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    Kim Lund: “End the Spread!”

    Posted by Kim Lund May 13, 2013

    The min/max buy-in spread in cash games is a feature with nearly 100% penetration across the world’s real money poker sites. After five years of asking what it is for, I am prepared, once and for all, to take a final, public stand against it. Nobody has been able to provide me with a convincing set of arguments why it’s a good practice. And I can come up with several reasons why it’s a bad one.

    So here it goes:

    Poker sites worldwide: drop this fool’s feature that invites predatory play and sends valuable recreational players down a shortcut chute to their own demise. You say you understand the importance of catering to the new, the recreational and the reckless. Getting rid of the buy-in spread in cash games would be a good place to start. End. The. Spread!

    In order to avoid overlooking any compelling counter-arguments, I decided last week on a final pro/con rinse-through on Twitter. What ensued was a great (as great as can be on Twitter) discussion that highlighted many of the arguments I’ve wrestled with in the past spiced with some new perspectives.

    But at the end of the day, any doubt I may have had was washed away. I remain convinced that the only good buy-in spread is the dead spread – having only one buy-in option for each table.

    During the Twitter conversation fellow consultant Chris Grove echoed the original intent behind offering flexible buy-in amounts. In the brick and mortar casino world where every inch of floor space is valuable, every new poker game, as a result, is costly and players may be seriously scarce. It makes sense to bridge the gap between various people’s stake preferences and wallet sizes. One single table can serve a much bigger crowd if table buy-ins are flexible.

    The question is how strong that argument is in an online context.

    I think it’s about as weak as your average Hellmuth raise (I’m a huge fan, shut up). Operating more tables costs virtually nothing and floor space if obviously infinite. As for liquidity, you have bigger issues to worry about than this if you can’t fill more than one table per level at lower levels using fixed buy-in amounts.

    Another argument that looks good on paper is that a min/max buy-in spread provides players with more choice. And more choice is generally a good thing.

    My response to that is to ask: what kind of choice is it for those who understand the implications of the choice? I’d argue that those in the know either min buy-in to try and hit-and-ruin the game or they buy-in max to make sure they’re not at a disadvantage. All other possible choices are moot.

    So in essence there is only one choice a site should/need to offer. Max – unless they like players having their game experiences wrecked by short-stacking ratholers.

    In reality, the min/max spread entices recreational players to make horrible bankroll decisions and often puts them at an immediate disadvantage without being aware of it. The option adds clicks and introduces another confusing table variable that players need to grasp before playing.

    I often talk about the importance of game progression in online poker. In that light it may seem strange to advocate raising the threshold between stakes. Doing so reduces the elasticity of one of the few experiences of progression (moving up in stakes) that the generic online poker experience of today delivers. But from a game design perspective it simply doesn’t make sense to offer this particular shortcut. It comes with too high a potential cost. It’s like revealing a portal to Mother Brain before Samus has even acquired the freeze gun (I’m getting old but want to be hip so I regularly use references to Nintendo 8-bit games). Someone who utilizes it is probably out of his or her bankroll depth and unaware of the strategic disadvantages of short-stack play (unless you’re trained in the art).

    Isn’t it better for players to win and lose money from each other on a level playing field? Isn’t it beneficial if we can actually tell players what they need to risk in order to play with greater clarity?

    Now, there is one dimension to this story that I initially left out. And that is the effect a change in table buy-in options may have on deposits. I changed my mind on whether or not to address it after some good old cattle-prodding by QuadJacks’ own Matt Kaufman.

    I left it out firstly because it is an effect that is hard to isolate from a very complex matrix of other cause- and-effect relationships; secondly because I am 92.8% certain the end-effect is positive and thirdly because the effect can be made void. It’s a subject that really shouldn’t be dumbed down or simplified, but if I were to try, I’d end up with something like the following. If nothing else, it might serve as an insight into the complex work of player and game liquidity management.

    Stricter table buy-ins will force players down in level as their bankrolls drop below the fixed table buy-in. This in turn might lead to a lower injection of cash as players, once broke, deposit to re-enter a lower staked game than they otherwise would.

    On the other hand, the same force will likely extend deposit lifetimes which in turn tend to increase player lifetime and overall total deposits.

    The question is which effect is the greater one. I believe I know the answer, but I haven’t had the time to discuss it with those who likely know it for sure. I’m sure they’ll flame me if I’m wrong. You know who you are! :-)

    The way to make this effect void (although that is not the reason I’d consider implementing this) is to offer several table types for each stake level that differ based on their fixed buy-in amount. I point this out because people tend to assume that introducing fixed buy-in levels means only offering ONE buy-in amount per stake level, which is something I am certainly not advocating.

    Traditions are strong in poker. I know that. I’ve challenged its traditions to a fistfight many times just to end up with my nose and the bottom line of whatever site I’ve been working for equally bloodied.
    But online poker is full of dumb legacy issues. Things that are done, without reflection, just because they’ve always been done like that.

    Every time someone successfully breaks free of the constraints of such unjustified norms, the game evolves.

    Now the time has come to evolve it by introducing fixed table buy-ins.

    And that’s an opinion I’m all-in on. On a min/max 20-100 BB table.

    About Kim Lund

    Kim Lund is a gaming industry consultant with close to ten years experience in the online poker industry. He's a fierce advocate of the need to make poker more accessible, challenge-driven and fun to play for the masses. You can read more from Kim at infiniteedgegaming.com and follow him on Twitter: @infiniteedgekim.

    View all post by Kim Lund

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