Forum Files: The Stages of Grief

Alex Weldon : March 24th, 2016

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I went onto TwoPlusTwo today fully expecting to find the forums ignited in yet another firestorm of angry ranting over the various PokerStars- and Amaya-related stories which broke this week. Instead, I found the tone both more sober and more complex than I’d been expecting. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; after all, when PokerStars made the decision to turn on those high-volume players it formerly courted, I likened the whole thing to a messy breakup. And indeed, in its collective reaction to the changes, that community seems to be going through all the classic stages of grief.

In November, when the news broke that PokerStars was massively scaling back its rewards for top-raking players, there was shock and denial, with some progressing quickly into anger. That anger built through December before the community was rallied by a handful of organizers who’d moved on to bargaining and felt that perhaps a player strike would convince the higher-ups at Amaya to relent and provide players with their rewards for 2016 at least.

I thought that the latest rake hike would start the cycle all over again, but it seems that many have progressed into sadness and are working towards acceptance. Clicking my way through the posts of the last few days, I was met with far more sighs than howls.

As death and taxes, so bad beats and rake
Thread: Stars “Revised Pricing”

The story here is simple: PokerStars raised its prices, making the games even tougher to beat. When they tried this in October 2014, players freaked out about it and the changes were reversed a few months later. One might have expected a repeat this time around, but most forums members seem to realize that if PokerStars didn’t give an inch on the VIP Rewards issue in December, they’re unlikely to respond to pressure over this change either.

There’s plenty of sarcasm to be found in the thread, of course, but the few voices of outright anger were essentially shushed by others telling them to let it go. The most reactionary contingent of players is long gone from PokerStars at this point, after all, and although many posters mention that they’ll be leaving PokerStars as a result of these changes, their bags were already packed and by and large they don’t seem inclined to slam the door on the way out.

Another strike, dude, really?
Thread: NEW: Strike/Boycott of PokerStars (xpost from Internet Poker)

A few people are still trapped in the bargaining mentality, but they’re in the minority. The old strike-organizing thread was resurrected in an attempt to renew the effort, but there is little support for the idea. Most forums members have come to the realization that the departure of high-volume winning players really is what PokerStars wants, and so engaging in this sort of walkout is counterproductive as a pressure tactic.

In contrast to the enthusiasm the idea received the first couple of times around, the consensus now is that it didn’t work before, it’s not going to work now, and it’s time to admit defeat and either accept the changes or cash out and play elsewhere.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em
Thread: Pokerstars $1,000,000.00 Freeroll Live Sweat

When the announcement first came in December that PokerStars would be replacing the quarterly Supernova tournaments with similar $1 million freerolls open to all players, most people were underwhelmed. When it was further revealed this month that players weren’t actually being given direct tickets to the freeroll, but rather tickets to try to satellite into it, there was even more derision. And yet, plenty of TwoPlusTwo users ended up getting in successfully, most of whom went home with decent amounts of cash and seemed to have a good time doing it. It’s not clear, though, whether these are formerly-angry people who are ready to move on, or simply recreational players who weren’t among those originally outraged by the changes.

Obligatory Baazov karma thread
Thread: Amaya CEO David Baazov charged with insider trading

The other big PokerStars story this week was with Quebec’s financial authority, the AMF, charging several people including Amaya CEO David Baazov with financial crimes pursuant to its investigation of the company. The charges relate to alleged stock price manipulation and insider trading in the lead-up to Amaya’s acquisition of PokerStars in summer 2014. Even as players move towards acceptance of the changes, Baazov himself is likely to remain an unpopular figure with the poker community for the foreseeable future. Thus, it’s inevitable that the news of the charges was met with a thread full of gloating, sarcasm and hopes for a guilty verdict… as well as the equally inevitable questions about whether the sky is in fact falling, i.e. whether Baazov’s legal troubles mean PokerStars is on course for another Black Friday. The answer, of course, is probably not.

Searching for understanding
Thread: (Fun Player vs. Regs) OR (Fun Player vs. Other Casual Players + Bigger Rake)

Now that the battle has been lost and most forums members understand that, some actual attempts are being made to discuss the so-called “recreational model” seriously, rather than dismissing it as propaganda from PokerStars and the company’s supposed shills in the media. Here, we see the question asked, whether the experience of a casual player is better playing in a lower-raked game, or in a higher-raked game, assuming the rake reduces the proportion of experienced players in the game. Some people seem to get the basic concept that the composition and structure of a game affects who plays it and who leaves, but others are still struggling.

One key point was nonetheless missing from the thread, or at least was until I joined the conversation. I don’t post to TwoPlusTwo myself very often because I’m not a masochist, but I felt one fact had to be pointed out, and that the conversation was reasonable enough to that point that I wouldn’t be trolled too heavily for it: players experience rake as a percentage of their overall profits or losses. A one percentage point difference in the rake will slash in half the long-term profits of a player who was formerly running at 2% ROI, but will go unnoticed by a recreational player who was losing at a rate of 20% to begin with. At the same time, the disappearance of the former player and his replacement by another fish will definitely impact the experience of the latter.

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