Forum Files: Resistance to PokerStars Continues

Alex Weldon : January 4th, 2016

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In the last couple of instalments of the Forum Files, I’ve written that outrage over the recent PokerStars changed seemed to be dying down on the forums, and that players seemed to be coming to grips with them, or at least developing a sense of resignation about them. Perhaps that was just the tryptophan in the Christmas turkey, however, as the new year has brought with it a fresh wave of probably-futile resistance. The changes themselves went into effect January 1st, so that’s probably in large part responsible for the increased attention being given to the issue; whether this is the last gasp before everyone finally adjusts to the new reality or whether protests continue throughout the year remains to be seen.

Since the first one worked so well…
Thread: Joint strike against PokerStars&Amaya on the 1st–7th of January (REGISTRATION)
Thread: NEW: StrikeBoycott of PokerStars (xpost from Internet Poker) 1-7 Jan 2016

Last month’s PokerStars player “strike” or boycott was, by most accounts, a pretty big failure. Although it did produce a noticeable drop in players at the highest stakes cash games, overall traffic and rake increased during that period due to PokerStars’s December promotions. Furthermore, according to a rather passive-aggressive blog post from VP of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser, the absence of the striking players resulted in an improvement in whatever metrics PokerStars is using to gauge the health of its ecosystem, thereby providing support for the belief that forcing the players in question to leave or change the way they play will be good for the site in the long term.

Undeterred, the protesting players have created a website and a Twitter account to help organize themselves, and are in the midst of a second week-long boycott. This time, they’re encouraging participants to withdraw 10% of their account balances as well as refusing to play for the duration of the boycott. This new strategy is likely related to the emphasis PokerStars has been placing on deposits vs. withdrawals in explaining the changes. Unfortunately, this too will likely go unnoticed by PokerStars, as what they actually care about is whether a given user is a net depositor or withdrawer, not what anyone’s account balance is on any given day.

TwoPlusTwo likes Ike
Thread: Resigning from PokerStars

Well-known pro player Isaac “Ike” Haxton posted on New Year’s Day to tell the forums community that he has elected not to renew his Team Pro Online contract with PokerStars as a result of the changes. In explaining his decision, he said that although he has disagreed “vehemently” with certain decisions made by PokerStars in the past, he remained enthusiastic about promoting the brand up until the decision not to extend full benefits to Supernova Elite players in 2016. On that point, he says he believes that “PokerStars is behaving unethically,” a sentiment shared by many.

Needless to say, the forums regulars are almost unanimously enamored with Haxton for making this decision. There are a few dissenting voices to be found, however; for the most part, public memory on the forums is short, but there are still those who remember and are upset that he knew about Brian Hastings’s multi-accounting this summer, but failed to bring it to the attention of either PokerStars security or the poker public. The first few pages of the thread are mostly one-liners praising Haxton, but it gets more interesting later on, as debate ensues over how important the Hastings scandal should be to Haxton’s reputation, and Haxton himself faces a barrage of questions about PokerStars and his relationship with the company, some of which he answers.

A question of ’seriousness’
Thread: Why would anyone start taking poker seriously in 2016?

Sometimes a fairly weak initial post produces an interesting thread. Forums user “Charleston Chew” starts things off with some likely false information – that there are only 30 people in the world making $100,000 or more annually in online cash games – and then asks a series of “questions” that are more conclusions than inquiries: Whether the poker industry is supported by the illusion that it’s possible to make money at the game, whether it’s just a matter of time that it fades and whether his fellow posters are just stubborn and in denial rather than legitimate online pros.

Ordinarily, you’d expect such a post to produce nothing but bitter agreement and trollish ridicule, but surprisingly this time it leads to some interesting counterpoints. First, there’s the question of how many people are actually making big bucks at poker, which is quite difficult to answer accurately. Then there’s also the question of whether we really want poker to be something that too many people take “seriously” – after all, most people understand that recreational players are the lifeblood of poker, even if those inconvenienced by the PokerStars changes don’t like to admit it. Finally, some Eastern European players show up in the thread to point out that making six figures might not be everyone’s goal, that many PokerStars players live in places where the median income is much lower, and where being able to grind out even just a few hundred dollars per month makes online poker an appealing career, even in the current tough climate.

Thus, while the question posed by the thread title isn’t particularly insightful, it does lead to interesting follow-ups, about what it means to take poker seriously, how that varies from person to person based on their goals and financial situation, and what the poker economy is going to look like going forward.

Greg Raymer’s $100k YouStake listing

Thread: Greg Raymer posts $105k package on YouStake for 2016
Thread: Raymer Package for 2016

In non-PokerStars-related news, Greg “FossilMan” Raymer is looking for $100,000 on staking site YouStake to fund his poker playing for 2016. This is not a typical action sale, in that cashes will be rolled back into future buy-ins, so the actual total number of events Raymer will play during the year is not known in advance; he could lose the full $100k quickly, or run good early on and end up playing several hundred thousand dollars worth of events. At the end of the year, if he’s in the red, whatever’s left of the initial stake will be split between the investors, while if he’s in the black, everyone will get their money back and 60% of the profits will be divided up while Raymer keeps the other 40%.

This sort of deal is confusing for most investors these days, as the norm now is for fixed packages of tournaments to be sold at an explicit markup, whereas it’s impossible to put a number to the markup when the package is for a period of time rather than a certain set of tournaments. Nonetheless, many posters feel that the package is a losing proposition for would-be investors, and even Raymer, who started a separate thread to defend himself, admits that a similar package he ran last year proved to be a disaster. He nonetheless insists that he thinks he’s giving up profits in looking for staking, and claims that he’s only doing it to appease his wife, Cheryl, who he describes as risk-averse and “not a poker player.”

Opinions in the thread basically break down into three camps: those who think Raymer is taking advantage of his fans’ naivety and offering what he knows is a bad deal, those who think that the fields in his preferred Heartland Poker Tour (HPT) tournaments are soft enough that investing might actually be profitable, and those who simply support a free market for poker staking and think he’s justified in charging whatever the market will bear, and that those who feel it’s a bad deal simply shouldn’t buy.

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