Forum Files: The Future of PokerStars

Alex Weldon : December 7th, 2015


Although the PokerStars boycott (or player strike, or whatever you want to call it) wrapped up on Friday, the world’s biggest poker site remains a hot topic of conversation on the forums. There’s no question that it has become more difficult for most players to profit there in recent years, due to a combination of a toughening field, declining traffic and increased rake. Where things will go from here is a more complicated question.

PokerStars-related topics being discussed include the usual futile whining, but also some more productive debates on subjects such as: how bad the problem really is; whether PokerStars’s decisions will actually serve the site’s own interests or are just bad all around; what other changes might be upcoming; and what options remain available to players who’ve been relying on poker for a living and are now finding it impossible to do so.

The futility of Zoom
Thread: nl100 Zoom Pokerstars crushing regs?

The title of this thread is a bit ambiguous, and sounds like it might be another “top players” subject, i.e. who the regs are who are crushing NL100 Zoom. In fact, it’s the opposite; the thesis put forward by original poster “hypergeometry” is that high-volume players are, on the average, failing to beat 6-Max Zoom No-Limit Hold’em at those stakes. The game is crushing the regs, in other words, not the other way around.

Hypergeometry’s somewhat arbitrary definition for a “reg” is someone that he has personally played at least 2000 hands against. He has 29 such players in his database, and has played a combined 171,039 hands against them. Although there are three players in his sample who he’s seen winning at double-digit rates (in terms of big blinds per 100 hands), about two-thirds are losers before rakeback and most of the winners are only narrowly so.

Overall, the average player on hypergeometry’s list is losing at a rate of 2.3 big blinds per hundred hands. He estimates that the average Supernova-status player is currently receiving about 2.2 big blinds per hundred hands in rakeback, and thus this group of players is in fact ever-so-slowly going broke on average, even with current rakeback rewards, and will lose at a much faster rate under the new system. It’s not a scientific study by any means, but is at least circumstantial evidence that if PokerStars’s goal is in fact to make it impossible for a lot of high volume players to continue in their current grind, that those changes are likely to be effective in accomplishing that goal, for better or worse.

Are nosebleed games +EV or -EV for a site?
Thread: Why pokersites need the biggest games available

Aside from discouraging rakeback grinding in formats like Zoom and Hyper-Turbo, one of the likely effects of the upcoming changes will be to kill the highest stakes games, which will no longer offer any rewards whatsoever. It’s natural to wonder why PokerStars would want to do this, since high-stakes, high-profile clashes between players like Phil Ivey, Phil Galfond, Tom Dwan and Viktor Blom were once a heavily emphasized part of sites’ marketing strategy. Poster “QQx” feels this is still an important advantage of those games and that PokerStars and other sites are making a huge mistake in either making them unattractive to professional players or removing them entirely.

The counterpoint, made by a few other posters in the thread, is that nosebleed games create the possibility of “whales” (i.e. high-budget recreational players) making bad decisions and losing their bankrolls too quickly, before the site can collect a significant amount of rake from them. Based on what most sites have been doing recently, it seems that the industry consensus is that this downside outweighs the marketing potential of high-stakes games and makes their existence a losing proposition for the site.

The PokerStars Mystery Mobile Format
Thread: Pokerstars rep hints at 2016 “Mobile Segregation” plans.

PokerStars has said that a significant portion of the money it will save through its changes to the VIP Rewards program will be spent on research & development efforts, including a new PokerStars branded app which will bring an unspecified “brand new twist to poker.” The only concrete thing that the company has said about the app is that it will not have any sort of jackpot element, so it isn’t just another iteration on the Spin-and-Go concept.

What’s interesting – and could be either good or bad news depending on one’s situation and perspective – is that the fact that this unique format is being released only for mobile means that the games will not be accessible to players using the regular desktop client. This means no HUDs or other third party software, little or no ability to multi-table and, consequently, a very unappealing environment for professionals.

Compared to the negativity surrounding most of the changes, opinions are quite split on what the outcome of this new app will be, although trust in PokerStars among the forums community is low these days, so there’s still a fair bit of skepticism even from those who don’t think it’s inherently a bad idea. There are also some interesting quotes from Amaya CEO David Baazov, plucked from a conference call during Amaya’s third quarter earnings announcement, which offer some insight into what he and his company are hoping to accomplish with the changes.

Don’t worry, the solution is obvious
Thread: My possible solution to Pokerstars “killing the game”.

Unlike the majority of people on the forums, poster “SageDonkey” doesn’t think that Amaya is going to kill poker with the changes it’s making to PokerStars, nor is the company doing anything unethical. He spends a whole lot of words explaining what he sees as Amaya’s overall strategy, and making the point that a publicly-traded corporation is beholden first and foremost to its shareholders, not its customers, and so it’s pointless to argue that pro players are owed something by the company.

Although his post is quite the wall of text, SageDonkey does eventually get around to fulfilling the promise of his thread title, and proposing a solution, but it’s maybe not the solution most people want to hear: If professional players feel that a site with a pro-centric model is viable in 2015, they should pool their money, find additional investors, and create a new site in line with their vision for poker. That’s obviously easier said than done, however, especially given PokerStars’s dominance of the industry. Still, it is undeniable that PokerStars has the right to run its business as it sees fit, and is probably also the case that there’s room in the industry for more than one approach. Although most sites are following a course somewhat similar to PokerStars’s, we’ll surely see some sites trying to entice those would-be pros who find they can no longer profit in the new PokerStars environment.

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