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Mourning the death of Full Tilt

18 February 2016

Earlier this week, Amaya announced that it would be merging Full Tilt's traffic with PokerStars.com.

The announcement wasn't a big surprise to anyone who has paid attention to online poker traffic over the last few years. Full Tilt, once the clear runner-up behind PokerStars in the race to lead the online poker pack, has sagged to 11th on PokerScout.com's traffic report, with average cash game traffic of just 800 players over the last seven days. That's less than PokerStars' segregated player pools in Italy, Spain and France, and less than 5% of PokerStars' global liquidity pool.

Full Tilt (previously Full Tilt Poker) built its brand on the backs of its professional players. With Phil Ivey, Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer, Jennifer Harman, Mike Matusow, Gus Hansen and, later, Tom Dwan and Viktor "Isildur1" Blom endorsing the brand, Full Tilt became the place to go to watch high-stakes cash games. Some of us even plopped money down on the site, thanks to aggressive bonus offers and promotions like Take 2, which offered players a $25 boost to their account balance for playing multiple tables or jumping into Rush Poker games.

Little did we know that the money we were watching sponsored pros ship back and forth at the high-stakes tables was really the money that we had deposited, because Full Tilt executives didn't segregate player funds and instead used the money to pay players like Ivey and Dwan for their endorsement deals.

After the Rational Group acquired Full Tilt Poker as part of its Black Friday settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, only three of its former sponsored pros — Hansen, Dwan and Blom — were retained. "The Professionals" were put forward to market the brand in the same way that the much larger stable of pros had done previously, but that strategy never really took hold. Shortly after Amaya bought the Rational Group, Full Tilt abandoned the concept of sponsored pros completely.

With no clear marketing message outside of bogus "winning roulette strategy" blog posts, Full Tilt's traffic started to dry up. It became a shell of its former self, and without sufficient traffic, something had to be done. Combining the liquidity of the two rooms makes perfect sense.

That said, part of me is a little sad about the decision. Full Tilt was such a vital part of the poker scene in the late 2000s that seeing its traffic merge with PokerStars is like the final nail in the coffin of the post-Moneymaker poker boom.

Full Tilt was innovative. The site's Rush Poker product was the first "fast-fold" poker variant, and every online poker room under the sun has now copied that formula. They also introduced the idea of multi-entry tournaments — a concept that I personally abhorred, but it was a creative idea nonetheless.

Perhaps more importantly, what distinguished Full Tilt from PokerStars was that the site made playing poker look like a lot of fun. The site produced "Poker After Dark," a televised single-table tournament series that aired in the wee hours of the morning on NBC. The games featured little in the way of commentary from host Ali Nejad, instead allowing table banter to carry the show. I used to start my day by firing up the DVR and watching the show while eating my morning bowl of Cheerios.

While PokerStars focused on building a base of high-volume mathlete grinders, Full Tilt talked about the mental aspect of the game and how to sniff out a bluff. The advertisements were outstanding.



Players could change the expressions on their cartoon avatars based on how things were going at the table. Full Tilt even stepped up to sponsor "The Micros," which for my money remains the most entertaining poker video series in history.



While I will mourn the loss of Full Tilt as a distinct entity from PokerStars, the reality is that I'm mourning a memory. Never able to recover from the stain of Black Friday, the Full Tilt Poker that I will remember has been dead for nearly five years.

RIP, Full Tilt.
Mourning the death of Full Tilt is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Aaron Todd
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.