Ambassador | Adam Owen’s Views on PokerStars Changes

IMG_0153Hello! I was very happy to recently be announced as the first ever Backdoor Quads Ambassador. I’ve been rather busy but I had planned to write a blog about my background as a poker player and how I’ve arrived to where I am now (sprawled out in a bed in Malta, very thankful that my two day hangover did not enter a third after a moderately non-terrible EPT festival) and what my plans are for this role. I had a few topics for blogs in mind when I agreed to take on the role and I’m sure you’ll see them at a later date but on Sunday I and many other online poker players were dealt some very sobering news in the form of a giant turd-laced blog written by Eric Hollreiser, Head of Corp Communications for Amaya Inc. and PokerStars. The blog can be found here.

I’m going to take this opportunity to reel off some of my thoughts. I fully acknowledge that I am not an expert at predicting poker ecosystems, some of my logic may be flawed, some of my assumptions may be false and some people may simply see things panning out differently. I’m going to have a crack at it anyway though. Here are some of the changes:

Restriction of Third Party Software

This is long overdue I feel and should benefit recreational players and the health of online poker in general in the future. HUDs will still exist from my understanding but they will be significantly stripped down. I have seen concerns that within a month, a rogue HUD will be available as the smart guys will always find a solution. Maybe so but I feel it’s a good thing to be attempting to “level the playing field” in this way. Also from my understanding, hand histories will still be able to be saved, which I believe to be a very important fact for protecting the security of the games. So many cheating scandals have been unearthed through players themselves meticulously analysing databases to find suspicious patterns, let’s not remove this. For many recreationals and otherwise, this will be the standout news from this press release. In my opinion, it really shouldn’t be. Whilst potentially being a step in the direction of saving online poker, everything else in the press release was BAD. Formally including this news with what is below was a very clever ploy from the marketing team.

No more Supernova Elite
No more Supernova Elite
VIP Steps

This was announced a little while back. It translates to less rakeback for everyone. It’s not that severe. It’s just an extra little penny pinch. Okay, whatever.

Reducing Rewards for High-Volume and High-Stakes Players

This is the main problem. The big one. This is very bad for pros, recreational players and everyone in between.


No VPPs for higher stakes
This was almost as equally disastrous, and just as vomit-inducing:

“No VPPs for pot-limit and no-limit games with blinds of $5-$10+, 8-game $10-$20+, and other limit games with blinds of $10-$15+. This change is implemented due to high transaction costs and operation costs of monitoring these games.”

I’m a fairly rare type of regular on Stars. I’m primarily a mixed game player who expects to win pre-rakeback, and most of my VPPs come from mixed cash games, I have put most of my volume in this year at $10/20 limit games, though have played up to $50/100 Limit and $10/20 No Limit/Pot Limit. This year I was expecting to make 300k VPP (a 3x Supernova), which is something that I may not pursue now as I become increasingly disillusioned with online poker (and specifically Amaya’s PokerStars, who enjoy a monopoly over mixed games). The chart above shows a very significant cutback to the rewards a high(er) stakes and high(ish) volume player like myself. After having some time to digest the information and reading the views of some respected members of the community, I eventually had to sit on my hands to prevent myself from punching my own face in frustration at reading 2+2 posts and tweets along the lines of:

“LOL now the dumbass rakeback grinders will be forced to actually win at poker rather than being given freebies by PokerStars. Stars don’t owe you idiots a living bro hahhahaaha111!!!!!!!!!”


Why is this bad?

I don’t claim to be an expert at this type of thing and admit that this is purely based on estimates and predictions but I’m going to try to explain in simple terms why such a shock to the poker ecosystem (and also a stab to its brain and other vital organs) is bad for everyone, not just high stakes and/or high volume winners. I expect this to negatively affect ALL professionals, aspiring professionals and perhaps most sadly given the goal of the changes, all types of recreational players.

1) A lot of games will now not be beatable without rakeback. Now, you will not see reg v reg heavy games, as the required edge to break even and make a profit is now too high and will often be unobtainable. Games not running is bad for: Professionals, PokerStars, recreationals. Pros can’t win if there isn’t a game, Stars don’t win if there is no rake, recreationals can’t play their favourite games (full ring at least) if the regulars aren’t sitting. I’m guessing Stars think, “There’s no 10/20 Razz running? Better play some spin and gos.” is going to be a common thought process. I’ve cited an example from a mixed game but I believe the problem is even worse for NLHE/PLO.

2) The best regs will move down to where there is rakeback. The 2000NL and 1000NL bosses that realise their games are now unbeatable are not just going to disappear. They are very intelligent people for the most part and will soon work out where in the ecosystem they now make the most money. From what I can see, this will now be at 500NL and lower and I expect these guys to adapt their skillsets to mass multi-table in order to account for the fact they’re playing at lower stakes (intrinsically having a lower expected winrate per hour, per table). These guys are not the ones who are going to lose out really, it’s the regs who are already at 500NL that will suffer. Oh and as for the recreational players, good luck playing against the best NLHE players in the world with reduced rakeback. Because they’ll be playing more tables, they’ll be unavoidable. Recreational players will lose at a quicker rate and will have less FPPs to keep money flowing through the poker economy. I can’t believe I haven’t even mentioned just how bizarre it is to have this “rakeback ceiling” at all. It just seems like a plan to cull the existence of higher stakes games.

3) Mid-high stakes games will not run. When I first started playing on PokerStars and various times since along the way, there were two major things that made me aspire to be a professional. High stakes games where the best battled the best. The amount of 400/800 8-Game and nosebleed PLO I’ve railed has got to be up there with the highest (I wish they gave out FPPs for railers back in the good old days). The fact these games existed gave me a long-term goal of being able to sit with them, it was really that simple. Unfortunately now, there has been a conscious decision to deter mid and high stakes games from running. ZERO rakeback. The games were dying before now, this is not just a nail in the coffin, more of a skyscraper-sized sharp object that I don’t think exists in real life. I would love to know the motivation from Stars’ point of view for attacking these games (because I assume it is intentional… right?). Liquidity? Cool. Cool dude.

4) A very important part of PokerStars’ branding will be heavily damaged. The other major factor that I was hugely interested in, was the highly acclaimed rakeback system. The consensus was that Stars had the best VIP system and you’d be mad to put in high volume at any other site. The promotional material was very, very effective with me. I’d occasionally get action from a Supernova showing off his stars in micro-stakes mixed game HU SNGs and remember actually messaging my friends that I’d been sat by one. Ridiculous obviously in hindsight but that was how I and I’m sure many others valued the importance of one day being Supernova or potentially even Supernova elite. I briefly considered going for elite towards the end of 2014 but it just didn’t seem viable for me at that point. Now supernova elite is being discontinued. I remember when I first achieved Supernova in May 2014, many assumed recreationals in lower stakes games asked me how I did it. I was happy to explain to them what supernova was and how it was possible on the assumption they weren’t trolling, confirming that the allure of Supernova still exists in the modern climate. While Supernova will still exist, the benefits will be heavily reduced and that does translate to an expected loss of thousands of dollars to my bottom line across one year. I am not alone and neither are professionals in this instance. Recreational players will simply lose quicker and won’t get the consolation of a solid haul of FPPs after they’ve steadily lost in the now tougher per stake games and may not stick around to grind out Supernova for another year. Many players who play for fun are still very competitive and realistic with the chances they have of winning. If they win one out of every four sessions for example, they have some sort of motivation to come back. If they now win one out of every fifteen or twenty due to the tougher conditions, many of them will become disillusioned with poker, I predict. Finally – the assumption that Supernova = professional has always been incorrect. There are tonnes of supernovas who lose money post-rakeback.

IMG_0154Final Thoughts

In my opinion at least, this seems to be somewhat close to GG. I will still play on PokerStars but at a much smaller volume. I will play on other sites, I will continue to play live and I will begin to make better preparations for life after poker. Am I being melodramatic? I really hope so, because Stars continues to do so many things to such a stellar standard, it’s no coincidence that they have been the huge market leader for so many years. I also absolutely love playing on the site. Far more than the average reg, I actually really enjoy the experience of playing a lot of online poker.

If you think that the net result of these changes is good for you as a player on Stars, I believe you are wrong. I would love you not to be but the changes are so severe and catastrophic to the ecosystem that I don’t think any edge you could gain (in the long run) from 3rd party software rule changes and the elimination of rakeback pros can outweigh the vastly reduced amount of (effective) money that will no longer be in your account in the form of rakeback.

Let us know if you think I’ve got it wrong, I doubt this is the last any of us will be hearing on the matter for a while at least.