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In case you haven’t noticed, the game of online poker is changing.

The games themselves aren’t changing. You’ll still be dealt two hole cards before the flop in Texas Hold’em and four in Omaha. You’ll still be able to match wits against players of various skill levels, pointing and clicking to your heart’s content.

What is changing are the rewards (rakeback) offered to players and the amount of money (rake) that online poker sites take from each hand or tournament for hosting the games.

Rake and rakeback – two words entrenched in the vernacular of just about every online poker player who has ever requested a cashout – are being tweaked by poker rooms such as PokerStars in order to maximize profits. Rake is being increased, and rakeback reduced, much to the chagrin of online poker pros who have long been accustomed to being treated royally for their poker room loyalty.

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The End of Rakeback?

Rakeback, an enticement to keep players loyal to a poker site, can turn a break-even or a losing player into an online poker professional. Rakeback may slowly be going the way of VCRs, typewriters, phonebooks and record stores, as poker room operators no longer see the benefit of providing players with a career based more on high volume than winning.

Player rewards have tilted in favor of recreational players. Poker sites would rather their loyal following be more of the net-depositing variety, the type of players seeking fun and entertainment as opposed to making a living by playing on two dozen tables simultaneously in order to earn rakeback.

Are those changes good for online poker? Poker room bosses will tell you that it’s imperative for the long-term health and well-being of the game, while online poker pros cry foul that they are being squeezed out of what they have grown to accept and, in a sense, conquer. Recreational players likely don’t care much either way, just give them some missions to accomplish and some online fun and whatever bonuses or rewards happen to be earned along the way are icing on the cake.

Deposits or Bust

You can’t really fault poker rooms for the pendulum swinging over to the side of casual players. A poker site cannot survive without players making deposits. And achieving goals such as Supernova Elite status or earning a living based on volume of play rather than on winning does seem a bit askew.

However, it is the poker sites that established and allowed rakeback in the first place, as well as the loyalty programs that enable grinders who play more to earn more. “Play at our site and climb the VIP ladder and earn more rakeback” has long been the gist of the poker room marketing scheme.

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But that concept is falling out of favor. And it may one day lead us back to where poker began, a game of skill based on the strength of your hand and the amount wagered that will determine the outcome. In other words, on winning or losing, and not on how many tables you can navigate at the same time.

Changing Game

Keep in mind that online poker grinders did not begin by playing 24 tables in order to reap massive rakeback amounts. Players get their start by eventually learning how to play winning poker. High volume poker pros merely learned to play the game as spelled out by the rewards and VIP programs offered. They adapted to the opportunity presented to them by poker sites that allow excessive rakeback percentages.

And now that game is changing. It’s changing to where the rewards for high volume play are not as great as they used to be. The pro players will have to adapt to those changes, just as they adapted to playing for high volume. Those who learn to adapt will excel, those who don’t, won’t. But the changes are here, and the first step to adapting is accepting.

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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.

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