, head over to the Poker Players Alliance site.

[Note: as usual, this blog represents my views and not necessarily those of my employers past or present.]

Breaking Even

I had my first significant winning session in B&M at a 2/4 table at the Borgata on New Years Eve.  With my showing there, I have now basically broken even after the terrible start to my poker playing in Vegas during August.  Aside from this playing in AC, I made it up entirely in .5/1.


Not only was dropping down in stakes important from a bankroll perspective, but it probably helped mentally, too.  Somewhat paradoxically, it minimized the gravity of my mistakes, without really diminishing my ability to learn from them.  I feel like playing so many thousand hands at this level online has really helped my game, though it’s still nice to be able to go have some fun with friends in brick and mortar at slightly higher limits.


And how great is it to play with random strangers on a night like New Years EVe.  My table persona is somewhere around happy-go-lucky and total moron.  It seems to play rather well with just about anyone – they end up laughing with me or hating me, either way it can lead them to bleed away some chips.  But, for the most part, this is insignificant – it’s all about the fish.  The guy who plays his hands in the dark.  The old guy who doesn’t know how to play but keeps pulling out hundreds.  The guy who calls down with any ace.  God bless them.


Of course, I still find myself making mistakes.  Less than before, and less egregious ones, but mistakes nonetheless – playing too aggressively in small pots and making calls with draws in pots that weren’t quite big enough.  Indeed, afterwards, I found myself going back over Miller’s book and finding examples that precisely matched hands I had played and clearly explained the ways in which I played it wrong.  For instance, I came in from BB with T3o, board was QJ9 rainbow, with 7 players, checked to mid-position where it’s bet, called around, I figure the pot is big enough that it’s appropriate to call here.  I think Miller’s example on p. 141 basically agrees here because the pot is so big, but the turn call was wrong. With everyone still calling, there’s too much of a chance that even if I hit my straight, I’ll just be splitting. Moreover, I could be beat by a higher straight, and, though the board was still a rainbow on 4th street, it also paired the board, giving another way for me to lose. 


One thing I did better was pushing my big draws.  For instance, I came in from late position with A4s, around 6 players i think. Flop comes 53X, with two hearts.  A bet from EP and three callers, I am last to act and raise.  Miller describes a hand quite like this on p. 143: “You have twelve outs to a straight or flush and three more to top pair. However, your ace outs are vulnerable to anyone else hanging around with a bigger ace, so if the pot is large you should try to induce any such player to fold (while building the pot that you will often win).”  The card on turn was not that scary, so I decided not to take a free card, knocked two out with two remaining. 


Then, I made an impatient mistake, betting the river when I didn’t hit but sensed weakness – I’d seen these two players in particular call down with essentially nothing, but really, who was I kidding? – I wasn’t going to win this pot with ace high.  It was just one of those situations where I just unthinkingly threw chips in there, betting on the miniscule chance that they were on draws too and would fold – I should know better than to do such silly things. 


Luckily, this is the only time I remember doing such a bonehead mistake in a long time.  Nevertheless, in both online play and b&m, I do find myself sometimes making a play too quickly, and that causes mistakes. In b&m play, though, it’s more likely to be out of frustration, though I’m pretty good with that aspect of my game. In any case, I need to focus on slowing down and being more patient with tricky decisions, particularly in medium-to-large pots.


In general, I feel like I’ve improved a ton since my Vegas play.  My losses weren’t all due to variance, nor am I playing mistake free now, but I feel like this upswing isn’t just plain luck either.  I’m getting better, slowly but surely.

New Years in Atlantic City

Time for some live action: my bro, his wife, and I are heading down to AC for New Years Eve to play poker at the Borgata.  Hm, Sir will be around there Wed, AlCantHang will be there Wednesday – what about Friday?  Anyone else?

Short Report Post-DECBONUS

The Party Poker bonus was a perfect way to launch my winter un-break (at Harvard, we have fall semester finals after a two week “vacation” – ugh).  At the end of the 1400 raked hands, I was up about 110 BB at .5/1.  Not AMAZING, but not too shabby either.  This session, along with the 140 I made in profit playing off and on over the last several months, are nice signs that I am becoming a profitable player, if not yet a crushing player, and that the early losses I took in Vegas can at least in part be attributed to variance.


The more I play, the more I come back to the same problems, though.  I feel like I move back and forth in a spectrum of weaknesses. For instance, I started off by betting the river too much and getting raised/check-raised.  Then got too weak, folding in big pots on the flop and river when I should have stayed in.  The latter mistake is easier to recognize and rid myself of quickly, which is good since it’s generally the bigger mistake.  But, if not paid attention to, the former mistake can add up over time. 


Over time, I feel like I’m slowly making my way to the middle of the spectrum.  That is, each time I swing from too weak to too aggressive, I hope I’m not just ending up at the extremes and am instead making my way to the optimum.


Two other complex situations have also been problematic.  First, how do you play AK or AQ when you miss the flop after raising?  You have to consider how many players are in, whether you might be able to knock anyone out, what the board looks like, whether hitting your pair will be worth it, your back door draws, etc.  I feel like, right now, I’m basically following up my raise with a bet every time (though less often when there’s a bet into me though), and that’s too aggressive.  Here, if the pot is big and there are several in, counting on knocking anyone out isn’t possible.  But you still might want to bet to hide your A/K/Q if it comes on the turn, since the bet on the flop might signal that you don’t have a pocket pair, and waking up when the A/K/Q will give away your hand. 


Second, how about playing top pair weak kicker (particularly K or A pair) in heads-up v. multiway?  For example, I have A2s, limp from the cutoff, 5 players. Flop comes with two clubs and a diamond, misses me entirely, but gets checked around.  Turn comes with the Aces of clubs, check, check, bet, and call into me. It’s a small to medium sized pot, they could have flush, but they could just be bluffing on the ace, or assuming that their second pair is best.  Here’s a variant on that situation: same but I have top pair with a T holding JT.  Heads-up these situations can be very different, but the more players you add to the mix, the worse it gets for the top pair.  Diffentiating between when the pot is too small to call can be tricky.


What’s great is that every time I run into one of these situations or make a clear mistake, I remember: Ed Miller has something to say about this.  If you haven’t done so already, buy this book.  Recently, when I made a horrible fold in a large pot on the river, and I immediately sat down and read “Playing the River When the Pot is Big.” I’ve slipped back to too aggressive again, but I feel like I’m overall in better shape. I really must go back and reread this whole book. 

WPBT Trip Reports

You really ought to be following the shenanigans of fellow poker bloggers getting royally schlitzed and gambling it up in Vegas. Only wish I could have been there myself to see Iggy in all of his small-person glory.  I’ve been following the story on Pauly’s blog, but there are a ton of others out there – see the aggregator or Pauly’s and Iggy’s extensive linkage.

Multi-tabling, and the No Limit Ring Game

I’ve put aside the SNGs for a little while to build my bankroll. Last week, I played three of them, and some suck outs killed me – to be expected. With my bankroll and because I’m just starting to play the SNGs, I haven’t felt comfortable playing anything higher than the 5+1 SNGs, and the rake there is such a large proportion (obviously).  My goal has been to be playing on Party in entirely profit, not even including the 200 I got for signing up – I’d like to have that in case I need it for bankroll during my Vegas trip in January.  So, it seems to make sense to build back up with the limit ring games and get to a spot where I feel more comfortable dropping more on the SNG.


That said, it was back to the grind.  I just signed up for the tasty PartyPoker December bonus which I’ll start after my money goes through next week.  Yesterday I got myself back in low limit shape – hadn’t played in awhile.  One thing I’ve found slightly lapsing is my focus on the degree to which a pot is large or small. I recognize how many people are in with me, but I need to measure my aggressiveness more keenly to the size of the pot, being more willing to raise to try to take other people out and to push my big edges.


It’s also time to reread the Ed Miller chapter on playing overcards.  Trickiest thing for me is 3-4 handed, with an AKo that’s missed the flop, no redraw, but not a particularly scary board either, from SB or BB.  With AK, still a decent betting situation.  But what about with AQ?  I get way more reluctant with AJ unless I’m in late position and have a redraw of some kind.  Again, it’s gotta be about pot size in these situations and the ability to knock people out.  If you can push out the bottom-pair-ace-kicker, you’ve just opened up a few more crucial outs.  Particularly from early position, it’s hard to figure this out. My raise from the blinds came after their original limp, so they basically called it without hesitation – hard to get a good read on the situation at this point.


The grind there has been profitable, but most of my recent winnings have come from the 6 person $25 no-limit ring games. My buddy plays these all the times, and we sat down to rap strategy as we played.


As far as general strategy, my buddy has focused on two aspects.  First, pot-building is key.  You want to keep the other guy in, but you want to punish him for calling.  Second, randomize but regularly use steals attempts on certain types of not-too-scary flops.  You don’t have to make them work all the time for them to be profitable, particularly if they can work with a relatively small bet.  One the other hand, if they never work, that means you’re at a relatively loose-passive table (someone is always calling, regardless), which will only benefit you when you pick up the big one.

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