Has it been a year already? Love them or hate them, Spin-and-Gos have now been a reality on PokerStars for one year now. These three-player hyper-turbo tournaments with a randomly-determined prize pool initially promised payouts of anywhere between 2 and 3,000 times the buy-in, but to mark the format’s one-year anniversary, PokerStars has just announced that the top jackpot payouts will be more-than-tripled, to 10,000 times the buy-in.

Naturally, the odds of hitting a jackpot payout have been correspondingly reduced, from 1 in 100,000 to 3 in 1,000,000, but the rest of the payout and rake structure has been left unchanged. The frequency of the lowest-tier payouts has been increased in order to accommodate the lower frequency of jackpots, but so slightly as to be unnoticeable from the player’s perspective. The rake remains 7% for the $1 games, 6% for $3 and $7, and 5% for $15 buy-ins and up.

Mind-boggling variance

This change is unlikely to be popular with those attempting to grind Spin-and-Gos for a living, although that may in fact be part of the point. From the point of view of a would-be Spin-and-Go professional the basic problem is that jackpot payouts account for a fairly significant percentage of one’s long-term expected ROI, but the new system dramatically changes what we mean by “long term.” Under the old system, an extremely dedicated grinder could expect to at least get a shot at a jackpot within an achievable time frame, but now those odds are beginning to look a lot more dubious. Let’s examine the numbers.

Being 3-max, Spin-and-Gos move quickly and one’s ability to multi-table is limited, but let’s say you can manage four at once. Average playtime to win, based on my experience, is something like eight to ten minutes (late in the 20/40 or early in the 30/60 blind level being typical), so if you’re a little better than the average fish and therefore likely to survive a little longer, let’s say your overall average playtime per game is around 5 minutes. Running four at once, you can therefore play 48 an hour, which we’ll round to 50.

Successful grinders tend to put in a lot of hours, more than at a regular full-time job, so let’s say you’re playing 60 hours per week. If this is literally all you’re doing, that’s 3000 Spins per week, or around 150,000 per year, with two weeks vacation. It’s hard to imagine anyone pulling this off without burning out, especially given how repetitive the format is, but we’re talking about a best-case scenario. Even managing that kind of gruelling grind, a player would still hit the jackpot less than once every two years, on average. And of course, then you still have to win the tournament; as I’ve pointed out, casual players tend to play astoundingly badly when big bucks are on the line, but still, no one is going to win every time the jackpot comes up.

Meanwhile, it’s 1.2% of each player’s buy-in money which is going to these jackpots (when you include the fact that the runners-up still receive a 1000x consolation prize). That means that in a year when the player fails to win a jackpot – which will be most years, even for the highest-volume grinders – their ROI will be about 1.2% less than their overall average. When they do win a jackpot, on the other hand, that’s an immediate boost of 6.7% to their ROI for the entire year (assuming 150,000 games). Given that the best achievable ROIs will be on the order of a few percent, even including rakeback, this means that the life of a Spin-and-Go grinder will more closely resemble that of a live tournament pro than any other form of online player; most years will be break-even or at best marginally profitable, with nearly all the profits coming by way of the one big score every few years.

Of course, this problem is not new, and the changes only amount to a three-fold difference. Still, that’s the difference between a maximally-grinding player probably managing to win a jackpot every one to two years – still a rough road, but bordering on reasonable – to only being able to expect one every four or more, which is probably more than anyone counting on poker for a living can endure. But again, that may be the point, as everything about the format, from lack of table selection to high rake, seems to have been calculated from the start to dissuade grinders and keep recreational players gambling.

Another way to make a millionaire

In terms of impact on the recreational player, the change is largely about marketing and much less about personal experience, since the other payouts are essentially untouched. After all, no given recreational player plays enough of a sample size to have much chance of getting their shot at a jackpot, let alone actually winning it. If a typical recreational player is going to play 1000 Spins in their lifetime on the site (and many likely play far less), their chances of getting a jackpot spin have merely dropped from 1% to 0.3%, meaning that at least 99% of recreational players will never actually experience the effects of the change either way.

At the same time, for a recreational player, it’s always about what you could win, rather than what you’re likely to. After all, the limited-edition Spin-and-Gos with $5 buy-ins and $1 million top prizes were extremely popular, despite the ludicrously low odds of actually getting the million. And that does indeed seem to be the magic number: one million. After all, this is a slogan that PokerStars has been using in its promotional materials for some time now: “PokerStars makes millionaires.”

Although those $5 Spins have been discontinued, with no indication whether they’ll some day be back, this change does come on the heels of the introduction of $100 Spin-and-Gos back at the end of July. Ten-thousand times one-hundred makes a million, so with this adjustment to the jackpots, PokerStars has found a way to get that magical letter “M” back onto their Spin-and-Go payout tables… and I guarantee every time that prize drops, we’re going to hear about it.

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.