New Study shows Anonymous Tables offer Safer but Wilder Ride

Anonymous Table Screenshot

Poker sites want everyone to start each game on a level playing field, and allow the luck of the draw and the skill of the players determine the outcome of the contest. Unfortunately, not all players like going into a game without an unfair advantage, and these are created in some pretty dastardly ways. One of the key ways digital card sharps leverage an advantage is by checking out the competition using their heads-up displays (HUDs), which offer the player’s name on most sites, and often a ranking or other stats on many.

A lot has been talk about recently surrounding automatic seating scripts – pieces of software which reserve seats at multiple tables at once, scope out the competition, and find the most promising tables for whoever is using the script (usually seats to the left of a recreational player). This article is useful for understanding some of the adverse effects of seating scripts on the online and mobile poker industry, and points out how sites are increasingly rolling out anonymous tables, which in theory make seating scripts redundant and re-level that playing field.

Automatic seating scripts have some annoying, but somewhat humorous results:

The case for anonymous tables, then, is already pretty strong, but up until now there’s been little data or literature about how play changes when the HUDs are switched off, and you’re up against faceless, nameless strangers. This is why Microgaming’s Head of Poker Alex Scott decided run a study of games taking place on the Microgaming Poker Network (MPN), and compare traditional games against anonymous games of the same variant. The results were pretty interesting.

The Results

While you might expect playing styles to differ somewhat from that which you find at tables which still feature HUDs, Scott derived some pretty interesting conclusions from his findings, which he listed as:

  • Anonymous Tables are Less Popular, but still significant
  • Anonymous Tables get more popular as the stakes increase, to a point
  • Anonymous Players Play Fewer Hands
  • There is Much More Action at Anonymous Tables
  • Winners Win More at Anonymous Tables
  • Losers Lose More at Anonymous Tables, and Go Broke Quicker
  • Variance is Higher at Anonymous Tables
  • A Winner’s Win Rate, Net of Rake, is Higher at Anonymous Tables


What They Mean

Obviously, each of these points are gone into in some depth, but I thought before I pick out the most important or interesting ones for further discussion, I’d give you the headlines and point out a couple of the trends which you see appearing.

I think it’s obvious to anyone look at the 8 points below that when it comes to anonymous tables, you’re going to have lots more fun, particularly if you’re a regular winner. Despite there being fewer hands played – which itself can be read as a symptom of loser going broke quicker – you’re going to see more action, have higher stake games on average, and even if you’re a regular loser you’re more likely to see a turn-around in your fortunes at anonymous tabled.

However, does that mean that anonymous tables are for everyone? Before we go on, it’s probably worth pointing out that – given their relative unpopularity – we have to be sceptical about the data that Scott is picking apart. I’m not so much suggesting that the sample size is too small, but rather that given that players must actively seek out anonymous tables, there’s likely to be some kind of agenda behind the choice; perhaps we see losers going bust quicker, and variance being higher because the table is full of rookies avoiding situations in which their relative inexperience may make them a target (see seating script above).

Of course that’s just speculation. Scott makes few judgements about why his findings might be the case, and without more specific information, it’s hard to tell whether there’s more to these finding than what meets the eye. With this in mind, I want to look a three of the ‘headlines’ in a bit more detail, and pick apart what they mean for the average player.

There is Much More Action at Anonymous Tables

This is an interesting statement, as one needs to know the parameters for measuring the amount of action at a table. For Scott, it boils down to four facts, which he suggests act as evidence for his assertion:

  • There are more called bets in each hand
  • More money is bet and called in each hand
  • The average size of each called bet is larger
  • The average pot size is larger

According to his data, the amount bet and called during each hand is 20% higher than regular tables, and even the average bet is 19% higher. That’s a lot more cash on the table, and an awful lot to be changing hands so quickly. Whether this style of play appeals to you might be the clincher for deciding whether anonymous tables are for you or not.Microgaming Logo

While it’s not necessarily the case that all anonymous tables are wild and unrestrained, more conservative players might choose to stick to the regular tables; not least because they can then have a better assessment of who they’re up against.

Winners Win More at Anonymous Tables

You SHOULD be playing poker online or on your mobile simply for the fun on it; but come on, who isn’t chasing the cash? Who would say no to wins that come bigger and faster than at regular tables, and come along with the promise of not having to face cheating script users? Well, as will all things in poker, it’s a calculated risk. With better prizes comes a whole host of other considerations to contend with, like:

Losers Lose More at Anonymous Tables, and Go Broke Quicker

I think this is the point that should be the warning to players. While it sounds like there’s fistfuls of cash to be had by the savvy, it certainly appears to be the case that the uncareful are more likely to get sucked into a quick loss.

This said, if we do work on the assumption that the anonymous tables are a magnet for players who act a little more free and easy with their cash, perhaps they’re exactly the right place for the conservative player, who bides their time, and picks off their less careful opponents as they overstretch themselves. Who knows? As I stressed before, I’m simply speculating.

On Cheating

At the end of his blog post announcing these finding, Scott takes a minute to talk about cheating at poker sites, and how it relates to the merits and drawbacks of anonymous games. It seems he is generally in the camp that anonymous games are effective at reducing the use of automatic seating scripts, and that any site worth its salt should be able to spot players using anonymity to cheat in other ways. I won’t say too much more about it, but I’d definitely recommend going and having a read for yourself. Anyone who works or plays in the mobile or online poker industry should be taking at least

MPN elsewhere on Droid Poker

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