Sometimes I have an idea for a blog topic and I think “Ooh, that’ll be interesting, aren’t you clever, Kat, you fine breasted genius?”.

Then I start researching it, find myself down a deep, dark hole and end up thinking “You stupid, saggy chested bint, what the fuck were you thinking?”

That’s what happened this week when I started looking seriously at why so many players are currently kicking-off at PokerStars and are threatening community action against them.
I’m not a total idiot, and normally, when I spend time researching something, I get to grips with the concept fairly quickly, form an opinion on it (usually a strong one) and then write about it in a way that I believe is accessible to everyone, whatever their educational background.

I have spent hours this week reading forums, watching/listening to vlogs and podcasts about the recent furore with PokerStars, and I’m still not sure I fully understand what’s going on, and I am very sure I don’t have a firm opinion on it.

My head hurts.

Bet you’re glad you clicked on this super-informative link, huh?

Just in case you haven’t heard about what’s happening, or like me, you didn’t really listen because you thought as a micro/recreational player the changes didn’t affect you, I’ll see if I can summarise the issues. (I’m not going to talk about HUDs here, as I agree with Dani Stern that this is a separate issue from the immediate financial sanctions on high-stakes regs.)

PokerStars appears to have turned against the regs.
The biggest online operator seems to have extended a giant and powerful middle finger in the direction of high-stakes players, and high volume mid-stakes players- ie, not me, ostensibly, they still love me as a micro player with no more than six tables open at once.

PokerStars have totally changed their bonus structure, or they will be from Jan 1st 2016. This means that those players who have achieved “Super-Nova” (SN) or “Super-Nova-Elite” (SNE) status are going to get a lot less bonus money than they were expecting next year.
It is perhaps naive that I did not understand how the bonus system works for players at this level, and I was truly shocked to discover from a video interview with Dani Stern that some players would expect to receive up to $100k in “rakeback” next year.

I always assumed that if larger stakes players were making a profit at poker, then that was because they were beating the games they were playing. I did not realise it was possible to be a break-even or slightly LOSING player at the PokerStars tables and still turn a very healthy profit from the rake-back and/or bonus schemes.
It sounds idiotic, but I guess I have never spent much time thinking about what the nose-bleeders do.

I also did not realise that players in this category may almost exclusively focus on actually getting enough FPPs/VPPs or whatever the hell they are to qualify for the fabled “Super-Nova-Elite” status, because achieving this is eventually more reliably profitable that trying to consistently beat all the best players in the world.

Who’s stockpiling the cash?

I believe PokerStars pay out approx. $250mil a year in rakeback and currently have over $100mil in FPP liability- I cannot find a way to verify these numbers, this is information put forward by Dani Stern/Daniel Negreanu.

I’m not going to torture myself with the fact it’s pretty dumb that I knew nothing about this culture in poker, I’m going to forgive myself on the basis that I am a micro-tournament player, I was never making “Super-Nova” or “Super-Nova-Elite”, so why would I be interested?
I really thought it had nothing to do with me at all, and now, maybe I have a good reason to be more interested.

These high-stakes/high-volume regs are now on a rampage, and following a short (and apparently fairly impotent) strike action against PokerStars at the start of December, there is a more prolonged action planned from January 1st.
I want to decide whether I support the regs (because it’s good for poker, which is what they are claiming) or whether I point and laugh at their tears (because it’s good for me/recreational players, which is what PokerStars are claiming).

A good few of these regs are writing/saying that “it’s not the money… it’s the principle, PokerStars have lied to us”.
Whenever someone cites “principle” in a case where they are looking to recoup monies, I am always suspicious of that “principle”.
If PokerStars backed down, then I’m pretty happy that these regs would take the money, and keep on playing there, so “principle” my fat-white-arse.

Is it “a principle” or is it just a cash grab?

That said, Dani Stern explains it quite neatly when he states that “the PokerStars Bonus structure is a TWO YEAR reward system”. This means that if you aimed for SNE status in 2015, you would not reap rewards until 2016, and this was openly understood by all parties, and yet PokerStars released the information late into 2015, and even then it sounds like it was leaked out, rather than officially published.

I do believe PokerStars have shown themselves to be a little bit untrustworthy here, and that should definitely worry me, whatever stakes I’m playing. I cannot state whether they have any legal obligation to honour the bonus agreement, I’m going to assume not, as I imagine that they will have examined that quite carefully!
I do believe they have a moral obligation to honour the agreement for players that made NE/SNE in 2015.

However, I also believe that they have the right to change the structure and take it away from the beginning of the year, so from 2017 regs will not be able to operate in the way they have been.
PokerStars claim this will “change the landscape” of poker and make the online game more accessible for new/recreational/micro players.
Other than a few carefully chosen, emotive, PR-type words, PokerStars haven’t really suggested how this will happen. This makes me want to side with the regs.

Stern also says that “regs are sometimes raking $200k-$500k[each] a year FOR THEM [PokerStars]”, which makes them sound like employees to me, employees that are now redundant in the eyes of the company they work for; boo-hoo, tough gig, the economy’s in the shitter, redundancies are happening in every business.
He also claims that, due to the bonus structure, regs have been “playing in certain conditions that they might not choose to play in [to make SNE]”, which has been THEIR own choice, PokerStars could not have forced them. This makes me want to side with PokerStars.

My personality is such that I am not used to feeling ambivalent about a topic; I usually pick a line quickly and defend it voraciously. I’m all over the shop on this one.

I guess I want to know EXACTLY what PokerStars are going to do with the $250mil per annum that they are now going to save by taking away the SN/SNE structures. Is this money going to be genuinely redistributed among lower stakes players? Or is it going directly into the profit pocket of Amaya Gaming?

Is this money going to new players, or their new shareholders?

If it’s the former, then fuck the regs, if it’s the latter, then fuck PokerStars- if I’m not going to see the cash anyway, I would actually rather it went to players like Stern than to corporate Fat Cats, that’s just the latent Socialist in me.

In the video interview, Dani Stern says that the only player level on PokerStars to actually see an increase in bonus return will be “Chromestar” at an average of 50c pcm and sarcastically says “way to redistribute the wealth”.
I balked at this, because my instinctual response was “oh! Cos you cared soooo much about players at my level BEFORE you were faced with this!”
I’m pretty sure that prior to this palaver, regs couldn’t give two shits about me, and players like me, in the same way I didn’t really give a shit about them.

I still don’t really give a shit about them. I can’t pretend I’m not enjoying a certain level of Schadenfreude at them having less money for swimming pools, hookers and prop bets whilst I eat 9p Aldi beans on stale bread for the fourth night in a row.
However, I do give a shit about the sustainability of poker, and if this action from PokerStars hurts poker, then I absolutely have to be against it.

Trouble is, just like PokerStars have not managed much in the way of an explanation as to how it benefits poker in the long term, the regs have not managed much in the way of explaining how it damages it for me either. Dani Stern describes high-stakes poker as “its own economy”, and that means that I am quickly excluded, so why should I be bothered, if it doesn’t affect my poker economy?

There seems to be an overriding opinion that poker plebs like me get a massive buzz out of watching high-stakes regs pass huge amounts of money around between themselves, and that the whole culture of poker is about “rail-birding” the big boys and dreaming about being like them.

That is not my dream.

dream big
Call me a cynic, but I dream realistic.

I want to consistently grind a small amount of money and spend it on shoes, or occasionally satty up (max £500 buyin) to get a lucky bink. For me though, winning a top prize of £10k-£20k is the goal, and that’s just one buyin for some of these guys!
I’m not aspiring to be like them, and I know a lot of lower stakes players who are not either.

Regs are claiming that because the 1st Poker Boom was a result of MoneyMaker on a massive GodRun, that this is still the culture… unfortunately, a steady decline in poker traffic suggests otherwise.
There is no doubt that “Black-Friday” had an impact, but the recent explosion of Twitch channels, where lots of people are watching the games of interesting, lower-stakes players, suggests that it’s not the sums of money any more, it’s about the actual game and how it’s played that people are engaging with.

I would certainly rather watch someone play opponents who behave like my opponents- I’m not going to play Negreanu, so why do I care what he, or players like him, are doing at the tables?
There is a definitely an increasing level of boredom with watching the same few players just passing cash about, so there is a good chance poker culture is on the change in this respect- meaning PokerStars is making a good move by not brown-nosing high stakes regs anymore, they just don’t have the same value.

market-structure-10-638PokerStars is currently crushing the online poker market, handling around 65% of online traffic; when consumers put a business in that privileged position, then the business has the consumer by the balls, they can pretty much do what the fuck they like.
Have players created this situation by not using other sites/operators enough? Why has everyone used PokerStars when there are literally hundreds of other brands out there?

I can only answer this for me: as a large field MTT player, it’s the only place I can get into a 3000+ runner tourney. It’s the only place I can play mixed games at micro stakes. It has the best structures, and most importantly, there has never been any real question over their security. I feel safe there, and they provide the exact product I like.
PokerStars has always been a no-brainer for me, although I’d drop them in an instant if something more attractive came along.

I do not feel like any other online operator has done as much to impress me as PokerStars, and obviously the regs feel the same, or they’d have been playing elsewhere instead.
Players at all levels have given PokerStars this power, so none of us can cry when they use it, we should have thought about it earlier- all of us. Captain Hindsight is a total arsehole.

My biggest problem here is that I don’t believe the high-stakes regs really care too much about micro/recreational players, but I’m not 100% convinced that PokerStars/Amaya does either, so I don’t know who to support. On that basis, I’m not going to suggest who you ally with in this debate; all I can do is provide some links to some relevant information and suggest you check them out.

If you are a passionate player at any level, I do believe this debate is important to you, and I’d love to know what you’re thinking… mainly because it might help me decide
I’m not used to this intellectual no-man’s land and I want to get out of it ASAP, not least because if I am going to support the regs and boycott PokerStars from January 1st 2016, then I only have a couple of weeks to settle my mind. HELP!



Daniel Negreanu and Dani Stern meet with Joe Ingram.
Serious technical issues here, but if you can deal with that, this is an interesting 90mins of opinion.
I feel like I trust Negreanu… is he just a smooth talker?


Dani Stern and Joe Ingram let rip.
This is the video that made me feel as though high-stakes regs are just crying their eyes out like a bunch of spoiled toddlers.


Website of #TheyKillPoker, looks like a fairly small movement, and I don’t feel like they make any points that convince me.

Link to the 2+2 forum threads about the changes and the strike.

PokerStars initial offical announcement about the changes and their very recent announcement about the good things they have planned for recreational players in 2016. I find both of these to be very ‘corporate’, but I’m not sure what else I could expect from a massive, public company!