I keep a token amount of money on Full Tilt. The last few weeks I've been using that money to dabble with online limit hold'em and fiddle with PokerTracker. You don't need PokerTracker to show that the games have tightened since the UIGEA, but the effects are unmistakable when filtered through that nifty piece of software.
I pulled up a database on an old laptop from my early forays into online poker. Over approximately 12,000 hands played on Party Poker (insert wistful sigh here) at levels from $2-$4 to $15-$30, my VPIP was a paltry 14.53%, my preflop raise percentage was a woeful 6.04%, and my post-flop aggression factor was 2.59. It's fair to say that I was tight-weak before the flop. And yet! In spite of my tight-weak ways, I was winning at a rate of 1.5 BB/100.
In early 2005, I stopped playing for a few while after a rough stretch at $15-$30, a game for which I was under-bankrolled at the time. The story picks back up in mid-2006 before the UIGEA was passed. I put in almost 2,000 hands at $0.50-$1.00 across three different sites. The majority of those hands were at Party. My combined VPIP over those 2,000 hands was a radically different 25.14%; my preflop raise percentage a more respectable 12.0%; and my post-flop aggression factor across the three sites sparkled at an average of 3.2. Best of all, I was playing great positional poker, with my VPIP and my PFR rising incrementally seat by seat the closer I got to the button.
Not surprisingly, given the small limit and the changes in my play, my win rate jumped to 7.18 BB/100 in 2006. I'll allow that 2,000 hands is a small sample size to judge a win rate and that $0.50-$1.00 limit hold'em was never exactly the pinnacle of poker play. Yet the 2005 numbers and the 2006 numbers demonstrate that the games were super, super soft. In 2005 I posted a steady win rate with sub-optimal, too-tight play; in 2006 I crushed the games with excellent aggressive, positional play.
Of course we all know what happened to PartyPoker. The UIGEA was passed as part of the SAFE Port Act in October 2006. Party immediately closed up shop in the U.S. The flood of dead money pouring into the online poker sites that chose to remain in the U.S. slowed to a drip. Since then the landscape has changed in other ways. Nat Arem described it best in an article for PokerNews a few days ago:
...this is going to sound bad because it is an industry that I helped to develop, but I wish that all of the things that made the poker world less fishy would've never developed. That would include things like datamining stuff, like what we do at the PokerDB or all those other things. It would also include CardRunners. It would include StoxPoker. It would include things like rakeback... The reason why is because it turns poker into this business that essentially exists entirely for the good players to extract money as quickly as possible from the bad players.Nat's point is that all of these tools that have been developed since the UIGEA have raised the poker IQ of the average poker player. Combined with the diificulties in getting money into and out of poker sites, the effect on the games has been predictable: they have become much less soft than they used to be.
And that's where I bring this back to my most recent 1,000 hands of limit hold'em. They were played over the last two weeks, exclusively at $1-$2 tables on Full Tilt. $1-$2 never used to play much differently than $0.50-$1 in the PartyPoker days. The 1,000 hands revealed the following stats: my VPIP was 19%; my PFR was 10.9%; and my post-flop aggression factor is 2.1. I went to showdown 31% of the time, showing down the winner 55.2% of the time. From everything I've read, all of these numbers are well within spec for a solid player. And I *am* winning, at a clip of 2.86 BB/100. That winrate, however, is buoyed by two above-average sessions against only one below-average session. Without that one extra above-average session, I'm winning at a rate of 1.2 BB/100. (Yes, yes, I know; small sample size.)
Are the games still beatable? Of course they are. In fact, using PokerTracker I see some places where I can improve on my existing winning play. However it's safe to say that beating the small online limits for anything more than about 2-3 BB/100 over a meaningful sample size is a thing of the past.