What The Remodeled PokerStars Lobby Might Look Like

Here’s How The PokerStars Lobby Will Look After Game-Changing Player Rewards Overhaul Hits In The New Year

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This article largely deals with the likely composition of the PokerStars lobby following the enactment of changes to the site’s rewards program. Look for part two in this series, focusing on traffic, next week.

There’s little denying that the recently announced VIP Club changes will have an immediate impact on the composition of the PokerStars.com lobby.

Effective January 1, high-volume players who primarily relied on rakeback will suddenly be forced to rethink their sustainability model, resulting in a somewhat dramatic shift away from low skill, high speed formats and toward games where a higher ROI can be maintained.

Here’s a glance at how I expect the PokerStars lobby to change come January.

High stakes cash games will dry up

High-stakes players will be the most impacted by the VIP Club cutbacks, as they will no longer receive any form of rakeback.

Considering that most pot-limit and no-limit games at stakes $5/$10 and up are already infested with regs, the games will become nearly unbeatable. Thus, I suspect that the majority of pros that relied on rakeback to turn a profit at $5/$10 and $10/$20 will move down to the highest stakes in which they will still receive benefits, $3/$6.

In turn, the $3/$6 games will get tougher to beat, prompting some pros to move down to $2/$4, and so on down the line.

However, from what it appears, high stakes NLHE and PLO games were already drying up on PokerStars, suggesting that the aforementioned domino effect is already in play. The loss of benefits at high stakes will merely accelerate the process.

Same goes for middle-to-high limit games, which currently comprise just a minuscule segment of PokerStars’ liquidity. In the absence of rakeback, these games should dry up rather quickly.

At the nosebleed stakes, rake and rakeback become a much smaller part of the equation. Not to mention, it’s difficult to see $25/$50+ players having any desire to move all the way down to $3/$6. It follows that these games will hardly be impacted at all.

Bottom line: No-limit and pot-limit games $5/$10 and $10/$20 will go mostly extinct, as will middle limit games.

Fast-fold participation will stumble

Zoom Poker is nothing short of a rakeback grinder’s paradise, as it allows players to amass tons of hands in a fraction of the time it would take at standard tables.

The downside of Zoom has always been that it takes more time to get accurate reads and notes on opponents, as players are often playing against a pool of 100 players or more. The recent reduction to Zoom data mining, while largely a positive change, has decreased the format’s perceived skill edge even further.

Now that benefits at the highest levels have been slashed, the upside of playing Zoom Poker, especially at the mid-stakes where games tend to be tough, has taken a hit.

If anything, the only time I can see Zoom Poker participation increasing is near the end of the month, as players scramble to meet their next “steps” goal.

Bottom line: Players will be less motivated to play Zoom Poker, instead turning to traditional cash games.

Select Sit & Go formats will suffer, others will rebound

For many of the same reasons that fast-fold traffic will take a hit, fast format sit & go’s will also see reduced traffic.

In particular, high stakes hyper sngs, where rakeback constitutes the majority of a grinder’s hourly rate, will begin to dry up.

Lower stakes hypers should still go off with some regularity, and may even increase in prevalence, as pros will be looking to increase their ROI in the absence of high rakeback. And there’s plenty of opportunity to do so at the lower stakes hypers, where action junkies and gamblers congregate in droves.

By extension, fewer high-volume players will participate in high stakes Spin & Go’s, as staying in the black at the $60 and $100 buy-in levels is painfully difficult as is, and will become only tougher when SuperNova and SuperNova Elite benefits are slashed. Not to mention, PokerStars keeps increasing the top prize multiplier, rendering it more and more difficult for grinders to realize their expected return.

That being said, it’s difficult to envision hyper sng and Spin & Go grinders dropping below say the $15 buy-in level, where entry fees begin to constitute a larger and larger percentage of the prize pool.

Moving on, I can see the turbo sngs experiencing a small liquidity uptick, as former hyper players will be looking for games where they can maintain a higher return. Then again, turbo entry fees are significantly higher than their hyper counterparts, so maybe not.

Finally, I’m fairly confident that multi-table sngs will increase in popularity, as they’re arguably the most skillful of all the sng formats.

Bottom line: Fewer players will play high stakes hyper sngs and Spin & Go’s for profit, instead possibly opting to play more turbo and multi-table sngs.

The MTT lobby won’t change

At least in the short term, it’s unlikely that the balance of the multi-table tournament lobby will shift by a material degree.

For one, very few players who play MTTs exclusively benefit greatly from the VIP Club.

In context, a player would have to average 55 $100 buy-in tournaments per day in order to achieve SuperNova Elite status. Considering that high buy-in tournaments make up a very small percentage of PokerStars’ weekday schedule, reaching SNE solely on MTTs seems quite the task.

Along the same lines, in the immediate the VIP cutbacks probably aren’t going to significantly alter the size of PokerStars’ total player pool (some may disagree). Not to mention, the changes are going live in January, a time when online poker liquidity is generally at its highest.

Taken together, this tells me it’s very unlikely PokerStars will be reducing the guarantees of its most popular tournaments. And in so long as the guarantees remain high, recreational players (and subsequently pros) will enter at about the same frequency as they already do.

With that said, we might observe a slight shift away from turbo format tournaments, as some high-volume grinders who supplement their rakeback via MTT play will now see more value in standard formats – but my gut tells me the shift will be pretty negligible.

Bottom line: The MTT lobby will look largely the same in January as it does now.

Microstakes games will run at about the same frequency

From what I’ve seen, there’s little to reason to believe that the nominal benefits increase at the ChromeStar level will have depositing players rushing to play on PokerStars, as a 10 percent increase at this level equates to an average of mere nickels and dimes in increased monthly rewards.

Furthermore, it’s difficult to envision former rakeback grinders stooping all the way down to the micros to realize their edge, as the high rake and small average pot size will serve as colossal deterrents.

Therefore, pending PokerStars doesn’t launch a huge marketing campaign or microstakes focused promotion in January, the prevalence of microstakes games shouldn’t move too much in either direction. At least for now.

As to the future, the popularity of microstakes games hinges largely on how successful PokerStars’ alleged casual-friendly plans are at attracting and retaining depositing players.

Bottom line: Microstakes prevalence won’t change in the immediate.

What about the low stakes?

Predicting change at the low stakes games is a bit trickier.

On one hand, the expected domino effect that results in professional players stepping down in stakes may reach as far down as say $.10/$.25, or more realistically, $.25/$.50. Pros who stray this far downward may still be willing to mass multi-table as the games will be soft enough for them to turn a better hourly rate half-focusing on 12 tables as opposed to fully focusing on six.

What results is a temporary increase in the prevalence of low stakes games, followed by an incremental drop-off as depositing players rapidly lose their buy-ins.

On the other hand, mass multi-tables who currently frequent the low stakes may attempt to move up a level, playing fewer tables and dedicating more attention to each.

In this scenario, small stakes traffic at select stakes will temporarily decrease, at least until pros that tried to move up and failed take a step back.

We may even observe both effects in near equal proportions, with the small stakes traffic gains from one offsetting the decreases from the other.

Bottom line: Changes at the low stakes will reflect the attitude of rakeback grinders.

- Robert DellaFave is a game designer and avid poker player. He writes for several publications centered on legal US online poker and the regulated online gambling industries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
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