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The joy of anonymity

Since Microgaming launched anonymous online poker tables late last year, the Gambling office has been split as to whether this is a good thing for the game. Chris Lines finds out how the early days of online anonymity have panned out, and why it has strong appeal for recreational players

When the Microgaming poker network launched anonymous tables back in November, on sites including Ladbrokes and Unibet, we were initially sceptical as to whether they were on to a winner. We have long memories, and remember another poker company launching a marketing campaign based around “poker without the sharks”, but we don’t recall hearing of it being a tremendous success. We also haven’t heard much of that company since then either – though credit to them for trying.

The premise behind anonymous tables is that your opponents can’t keep a record of how you play, recognise you by your alias/avatar, etc. So every time you sit down at the table, you don’t have to worry that one or more players might be armed with a wealth of information about you. You’re a complete stranger to them every time you take your seat at the virtual felt. Your alias and avatar are visible only to you, not to anybody else.

So, a few months since the launch, how has the idea panned out for Microgaming?

“Anonymous tables already account for a third of our players,” Microgaming’s head of poker Lydia Melton tells Gambling over a coffee. There is a calm satisfaction about Melton today as she talks confidently about the success of the idea. It seems they’re onto a winner, with growing dissatisfaction among the online poker community that hand histories and companies selling poker data are undermining the spirit of fair competition.

“To be a good poker player you need skill, information and balls,” says Melton. “If one outweighs the others, you’ll be a weaker player. When you play online, there’s less information. But with data mining and hand histories, you can have a good idea of how someone will play. You can buy databases of millions of hands. That hasn’t happened on Microgaming poker rooms too much, but we need to take steps to protect players. Tracking software will not be statistically significant because you can only use it for that one particular session.”

Opinion remains divided in the Gambling office about whether this is something we would enjoy being part of. But perhaps that because one or two of the people here are quite partial to the odd hand history themselves? I, for one, never really look at them, I’m more of a recreational player – so I can see the logic behind the idea. And if I wasn’t quite convinced, Melton then seals the deal with the next thing she says.

“The action is insane. When poker is not anonymous, a big part of it can be maintaining your reputation. Maniacs don’t want to be seen as such when they’re not anonymous,” she says.

That’s me sold. So normally tight, rock-like players will use anonymous tables as a chance to let out their reckless, impulsive, experimental side? That sounds good to me, when my game is often based on being patient and picking my spots. Perhaps I’ll give anonymous tables a bash sometime soon.

Oh, and according to Melton, “the chat is more friendly too”. When you get called a “donk” as often as I do, that sounds like a refreshing change.

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