Closures, Cancellations, and Filler: A Poker World in Stasis

  • At the start of a new year, the poker world experiences a raft of closures and cancellations 
  • Poker staking site PokerShares is closing its doors
  • Run It Once Poker has shut its online poker room, pivoting to a US market strategy
  • Poker events in Bali, Ireland, and Estonia have been cancelled or rescheduled
"Event cancelled" on top of coronavirus image
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to force poker event cancellations across the globe. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Filler

January has lost its meaning. It is no longer the start of a new year but the continuation of an old one. It is the 25th month of 2020 and how coldly the sun burns as winter cloaks us in a gown of frost, blinding the eyes, stiffening the muscles, freezing the fingertips. We are stuck in yesterday. We are in stasis. Like Vladimir and Estragon, we do not move. 

It might be winter, but it is not the winter of our discontent.

The poker world is frozen, too, as the omicron variant spreads like wildfire, forcing the cancellation of events in Bali, Ireland, and Estonia. As stricter measures in many countries curtail life, the algorithms quietly nudge us farther apart, evidenced by more polarization and divisiveness. Poker Twitter is no exception. It might be winter, but it is not the winter of our discontent. 

There were a flurry of poker stories the week after Christmas, but that has been followed by a dearth of news. I tried to find something worth talking about, but it was slim pickings. As a consequence, this article has so much filler that I expect Jungleman to write a dopey tweet about it. 

Closures

At the end of December, PokerShares announced that they are leaving the poker realm, moving their business interests into pastures new and what they believe will be more lucrative fields. A combination of regulations and the distraction of other ventures had curbed the enthusiasm of owners Mike “Timex” McDonald and Veron Lammers. 

Then on January 3, there was the announcement of another poker business segue as Run It Once closed their online poker room with a plan to pivot to a new life in legal and regulated United States markets. Players were told that they have three months to withdraw their funds. Fortunately, the excellent Run It Once training site remains open for business. 

In a public statement, Run It Once CEO Phil Galfond was crestfallen, but also determined to make the pivot a success. “My goal when we started this was to become a major competitor in the markets we launched in, and then work towards getting into the US,” said Galfond, adding: “While we’re on our way to half of that, it makes me sad that we didn’t first achieve the other half.”

Cancellations

On January 6, Triton Poker cancelled their upcoming Super High Roller Series in Bali. The 13-day event was meant to kick off on February 17, but the latest wave of COVID-19 has made it impossible for organizers. 

The health and safety of our players, partners, and team is always a priority.”

Triton CEO Andy Wong expressed his disappointment, but emphasized that the Super High Roller Series would be back as soon as possible. “The health and safety of our players, partners, and team is always a priority,” he said, adding: “we look forward to returning to host these exclusive live tournaments to our audiences anytime, anywhere with the high-level poker entertainment.”

In another blow for live players, the Paddy Power Irish Poker Tour (IPT) has been forced to postpone a number of events due to the coronavirus restrictions. The IPT Final will now be in Limerick on February 24, having been originally slated for Galway in late January. Poker players in Estonia will also have to wait as the Bounty Festival Tallinn stop, planned for January 25, has been postponed with no replacement date at this time. 

PokerShares leaves behind sophisticated poker staking landscape

Picking up on the first story in that whistle stop tour of the poker world’s exiguous offerings, what will be the impact of PokerShares departure from the space? They certainly provided a platform whereby fans at home could have more skin in the game. They absolutely shined a light on players and their markups, which did educate the community on how the market ranked various players. They definitely contributed to a more efficient staking market. 

Five years ago, buying action was mostly done via ad hoc person-to-person transactions on social media or message boards. It was a trust-based system and, as such, vulnerable to scammers. Then PokerShares came along, offering themselves as a vig-taking interlocutor, setting prices and effectively treating the performance of poker players in tournaments and heads-up contests as sporting outcomes to be wagered upon. 

Five years on, PokerShares is leaving a far more sophisticated poker staking landscape. For one, there is YouStake, offering a similar service as PokerShares. PocketFives has recently launched a staking platform. Big sites like GGPoker and PokerStars have integrated staking platforms into their clients. 

On this week’s episode of “The Lock-In,” the case is made that, these days, the community is certainly better informed, but regardless, markup discussions will always rage. And maybe they should, as the “markup police” do play an important part in how the poker staking market self-regulates.

Perhaps with a bit of modification, we can salvage some actually good advice from Jungleman:

“So is anyone else gonna tell these players that puffy mark-ups is losing them backers, not getting them more? I can’t standby idly and watch this, hate me if you must.”