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It’s no secret that player traffic at online poker rooms is well below that of days gone by.

A number of factors have contributed to the decrease in players, most notably Black Friday. The sudden shutdown of poker sites in 2011 has likely kept a good number of players from returning to online action even four years later.

Those players can hardly be blamed, as another shutdown in the U.S. could come at any time and without warning. Nobody wants to go through that again, wondering whether or not their poker site account balances will be reimbursed.

Fair Game….or Foul?

Black Friday aside, there are other reasons why player traffic is on the decline –  a decrease that currently pegs at 14% less than just one year ago. The reasons have to do with recreational players and their experiences at the virtual tables. If those experiences are mostly negative, those casual players are likely not to return.

What makes a negative online poker experience? Most will point to losing money as being the most distasteful reason. But that’s not necessarily true when you consider that casual players are not really in it for the money. Many just want to have a bit of fun while playing online poker. They would like a fair game that gives them a chance to win, while enjoying themselves with perhaps some social interaction with fellow players.

Keeping recreational players from participating in a fair and fun game are the online pros and grinders whose enjoyment comes from fleecing their less-experienced tablemates. Using poker-tracking software that provides an undisputed edge to the players who make the investment and employ the statistics available to identify and prey on weaker players, such software unlevels the playing field considerably.

One argument made by grinders who use heads-up displays and the like to their advantage is that the option of obtaining poker-tracking software is available to anyone who chooses to do so. That misses the point of the recreational players’ aim, which is to have fun and not be targeted as a casual or losing player to be taken advantage of.

Slaughter Rule

Of course, the game of poker (and any game, for that matter) requires some to win and others to lose. It’s the nature of competition. But when that competition swings too far in favor of one group of players in terms of skill and advantages, to the demise of the other group, it’s not difficult to see why recreational players have instead gone back to play-money online poker rooms and avoided real-money poker sites.

Many little league baseball organizations have a slaughter rule or mercy rule designed to put an end to play when one team has a likely insurmountable lead. It keeps the losing team from suffering perhaps even greater embarrassment or humiliation. The mercy rule is in effect in online poker, in the form of recreational players who never return to the virtual felt on which they were slaughtered.

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Charles Rettmuller

Charles has been an avid poker player for a number of years, both live and online. He holds a degree in journalism and previously worked as a reporter for a Chicago-based newspaper. Charles joined the PokerUpdate team in early 2012 and writes daily news articles for the site.