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Poker Ecosystems

Poker is not about the best players in the world competing to see who the true champion is. After all, there's no money to be made for good players if they are only competing against other good players. Instead, poker mimics the animal kingdom. The predators (good players) seek out their prey (weaker players). If the weaker players don't flee their table in time, their chips will eventually be eaten by the stronger players.

The poker ecosystem is fairly stable, though it is sometimes imbalanced. Some places have too many sharks, while there is an abundance of fish at other poker rooms. A lot of the time this is the result of geography. In some areas, there are not too many poker games, and most of the people playing are really good or really bad. In other areas, such as Vegas, there is a constant infusion of fish to keep the games fairly stable.

What is unique about the internet is that geographic barriers do not exist. If there are plenty of fish at a certain poker room, then the sharks should be able to quickly swim over and play there. However, the reality of the situation is that many people stay loyal to a select few online poker rooms, and some poker rooms have much softer games than others.

Obviously, there is a lot to be said about playing at places that you enjoy. However, some people unnecessarily play games that are shark-infested when there are much easier games elsewhere. This is particularly the case with ring games for both limit hold'em and no-limit hold'em. These games are popular at almost all internet card rooms, especially the low and mid-limits. Unless someone wants to play high limits (higher than $15-$30 or $2-$4 no-limit), there is generally a wide variety of places from which to choose.

Nevertheless, some internet card rooms are much fishier than others. There are several reasons for this. First, some internet card rooms 'protect' the fish more. For example, a poker room can limit the number of tables a person plays. Inexperienced players tend to only play one game at once anyway, but sharks tend to play multiple games at once in order to maximize their win rate. Thus, limiting the amount of tables a person can play has the effect of increasing the presence of inexperienced players.

For example, suppose there are 40 players at a card room. Ten are sharks and thirty are inexperienced players. If players are restricted to one table, then there will be a 3:1 fish to shark ratio. If players can play a maximum of three tables, it is very likely that the sharks will play three tables at once while the fish will still play at only one. So under the three-table scenario, there are effectively 30 sharks playing (ten times three tables), while there are still only 30 fish. So the ratio becomes 1:1.

Another situation that can imbalance the ecosystem is if a card room is owned by an online casino. For example, 888 Poker is owned by 888 PLC. This company also owns Casino-on-Net, which is the most popular online casino. Pacific receives a lot of crossover traffic from Casino-on-Net. These casino players do not tend to play as well as people only interested in poker, so these rooms have an added stream of fish.

Advertising is another factor. Some internet card rooms, like Party Poker, advertise much more than others. However, advertising alone does not guarantee the fish will sign up at a poker room in droves. The style of a poker room's advertisements are important. Sites that advertise poker as "fun and easy" are more likely to attract casual players than sites that challenge players to "test their skills against the pros." More about this subject can be found in this Weekly Shuffle article.

Finally, poker rooms sometimes offer incentives that attract sharks. For example, if a poker room offers a nice VIP program, the games will likely get tougher. Casual players do not play much poker, so a VIP program isn't very important to them. However, a VIP program is very attractive to sharks who play a significant amount of poker. People who play 30+ hours of poker a week will take the time to analyze which VIP program offers the most rewards for them. So while a nice VIP program is an added plus for playing at a poker room, it also has the negative affect of making the games significantly tougher at that site.

A nice signup bonus also has the affect of making games softer. This is because most new players to a poker room are generally casual players and are still learning the game. However, sites with nice VIP programs and reload bonuses tend to have tougher games. This is because players who have been playing there for years are probably pretty good, so keeping these sharks loyal has the affect of making the games tougher.

Understanding the poker ecosystem is important for good game selection. Finding soft games is as important to winning as solid poker skills. If you plan on seriously becoming a strong poker player, then I suggest that you scope out the various poker rooms available to you. Also, monitor the poker rooms you play at to see if you believe the competition is becoming harder or softer. Our site reviews page lists over a dozen internet card rooms, and they include our perceptions on the ease of competition at those poker rooms.

Next Article: Guide to Party Poker

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