Stepping back into online poker’s past this time out, illustrating that some things just aren’t as new as they might appear. Back in 2010, when PokerStars was still available in the United States, they briefly offered a form of a sit-‘n-go called Double or Nothing, or DON SNGs.
The format seemed simple enough. In a ten-player DON SNG, all a participant had to do was survive into the final five to receivea payback of twice the entry fee, less the halved raked that Stars charged for these SNGs.
How’d it work out? Not so well, as it turned out. PokerStars was soon inundated by a wave of colluding players from China, who discovered that by playing as teams and sharing hole-card information, they could usually guarantee themselves of capturing at least three of the five playing spots.
That spelled profit for the cheaters involved, even if it was a smallish profit that had to be garnered significant numbers of times. That China’s economy had — and continues to have — a much-lower average income than the U.S. and other Western economies played an important role, too, because it made these teams’ playing in micro-stakes DONs more worthwhile and profitable, compared to other forms of income-generating activity those involved could have chosen.
Such activity by Chinese online-gaming rings wasn’t limited to poker, either; it was a variant, perhaps, of the “Chinese gold farmer” epidemic that plagued the online World of Warcraft ecosystem back in the late ’00s.
As for the DON problem at PokerStars, Stars first placed restrictions on Chinese players’ ability to register en masse for any particular DON SNG. That still didn’t work as well as planned, in part because the collusion also involved accounts registered in countries in China, and eventually, Stars just shelved the whole DON thing. It was one of those concepts that looked great on paper but didn’t work out because, well, humans are humans.
GGPoker tourneys flooded by last-minute late registrations
Why the history lesson? Because GGPoker has learned of late that the “China problem” in online gaming regarding real-money games, remains in place. And it’s important to note that the “China problem” isn’t really specific to China, but because of China’s massive population and comparatively low-capita income, it’s easily pigeonholed as a Chinese thing and it tends to be noticed simply because of the number of protagonists involved.
Last time out, we explored the controversy that emerged when GGPoker shut down its lobbies to third-party viewers, which specifically tracked the ability of sites such as SharkScope to scrape and sell tourney results. There are pros and cons to consider, but despite its claims of nobility, Sharkscope and similar services are lampreys, and they always have been.
One of the responses in a prominent Twitter thread about the GGPoker/Sharkscope war came from Dutch pro Gilles Simon (@Ghilleyyy), who was so made about the anti-Sharkscope thing that he posted about this other ongoing problem at GGPoker:
Another poster, @johav, responded to Simon’s post with another image of a GGPoker tourney lobby just prior to the end of late registration. (Logged-in players can always see the lobbies of tourneys they’re playing; GGPoker’s changes have blocked non-participants from viewing them.)
The two images combined show separate but related views of the same problem: large numbers of players from China and Hong Kong registering at the last minute or two of late registration, then max-stalling until the bubble bursts to garner lots of min-cashes and an occasional lucky deep run.
It’s like the old DON thing in that it’s thinly profitable for any individual account, but if you can control large numbers of accounts, those profits add up.
GGPoker too greedy with extended late registration
The problem is GGPoker’s to fix, and as of yet, the site hasn’t done so. The problem can be alleviated by GGPoker not keeping late registration quite as long, to where players can buy in almost at the money bubble.
Implementing that, however, requires GGPoker to be a little less greedy about trying to scrape in every last late-registration in the name of maximum profits; when that maximizing of profits begins to affect fair play, then it needs to be fixed. Note too that if a max-late-registering account is doing so without being part of a colluding team, the activity isn’t that wrong, as it’s more a case of taking advantage of loopholes in the game as offered.
It’s also not without precedent. Years ago, I remember playing quite a bit on the original Poker.com, which later became Carbon Poker and served as the flagshipp site of the small, Australia-based Merge Network.
Poker.com/Carbon used to be just fine to play on as smallish networks go, but as the site battled to survive post-UIGEA, and later, post-Black Friday, it had to cope with ever-dwindling numbers of players from its largest market, the U.S.
How Carbon dealt with it was to first get rid of most of the freezeouts it once offered, in favor of unlimited-rebuy tourneys that could extract more rebuys per player to offset the fewer number of players.
Then it got worse and worse. Carbon began extending late-registration right to the edge of the end of late registration and beyond, including allowing players to re-enter immediately if they were knocked out on the bubble.
It got silly and stupid in a hurry; players rebought and rebought and rebought again, waiting for someone else to give up and let the bubble be cracked. I suffered through a couple of episodes of the stupidity and quit playing on the site, never to return.
GGPoker is magnitudes of size larger than the Merge Network ever was, but it’s making the same greed-driven mistake. Trying to squeeze out every last available buy-in from their poker clientele makes the overall tourney experience less fair and significantly worse in the playing. GGPoker should fix this, pronto, but let’s be honest: they have some financial incentives not to.