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Poker without Americans

1 comment ● 2011-04-20

A few days have passed since “Black Friday” – the day the US Department of Justice (DoJ) shut down Ultimate Bet, FullTilt and PokerStars to US players; a dark day indeed for poker players in all parts of the world. While there will be many questions and theories regarding the implications for the future of poker, for the viability of the game or the legal implications of the DoJ’s case, I’m not going to try to define these things today. I’ll leave that to the experts.

What I want to talk about is poker without Americans. From an impressive sample size of at least two days on PokerStars sans Americans, I have some initial observations:

Games are easier…
How bad are Russians at poker? They are terrible. Italians are bloody awful. South Americans are shithouse. But good god, the average South American or Italian shines like a Supernova Elite compared to the average Ukrainian. These guys play like they are only allowed to do so drunk, while using their elbows to mash keys at random. It is not clear to me that Ukrainian players understand pot odds, whether a flush beats a straight, or even how to spell poker.

Say what you will about US players, but it is hard to deny the best players and most consistent online grinders are American. Sure, through sheer numbers of players they’ll always contribute a fair few donks to the pool as well, but as a rule, a table of yanks is not going to be an easy table. After all, the modern game was invented by America, it’s in their blood. What is interesting is that the DoJ has managed to subvert the laws of nature – now in online poker, the weak survive and the strong get their money impounded.
…though variance is higher
And now every table features a salivating line-up of donks from Eastern Europe, I’ve started channeling Tony G – “bring on the Russians” I yell, as a load up another tournament. Of course, with so many spewtards lining up to throw their money away – the horrible beats should be expected. I’m taking beats now I’ve haven’t experienced since the online glory days of 2004. But goodness, my goodness the value is there.
Tables are less polite
Less polite you say? Given the reputation of the rude ‘loud American’ this just cannot be right, can it? Well, in principle I agree with you, and I’d thought emphasizing the rudeness of Americans when planning this article. But as I played over the past few days I copped a litany of abuse such as I hadn’t experienced in years. Germans I knocked out of tournaments were trash-talking me and staying on the rail to abuse me throughout the game; Canadians were swearing like troppers; Romanians bashing the keyboard with barely comprehensible insults “*** yu idut” - whatever that means. The abuse was surprisingly constant.

How can this be? It seemed so strange, as I assumed the departure of Americans would entail a relative rapprochement – an easing of tension at the table. But it dawned on me that as a rule the most abusive players are the least experienced and losing players. Most – but not all – experienced winning players are either used to the bad beats or are smart enough to know that you don’t tap glass. So, as the experienced, non-abusive American player leaves the scene and clueless agro eastern eurodonks fill up the tables, the abuse flows like a rivered flush.

Mixed games are dead
Regrettably, since mixed games are my bread and better, all is quiet on the mixed-game front. SNGs in particular are suffering. I have sat in HORSE and 8-Game tables for hours waiting for them to fill up to no avail. Stud games are also getting a lot less players – which makes sense given stud has always been more popular with Americans. If you make a bit of money in Stud hi/lo, well, you can forget about that as well. These games play a little in the peak periods, but as a general rule these SNGs are a ghost town.

Limit and PLO Hi/Lo is the only split really playing at the moment, which is something. But there are slim picking beyond this in the non-hold ‘em variants.
Europeans are ugly
Now, I’m not saying that Europeans as a rule are uglier than Americans (the contrary, in fact). Rather, I’m saying that Americans tend not to put pictures of themselves in their avatar at PokerStars, whereas every Euro wants to put a self-portrait up. And when you have a table full of these guys, and half of them have a picture of themselves on their avatar, then suddenly you notice how unattractive they all are.

Apparently being ugly isn’t a disincentive to plastering their image next to the poker table. I tell you what, all the pictures of the shaved bulbous heads of eastern euro-gangster donks, or skinny Canadian hipster dweebs, or Italian sex-offender lookalikes are downright disconcerting. Put a freaking sunset picture up, or a unicorn, or a telly-tubby, but for the love of god stop showing the world that big cabbage you call a head.

Having said that, Americans do insist on putting baby photos up on their avatar, which is just as annoying as pictures of ugly Europeans. Look mate, you have a child – good for you, but don’t bring it to the fucking poker table. The last thing I want to see while playing some cards in my underpants while dropping f-bombs at donkeys is a picture of an oh-too-cute baby. Think about it.

So there are some initial thoughts. While the games may be a bit softer in the short term, obviously it isn’t good for the game as a whole when the biggest market of players is shut out. It’s idiotic, really, when a great American past-time like poker is placed in a legal grey area for Americans. As the Australian Productivity Commission found in its comprehensive report of the gaming industry, of all the forms of online gaming, poker is the least prone to problem gamblers, and the number one candidate for government regulation. For the good of the game, let’s hope the foolishness in the US does not last.

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