As has been known to happen when I write, I plan a blog, this time a travel/poker blog about my recent trips to UKIPT Isle of Man & UKIPT London, then events overtake me and there is something more important I want to write about. Specifically, it’s what is happening with the changes to PokerStars in what some on twitter have labelled as ‘Red Thursday’!
But before I get into that, I’ll say what I want to say about these trips because it is important.
UKIPT Isle of Man at the beginning of October and UKIPT London the week after. It went for me in poker terms as bad as it possibly could have, I played bad, I ran bad, but out of it I somehow managed to still have a great time. I rationalise my poker losses as part of an overall great year. Friendships I’ve built up with some of the best players in the UK grow as I get to know more people and in those 2 weeks, we experienced the mixture of my relative failure and their enormous successes. Specifically Daragh Davey, crowned UKIPT player of the year, a fantastic achievement and thoroughly deserved. This line is stolen but I liked it a lot, “anyone can go on a heater and go deep in a few tourneys or even win a few of them, but to have been so consistent over a season of 80 or 90 tourneys, main events & side events, that is the mark of someone with real ability”. Daragh who’s a member of a group of Irish pros called ‘The Firm’ who had 3 or 4 players in the top 10 of all the UKIPT leaderboards, and that finished off nicely with Kevin Killeen (another ‘Firm’ member) getting 3rd in EPT London for the biggest score of his career. ‘The Firm’ are, I dare to say, firmly established as a group of players who do poker the right way. If any group of friends who play poker are looking for a formula for how to approach the game, these are the guys I would base it on.
UKIPT season 4 started off with Ludovich Geilich winning in Marbella, he finished off with a final table in UKIPT Isle of Man, and 21st in UKIPT London, back to back top 2% finishes, neither for huge amounts of cash, but testament to the fact that Ludo is without a doubt one the best up & coming players in the UK. And a fantastic win for Brett Angell in UKIPT London, a thoroughly nice guy who I’d first seen on the UKIPT when it was televised when he came 2nd to Gaz Walker in Nottingham in season 2. Also worth a mention is Tomasz Raniszewski who came 2nd in the UKIPT player of the year leaderboard. Tomasz was sat with with some of the Firm lads in a Nottingham side event that was down to 2 or 3 tables, while they inadvertently discussed him and saying at least he wasn’t there to pick up leaderboard points, he sat quietly listening to it all while they were oblivious to his presence, he of course goes on to win that side event. I’m sat in the later stages of a side event in the Isle of Man telling this amusing story to Max Silver who was also in the leaderboard hunt. Max calls me over later and says, “Willie, see that TomaszRa guy you were talking about, he was at our table when you were telling the story”. Oops, I finally figured out who Tomasz was and made sure he got introduced to the people I knew. Again, a thoroughly nice guy I got to know, who has a huge talent for the game and is destined for big things.
In the 2nd visit to Marbella this season, where I’d turned my poker trip into part poker, part holiday, I’d arranged with a few other players to have a day out Go Karting. Most who’d expressed an interest ended up hungover and unwell so couldn’t make it, but the few who did had a great day out.
I set out to organise another day out like this at the Isle of Man and cheekily asked the people I knew who manage and run the UKIPT if they’d be interested in putting up a small prize for the winner and seeing if any of the UKIPT staff would be interested in coming along too. Their response was amazing but not surprising, the management of the UKIPT are so well respected by the players, we are so lucky in the UK & Ireland to have such a well run tour backed by a major player like PokerStars. They ended up handling the booking, putting on a free bus to transport players to and from the karting venue and the small prize for a winner grew into an entry to UKIPT London worth £770. An amazing gesture by an amazing bunch of people. Specific thanks to David Curtis, Jamie Moniz & Kenny Diack for organising everything and looking after us so well.
We have a fantastic day, although again, the numbers were reduced as many of the players I know who were interested in coming along had made it into the last 20% of the main. I really do know some fantastic players.
And thanks to Paul Rimmer of My Poker Pal for donating the trophy for the winner.
The fantastic service the public facing staff of PokerStars & the UKIPT give is second to none. The management, the TDs, the admin staff, the dealers, just brilliant, I cannot praise them highly enough. I’m also an avid follower of the EPT and again, the staff who we see and who are always willing to interact with the viewers & players, from those in the commentary booth to the bloggers, just brilliant at what they do and how they come across.
I am a huge and loyal supporter of PokerStars. I literally don’t play on any other site. My choice of live games is based around the tours they run and I have always felt well looked after, that the company had the interests of the players at its heart and was dedicated to looking after us and making sure the playing experience for the players was a positive one. This sentiment was echoed by people who knew the market better than me, so I have remained a one site player, I play on PokerStars, I only play on PokerStars. I’ve never felt the need to give more than a cursory glance to what other sites offered, I was satisfied with the site I played on.
But today, after the announcements of various changes PokerStars are implementing, I find myself in a tricky position. The brand I love and the brand I’m loyal to, it appears to want to bring its business in line with the standards of the lesser poker sites. Fees are being incurred, rake is increasing, bonuses and promotions are being cut back. The motive for these changes appear to be centred on increasing profit and the backlash from the poker community is very hostile. These links on 2+2 poker forum appear to be the only formal way players are being notified of these changes, so those who don’t live in the poker bubble will be oblivious to them…
The price of poker has gone up. I am not a professional player, I don’t rely on poker for a living, but for the people who do, life just got a bit tougher. The people who play the game the right way, approach it like a business, who know their ROI and hit it at a consistent level over the long term, the increase in rake & fees & the removal of promotions & bonuses represents a massive pay cut for them. Some beat the game by a big enough margin that they will continue on with that reduction in pay, but for many others, these changes mean they will no longer be able make a living from the game.
For a recreational player like myself, I had been trying to work out how I could approach a grind to start playing a more serious volume, but these changes make that a more difficult prospect.
PokerStars approach seems to be to squeeze more and more out of the game for themselves leaving less and less in the poker economy for the players. I assume they have conducted market research that shows although they will lose a percentage of players, the majority of recreational players will continue to play oblivious to this profit creep. And as there are no serious competitors in the market, PokerStars can be as ruthless as they want to the players, because where else are they going to play that has the volume of games available?
PokerStars is the biggest because they were the best. Making their product just that bit shittier is something you can do when you have a near monopoly. While discussing the fallout of some of the earlier announced changes, someone from PokerStars said of the new PokerStars 7 client, something like 12% of PokerStars players are using the new client, and if that client was being run by another company, they’d be the 2nd biggest in terms of share of the market. That’s a very unhealthy position for the industry to be in. When one company has such a dominant position in the market, it doesn’t need the consent of its customers to change its business practices, hence the recent announcements have come and the player outrage can be ignored, because what are we going to do about it, what can we do about it?
The answer is sadly nothing. Until there is real competition in the market place, we had better get used to a poorer service and increasing fees at the whim of what appears to be a profit driven ethos.
There is a stark contrast of how well players are treated at live events versus what appears to be sheer contempt the corporate arm of PokerStars has towards its online customers.
Within a week, I’ve been moved from being an adoring and loyal fan of brand PokerStars to being cautious and dubious of their motives. I no longer trust that they have the players best interests at heart.
It feels like a very dark day for our industry/our sport/our fun…
With all that said, people are entitled to feel aggrieved, annoyed, upset at how we’re being treated, I know I am. But it’s important to remember, the public facing staff members of PokerStars, these are not the people who came up with these changes, and it’s important we don’t direct our anger towards them. I had the pleasure to sit with many of the back room staff at the Isle of Man, and a you couldn’t meet a nicer bunch of people. Every staff member I played with shared the enthusiasm for the game that we the players have, it must be hurting them to feel the backlash that is happening on social media today, but these decisions are happening way above the pay grade of anyone we’ll get to communicate with, so please go easy on them while you’re venting your anger & frustration.
I heart PokerStars.
PokerStars clubs players.