Peak High Stakes Play At PokerStars Down About A Third During Strike

Success of PokerStars Player Strike Masked By Milestone Hands Promotion

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On December 1, high stakes players on PokerStars initiated a three-day strike to protest upcoming cutbacks to the operator’s VIP program.

Although most previous efforts to boycott online poker sites have largely fallen flat, so far, the latest organized walkout (spearheaded in part by pro Dani Stern) is having a notable impact on portions of the PokerStars lobby.

Not that anyone looking exclusively at PokerStars’ top-line traffic numbers would know it, as the first day of the strike had the unfortunate occurrence of coinciding with the site’s latest Milestone Hands giveaway — far and away PokerStars’ most popular promotion.

Total traffic numbers don’t tell full story

According to data provided by, liquidity on PokerStars peaked at over 37,500 players yesterday, representing a 65% increase over the week prior.

Staggering peak liquidity jumps are hardly uncommon during Milestone Hand promotions, as players tend to flood the microstakes tables in the minutes leading up to the next milestone.

If anything, relative to previous Milestone Hands, the traffic impact of the latest promo was rather muted, especially considering that yesterday marked the first day of PokerStars’ much anticipated Christmas Calendar.

Consider that on the culminating day of last December’s $1 Million Milestone Hands, liquidity was up 133% week-on-week — more than twice the increase witnessed yesterday.

Granted, the monetary value of that promo was greater, but the huge differential between this year’s promo and last’s suggests that other factors — primarily the overall downward trend afflicting PokerStars since the benefit cutbacks were announced and the strike itself — prevented liquidity from soaring even higher.

High-stakes turnouts take a sizable hit

To truly grasp the impact the strike had on liquidity, we turn to high-stakes player counts (also provided by PokerScout).

Compared to a composite average of the three Tuesdays prior, peak high stakes traffic was down 29%, or approximately 90 players.

High stakes play only accounted for .67% of total cash game traffic, as opposed to 1.7% normally, although this differential is as much a byproduct of the increased prevalence of microstakes play than it is a decrease in play at high limit tables.

On Wednesday, high stakes traffic continued to reside well below normal averages, despite the Milestone Hands promotion coming to a close. At the time of this writing, the prevalence of high stakes games is even lower than it was on Tuesday, strongly suggesting that players are remaining steadfast in their commitment to not play.

High stakes players will be impacted by the benefits cuts more than any other group, as PokerStars has elected to stop awarding any loyalty points to players participating in pot-limit and no-limit games $5/$10 and above, as well as, 8-game $10/$20+ and other limit games with blinds $10/$15 or higher.

The change is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2016.

What will the strike accomplish?

I’m of the mind that regardless of how successful the strike is, PokerStars will not revoke the VIP Club cutbacks, as in its estimation, the changes are for the greater good of the online poker ecology.

However, the strike and general negative reaction of the community may prompt the operator to roll back several supplementary changes that most deem unfair.

To name a few:

  • Capping SuperNova Elite benefits in 2016 at 45%: SuperNova Elite is a two-year program, and announcing a cutback ten months into a calendar year feels awfully like a breach of agreement.
  • FPP devaluation: PokerStars’ current virtual currency (FPP) is slated to be converted to the new currency (StarsCoin) at a rate of 1.2 StarsCoin for every FPP. Only problem is the average FPP is worth between 1.3 and 1.6 StarsCoin, depending on loyalty tier and how the money is spent.
  • High stakes VPPs: Less likely, Stars may decide to award high stakes players at least some VPPs. Although, the operator may be just as content to allow these games to dry up.
- 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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