The demographics of the poker ecosystem

In the wake of my last post about the argument that recreational players are losing too fast, the old problem of defining the recreational player resurfaced. There is no unified view across the industry of what casual or recreational player means. There are many legit ways to approach such a definition and personal beliefs (and agendas) tend to produce convenient made-to-fit definitions that are not so legit. As a result, productive discussions about recreational players tend to end up getting caught in a web of confusion over who means what when.
I definitely should have shared my view before posting what I did. I have in the past, but understanding the ecosystem of a poker room is a work in constant progress. So whatever my latest take on it is, should have been part of what I published.
So here it is.

It is important to note that I rarely discuss ”player groups” or ”player types”. The word ”demographics” in the headline is somewhat misleading actually.  For me, the best way to describe poker ecology is in terms of ”player states”. I prefer ”state”  because it describes that the players are on a  journey (short or long) through the game better. Secondly, from a holistic liquidity theory point of view, it doesn’t matter which player is what. It only matters that some players are in one state while others are in another state.  Thirdly, I prefer state because I base a lot of my liquidity optimization strategies on the value of players switching between states. Rather than saying that more players need to be of a specific category or other – which tends to defy poker’s natural equilibrium anyway – I prefer to argue that it is vital to tailor the conditions required to be in and reach certain states so that flows of players between them can be optimized.

The below chart is a a summarized simplification of a complex economic system. It segments the various states a player can be in based on the play motivations and ambitions of those who are in each state. It is a pedagogical aid – not an attempt to reveal some sort of absolute truth.
Hopefully it makes sense.


IEG-poker-ecology-demographics-player states.001


Brief explanation of the various states 

Newb. Intrigued by poker and by playing it online. Understands that it is a game where you influence the outcome. May have dabbled with social poker or participated in friendly home games – tops. Understands that there is a learning curve but consider themselves able to cope with that learning curve.

Burned. Brutal first experiences leaves them with no desire to play again. They didn’t feel welcome and they definitely felt exploited. Cheated, almost. This was nothing at all like black jack. It was hard to understand what to play and once in a game everything just happened too fast.

Explorer. They got a first taste and they liked it. Sure, they my have suffered some losses but that is to be expected when one is new. All they have to to do now to win is to continue to play, learn and improve.

Grinder. Fully fledged poker players that are deeply immersed in the poker community. They have had a taste of success; they think they know what it will take to replicate it and they desire to take the next step and become regular money makers. They put in the hours driven by a varying mixture of enthusiasm, genuine game enjoyment, persistence and addiction.

Rounder. A grinder who has discovered the winning-certified recipe. The question for the rounder is if that recipe can keep delivering juicy enough winnings to justify the the time and effort. Anything that can generate slightly better edge is worth considering and oftentimes also worth pursuing.

Recreational. The recreational player is free of illusions (and most delusions) and recognizes that the opportunity of beating the game is too slim for them to fit. But they still play to win of course. They just need a little bit of help from lady luck to do it. Their preferences may vary (some prefer cash games, some tournaments)  but they are united by their continued love for the game, their continued urge to play when life permits it and their sound approach to playing it.

Churned. What happens when playing online poker ends up costing too much time, money, and/or life energy for a grinder or a recreational player to accommodate it in their every day life. Changes in their life situation, new products and many other factors can bring them back to the table again (although often only momentarily). Either to have another shot a beating the game or as a part of their entertainment mix.

Each state and an each transition between states is color-coded based on the value it represents for an operator of online real-money poker room that applies an (at least) fairly standard rake model.

Willingness to lose money, contribution to liquidity in tournaments, and chance of contributing to word-of-mouth marketing are some of the factors behind the classification. Again, it’s a massive simplification.

Lots can be said about this model. For now it will have to suffice as an explanation of what I mean when I talk about recreational players and their role in the poker ecosystem.