This blog was written in May 2014, when I was Head of Poker at Microgaming.
Throughout the history of poker, there have been many bad rules. Not being allowed to check-raise, for example. Or being forced to bet a seven. Over time, most of those rules have thankfully died out. Today at the MPN, we are consigning another bad rule to history – the ‘English only’ rule.
One of the great things about poker is that it changes over time and evolves. The game is very different now to ten years ago, when online poker was still in its infancy. That in turn is totally different to twenty years ago, when just 268 players entered the Main Event at the World Series of Poker. Thirty years ago, you would struggle to get a game at all unless you were willing to travel long distances, or you lived in California or Nevada and could play a mean game of Jacks or Better.
Since online poker as we know it first hit our tiny 640×480 screens in 1998, the player base has changed beyond recognition. Back then, most poker players were American. Accordingly, the majority of poker players spoke English – almost everyone in fact. Because the player base was so homogeneous, it made sense to have a rule that forbade players from speaking any other language. After all, two people speaking in a language that nobody else understands – they could be colluding, and nobody would know about it. Any downside to having the rule was minimal, since it affected such a small number of people.
In 2014, poker has grown so much in other parts of the world that for several years now, not only have the majority of poker players not been American, they haven’t spoken English as their first language.
Live poker tournaments recognise that the English-only rule doesn’t work all the time. If you play a tournament in Rome, for example, you can speak English or Italian at the tables. If you don’t speak Italian, then tough. After all, ‘when in Rome…’.
But online, the English only rule persists, and players who chat in other languages are actually penalised for doing so. They are warned, or their ability to chat is revoked. Since most players don’t speak English, this leads to an environment where nobody chats at all. How ridiculous is it that a table can consist entirely of people who speak and understand Danish (for example), but they are not allowed to chat to one another?
Consequently, the game becomes less social, and less fun. So people who play for fun stop playing, the game gets tougher, and everybody complains about how the game has become unbeatable and how they need to play more tables to eke out the same win rate as last year.
A common reason to keep the rule is that it would be difficult to police collusion-related chat. I have spent a long time working in this industry, and have been involved in Game Integrity for most of that time. I honestly can’t remember a single case where colluders used the chat box as part of their scheme. The fear of collusion is understandable in theory, but it just doesn’t happen much in reality. In addition, our methods for preventing and detecting collusion have come a long way in the last 10 years. There is no point keeping a rule simply to appease fear.
Lets be honest – there’s also a little bit of bigotry baked into this rule. I delight in the possibility that by making this change I will be upsetting the world’s xenophobic.
As of now, whatever language you speak, whether it be English, Georgian, Latin or High Valyrian, you are welcome on the MPN. We will still police grossly offensive or disruptive chat, regardless of the language, but if you just want to chat with your friends, you can speak (or type) any language you want.
As far as I know, we are the first poker network to make this change, but I hope we are the first of many. We will all be better off if poker players can have fun and socialise, regardless of the language they speak.