Will NLH Continue Getting Tougher?

I’ve been in the industry so long its nice to hear fresh takes on how the industry is changing from a different view. Here is an article written by a poker player and blogger. It is something I’ve also noticed. The regulars were the only ones to survive the recession, but it was just regulars left. When the economy started coming back more of the recreational players started coming back as well. They noticed that the game was a hell of a lot harder than it was during the boom. So as their hard earned money gets spent quite a bit faster, they come in less and less so its back to almost regulars again. Of course there will always be the fish, but when there aren’t as money, the regulars feed the rake and less goes to all of them. Pro’s may not be able to play for a living anymore, and turning just above water players into losing players.

This being said, there really is no upside in the near future. With the exception of online poker coming back everywhere and helping to create interest again.


Will NLH Continue Getting Tougher?


“No money Heads Up Everyone’s Solid”. These are the immortal words of the great Crazychips which he expressed in his famous 2+2 thread. Over the years there have been other threads created by people to express similar indignation towards Six Max and Full Ring games. Unfortunately none of quite the same calibre and certainly none that have spawned *annoyingly catchy songs*… YouTube it. As ridiculous as the statement is, a small grain of truth exists. There is no doubt that NLH games have increased in difficulty over time. What’s particularly interesting to me is if that trend will continue.


For those of us who play professionally, or are considering committing to doing so, speculating as to whether poker will continue to be profitable in the future and to what degree is only sensible. It’s important to note that I very much mean speculating. The possible edge a player can have is influenced by so many variables that finding an accurate answer is next to impossible for any individual. First I will make it clear that the points I bring up and the justifications I use only addresses cash game play. I will not touch on SNG’s and tournaments other than to say that SNG’s have experienced the largest decrease in edge and tournaments the smallest. Cash games sit somewhere in-between. I hold a controversial point of view as to if cash games will continue to get tougher as they have done. My opinion is that we have reached a stage where most player pools have ceased getting more competitive or are at least approaching that point. Now of course I am not talking about $100/$200 games, but in general I believe this to be true. There is a lot of justification needed before most people are going to accept this view so let’s first consider why the games have become tougher over time.


Edge has decreased over time for one reason. The pressures of competition. Just as the strong survive in evolution so does this hold true in poker. It is commonly understood that strong players win from weak players over time and that some portion of these losing player quit. New weak players are then needed to join to maintain the equilibrium that keeps rake flowing and winning players in profit. In the past strong players therefore focused much of their efforts on hunting down the recreational players and improvements to their game were secondary. So prevalent was the practise (there are some who have made it closer to an art these days) it spawned its own name, ‘Bum-Hunting’. However at some point scripting your way to success started becoming less profitable. The rate of recreational players depositing decreased while the rate of people educating themselves in the pursuit of being Regs increased. Regular players needed another way to expand their edge to continue making the same income as they had in the past. In my opinion this was where the real competition in online poker began. It was the beginning of RegWars.


RegWars Episode V. The Grinders RakeBack  


A long time ago in a poker room far far away… well somewhere on the Isle of Man most likely. It will be more effective if you imagine it scrolling up.


Competition between regular players began to increase to the point where very few regulars had enough of an edge over any other to do more than break even after rake. This has had some unfortunate results. Many regulars will not play each other without the presence of a recreational player. Now this is totally rational in one sense as they both know it is at best not very profitable and at worse a losing game. However this results in fewer tables getting started and therefore fewer recreational players playing. But this is not the problem I am here to discuss. With all this said, why do I think play is slowing in its trend of becoming tougher?


It can only be because the pressure of competition is no longer increasing. There would be several ways this could occur. For example a large influx of recreational players or a decrease in the rake/ increased rakeback would accomplish this by diminishing the competitive pressure. But I believe there are two simple reasons. Firstly the level of strategy available to the common man has ceased to evolve recently. People with the most knowledge at the moment are more inclined to keep it to themselves than they were previously. Those who want the most current knowledge now need to pay large sums of money for it, or work it out themselves from base principles. Further, in every competitive environment there is a point of satisfaction for work done. By this I simply mean that everyone has their own subjective scale where they judge if the potential reward they will receive merits the effort they will need to apply to get it. Hypothetically we have someone who would have been able to quit their $40,000 job in 2005 to play poker. This person can make $80,000 a year playing poker and they believe it will require only 1.5 times the effort of their current job. In 2015 our player can quit his $40,000 job to play poker where he can make $40,000 per year with a difficulty of 6 times his current job. This implies the game has become 4 times more difficult to profit in over the last 10 years. These numbers are entirely arbitrary but the point is our prospective player is not as attracted to being a pro poker player in the present as he was in 2005. That is not to say he does not have the skills to compete and succeed. He will just choose not to, as to him, the utility of being a poker player is less than that of his current job.


I believe we have reached the point where the game has become so competitive that poker as a profession has become unattractive enough to actually prevent some of the most intelligent players and prospective players from joining it. This combined with the fact that the games current difficulty prevents the less intelligent players from competing effectively results in an environment where the rate of pressure of competition is slowing down. It’s not likely to reverse in the same fashion I’m afraid. For the edges to increase we would need to see something like a rake decrease or large increase in the recreational population. I suppose we can dream on. But take it as a positive. It seems the games might not become unbeatable after all. Crazychips will be pleased. Perhaps you could say it is a New Hope…


Zach is a poker writer at sportswriters.us/pokerwriter

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