Tuesday, November 06, 2007

No Free Lunches in Poker

"TANSTAAFL," Robert Heinlein noted in his best book, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and although bars stopped offering free lunches to patrons decades ago, the truism still holds.

The Globe had an interesting article yesterday on a free-play poker site, the so-called "National League of Poker," (NLOP) based out of Framingham, MA. The business plan of NOLOP is advertising... and lots of it, too. You can't gamble for money on NLOP, instead you accumulate points and you become eligible for cash and prizes. According to the article, NLOP "...guarantees $25,000 will be paid out [each month] in cash and prizes including trips, electronics, sponsor specials, and seats at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Last month the league mailed to more than 3,000 people checks ranging from $5 to $500..." The CEO notes in the article that the site generates over $125,000 in profit each month.

So, I hied my electronic ricoM over to NLOP and was, ah, less than impressed in an admittedly short one-hour session at the tables. Lets see:

  1. The site does not work with Firefox. I use IE only when I have to, mostly because some clients require it, but I went through the NLOP installation process, which required downloading an ActiveX control and updating Flash (even though I actually had the latest version, NLOP required a re-install, claiming my version was outdated).

  2. The interface is klutzy. The game play area is a non-resizable window and does not allow you to ALT-TAB to any other IE window. There are ads flashing continuously at right and bottom in the game play area - both annoying and distracting. The poker interface is bare bones. You can do well-executed Flash poker interfaces. The now-defunct Dead Man's Hand, used to promote a video game and later Deadwood, was an example. The NLOP interface is not an example of a well-executed Flash poker interface.

  3. Play was s l o w, like molasseses. A round could take from 2-3 minutes with player hands being continuously time-outed.

  4. Play was what you would expect from what is essentially a free-roll. Lots of all-ins and suckouts with nothing.
All-in-all if you're used to play-for-money poker sites, you're probably not going to find anything to like about NLOP. If you're a n00B to on-line poker, aren't particularly technically snooty, tolerant of banner ads, and looking for "cash and prizes" you might want to give it a try. On the other hand, most established poker sites already offer free play. Just put in .net rather than .com. You won't get those cash and prizes, but you'll probably have a better user experience and possibly even learn how to play better poker.

A couple of other comments on the Globe article itself. It's news to me that the UIGEA was "created to stop offshore poker sites from capitalizing on foreign market exchanges" as the article states without explanation. Out of the various "official" explanations I've seen, the most repeated is that the UIGEA is/was to prevent money transfers from U.S. poker player's banks to/from offshore accounts.

As is usual with popular reporting on on-line poker, the reporter uses extreme examples as "color," one a 23-year-old who reportedly plays 12-hour sessions at a time. Of course, people like me, who play a few hours a week in weekly games, aren't all that interesting.

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