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Nov 27, 2015

PokerStars VIP Changes: What Angry Players got Right/Wrong

By RTR Dennis

Ronaldo team pokerstars

The big story in online poker right now remains the changes that PokerStars made to their VIP program. These changes have angered plenty of high-volume players because they stand to lose the most from the revamped loyalty program. So as you can guess, Twitter is ablaze with unhappy online poker pros. But are all of their criticisms warranted? Let's take a look by discussing the main issues raised and if they are indeed accurate.

  1. PokerStars has reduced Rewards from an Overall Standpoint

One general criticism of the PokerStars VIP changes is that the site's parent company, Amaya Gaming, is the big winner here. The Supernova Elite (SNE) level, which earned upwards of 70% rakeback, has been eliminated entirely. Now, the highest rakeback that anybody can earn in 2016 will be 45%, and this will be reduced to 30% from then on. Then there's the switch from Frequent Player Points (FPPs) to StarsCoins, which Mike McDonald sums up with this tweet:

"@paulgees81 stars is trading in our FPPs for "StarsCoins" which instead of being worth $0.016 are worth $0.01"

As McDonald points out, SNE players stand to lose the most when FPPs are converted to StarsCoin come Jan. 1, 2016. So when looking at the VIP program from top to bottom, players are right in that the overall rewards are being reduced.

  1. Stars is increasing Rake for High-Volume Grinders

Considering that the SNE level is ending, top players will convert FPPs to lesser StarsCoins, and the rakeback cap is lower, it seems like rake is being increased for high-volume players. Dani 'Ansky' Stern made this claim by tweeting:

"@RealKidPoker You seem very unaware of what even happened. HUDs and scripts NOT banned, rake DRASTICALLY increased for high volume players."

As just mentioned, it SEEMS like rake is increasing for those who log lots of hands and heavily rely on rakeback. However, the actual rake at Stars is not increasing — just the amount of rewards that high-volume players receive. And while the rake discount given to serious grinders is diminished, rake is not actually going up, so this assertion is wrong.

  1. PokerStars wants Equilibrium, where Everybody is a Small Loser

Terrence Chan, who worked for Stars during the Isai Scheinberg era, believes that Amaya's ultimate goal is to create skill equilibrium, where every player is a "small loser." While Chan thinks that it's within Amaya's right to do what's best for business, he also offers the following excerpt:

"Stars' goal is to create an equilibrium where everyone is a small loser. It is an uphill battle when you are fighting against the most powerful organization in poker."

The entirety of Chan's post is insightful, but this one excerpt doesn't hold much validity. First off, even if most high-volume players quit online poker, the players behind them in skill will simply begin winning more. And it's not like Stars has increased rake to make everybody a loser; they've mainly slashed benefits for serious grinders — a change that won't affect the masses. Long story short, the idea that Stars wants everybody to lose is wrong.

  1. Stars reneged on its Promise to Supernova Elite Players

The general concept behind the SNE level is that players who achieve PokerStars' highest status will not only collect SNE rewards for the remainder of that year, but also the following year too. Stern pointed this out in a podcast by saying:

"The VIP system is a two-year program. One of the rewards for achieving Supernova Elite per given year is that you maintain the status for the next year. And this is advertised and written on their site — it's still written on their site right now."

Stern isn't just imagining things when he discussed the terms on the PokerStars website. I'm not a lawyer, but it seems like Stars would have a legal obligation to honor SNE status in 2016 for those who achieved it this year. So anybody who's angry about SNE being disbanded in 2016 has every right to be.

  1. All the Pros will move down, making Low-Stakes Games Tougher

One more big change to the VIP program includes taking away rewards for players at $5/$10 No-Limit and Pot-Limit tables; the same goes for $10/$15 stakes and above in many other poker variations. Without rakeback and rewards at mid and high-stakes cash tables, the common assumption is that all serious pros will automatically move down in stakes and create tougher games. Here's what poker player Adam Owens had to say on the matter:

"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."

It's fair to assume that the best players will move down and begin multi-tabling stakes below $5 while trying to accumulate rakeback — thus creating more-difficult lower stakes. But what this argument misses is that the elimination of rakeback at mid and high limits makes these games less inviting for pros, and more inviting for rec players. The end result may be more amateurs playing at these stakes, which will then attract some pros back to mid/high stakes even without rakeback involved.