PokerStars shifts again to help online poker ecosystem

PokerStars’ New Satellite Policy Is Another Step In The Right Direction

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PokerStars unveiled yet another ongoing effort to create a better environment for recreational players last week.

This time around, the company announced a significant change to the policy governing satellite tournaments at the site, limiting players to a single prize package for each live tournament.

On its blog, PokerStars made the following announcement:

“For the first time ever at PokerStars there is a limit on the number of packages and seats that can be won by an individual player. Players can now win only one full package and one seat. This limitation will, we hope, make sense to the majority of you and stand to reason as being fair.

We believe the change will create a more level playing field for all that want to visit our lower buy-in Festivals or experience the glitz and glamour of one of our bigger Championship events.”

Reaction mixed, but majority see it as ‘good for the game’

The change has largely been met with positivity from the usual sources like PokerStars pros:

But even the naysayers, including the opposition at PartyPoker, defended the policy change:

Still, some players are unconvinced and see the change as PokerStars’ latest slight against professional players.

The argument against the change seems to be this: The pros mass-registering these satellites boosts the number of seats the site will give away, thereby allowing it to run more satellite tournaments.

As such, it’s similar to the argument for giving more rewards to high-volume players — quantity over quality. The theory being espoused is that liquidity and more games, no matter how “bad” they are or how skewed toward to the professional player they become, are better than the alternative.

The counterargument is that good games, and an environment that allows recreational players to  have “winning moments,” will eventually lead to the creation of more games.

The new satellite policy seeks to recapture a part of the poker ecosystem that has shrunk in recent years.

Online satellites attracted fish, which attracted the sharks

In 2003, Chris Moneymaker famously turned a $39 satellite tournament at PokerStars into a $10,000 World Series of Poker Main Event seat. That eventually became a $2.5 million payday.

As it played out on TV, Moneymaker’s story inspired thousands of aspiring poker players to try and replicate his accomplishment. Thousands of people wanted to make a similarly small investment and see if they could get lucky.

Not surprisingly, in the years following Moneymaker’s victory, online satellites into major tournaments featured high numbers of amateur players.

That inevitably led to some professional players gravitating toward these satellite tournaments to take advantage of the softer fields. In doing so, they not only often won seats to big events on the cheap. They also won multiple packages to the same event.

Because there was no restriction on how many seats they could win, they would just cash in the extra seats for cold cash.

Even though it’s trying to argue against the change, the tweet below shows how problematic this practice was becoming.

The leaderboard is quite telling, since there were only 11 UKIPT stops during Season 4Dara “SlowDoke” O’Kearney had won 87 packages.

Basically, as more and more value-hunting pros descended on these satellite events, fewer and fewer amateurs were winning seats. In turn, recreational players stopped participating as much.

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Killing the dream?

This isn’t conjecture. PokerStars claims it has seen a decline in recreational players trying to qualify for live events.

“While recreational players dream of winning the poker experience of a lifetime with PokerStars, a fortunate and skilled few win multiple packages and seats to our live events, when they can only use one of them,” PokerStars Operations Manager Mike Jones wrote on the company’s blog.

PokerStars’ new policy aims to stop this practice by accomplishing two things:

  1. It should increase the total number of players PokerStars sends to each event. Satellites will send more of the “right” kind of player — amateurs — to these tournaments.
  2. As the event draws closer, it should make the fields progressively softer. Most of the professional players will have already won a seat. Therefore, they have no reason to play another satellite.

Change is not without risk

That being said, PokerStars will have to monitor this closely, particularly in low-liquidity markets. Drawbacks might include fewer entries into satellite tournaments and fewer total seats awarded.

However, if this occurs, it’s more likely to be a short-term issue that can be solved by running fewer satellite tournaments and converting most to mega-satellites with multiple guaranteed seats to entice players.

Additionally, just like when they moved on from satellites, recreational players will, over time, intuitively realize the pro-to-rec composition has changed, which should bring more recreational players back to these games.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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