Global online poker market leader PokerStars has just posted a notice on its website announcing an increase in tournament fees for MTTs with buyins of less than $20. Time tourneys, which run for a specified amount of time and then all remaining contestants are paid out in proportion to their stack sizes, will instead see decreased fees. This new tournament fee policy will go into effect March 26.
The news was posted on the PokerStars blog, which has, over the years, been a reliable source of information on company developments. However, in this instance, we get a taste of corporate non-speak rather than a clear and lucid explanation of the new policy. The piece begins with the following words:
The online gaming business is changing rapidly including on the regulatory front, where we see a generally positive path towards industry regulation countered by bumps along the way. As the industry evolves, we need maximum flexibility and agility to adjust to changing conditions.
Pricing is a key commercial consideration for every business and we will increasingly use a dynamic pricing model that gives the greatest flexibility to respond to market dynamics.
…use a dynamic pricing model that gives the greatest flexibility to respond to market dynamics.
Gee, 'Stars, you should have maybe run this past your Department of Redundancy Department ;)
This is content-free language if we've ever seen it. Although a bit put off by the tone in these opening sentences, we eagerly devoured the remainder of the text to gain whatever enlightenment we could. Unfortunately, the rest of the document did little to educate us on the plans of Amaya, PokerStars' parent organization. There's no indication of what the new fee schedule will be like.
The player community has speculated for a while now that higher tourney fees were in the offing at PokerStars. This has been true at least since August 2017 when PokerStars elected to stop showing tourney fees in the main MTT lobby. Instead, it just displays the total a user must pay to enter, including both buyin and fee in one number. To find out how much the fee is for any given tournament, customers must open the lobby for a specific event and browse over to the “Structure” tab.
PokerStars Main Lobby - Note That MTT Fees Aren't Shown
It's Only Possible to See the Fee Within the Lobby for a Specific Event
The fact that the main lobby doesn't give any indication as to the fee amount means that PokerStars can stealthily increase this sum. As long as they keep the total buyin plus fee the same for any given tournament, nobody will be any the wiser unless they delve more deeply into the tourney-specific lobby. Because only sophisticated users will likely do so, the average player will be charged extra and probably won't even realize it.
The reduction in fees for time tourneys seems to be a red herring, designed to make it look like PokerStars is giving back even as it takes away. Few are likely to be deceived by this tactic because time tourneys are a niche product that almost no one really cares about whereas normal MTTs with sub-$20 buyins are pretty popular elements in the PokerStars lineup.
UPDATE March 28, 2018: The new tournament fees are now active, and so we can see how much of an increase they represent above the old fee percentages. This data has been compiled by our friends at StandardBacking.com and is shown below for your edification:
As we can see, most MTTs now have rake of 10.9% as opposed to 9.1% before. This will cut into the profitability of winning players and make losing and breakeven individuals go broke quicker. We think most pros can still beat these tournaments albeit with a reduced winrate. However, the hypers are a different case because the rake has gone up significantly. Due to the rapid structure of these games, there's less room for skilled players to apply their edge. The new, higher fees may make it all but impossible for anyone to beat hypers over the long term.
We wish we could say that this fee increase is an isolated phenomenon, but the history of decisions made by Amaya shows that this isn't the case. Rather, the latest disappointing change at PokerStars is merely the most recent in a large string of them since Amaya took control of the poker site in June 2014.
In November 2014, the firm increased the cash game rake. The next month, PokerStars introduced a 2.5% fee for converting deposits and withdrawals into another currency – a service that had hitherto been free. In May 2015, the company unilaterally changed its agreements with affiliates so that it would only pay commissions on players for two years, and it made this change retroactive to users that had already been referred by affiliates. While individual customers weren't impacted directly by this decision, we've seen before that the breaking of affiliate agreements is often the precursor to further shady behavior.
On January 1, 2017, 'Stars eliminated the top rung of the VIP program, SuperNova Elite. The high-volume players who had worked hard to achieve this level saw their rewards drastically cut. In July 2017, the much-lauded VIP Club was replaced altogether by a new rewards program called Stars Rewards. This is a convoluted setup involving opening randomized chests, and its value varies from player to player because the criteria for being able to earn the different chests is personalized for every account profile. Anecdotal reports suggest that the highest-volume grinders, who used to get back 50%+ of the rake they paid, now receive a paltry 5% - 15%.
To put it mildly, ordinary players are dismayed by this latest money grab by PokerStars. Many echo the sentiments of twoplustwoer “b1ochemical”:
The feedback on Reddit was similar. Several users pointed out that there are many other reputable places to play and that PokerStars appears to be on a downhill course:
If you're a disillusioned PokerStars player reeling from its incessant hammering of its loyal user base, then maybe it's time for you to search for a new poker home. There are a number of reputable online poker tournament sites to choose from. We recommend Americas Cardroom specifically for people who love a bustling tourney scene. Its headline weekly MTT, the Million Dollar Sunday, compares pretty well to PokerStars' Sunday Million, and there are plenty of tourneys priced at $20 and below too. Read our Americas Cardroom review for further information. Note that ACR is open to individuals from most countries around the globe in addition to the United States.
Many disheartened former 'Stars players are also exploring the possibilities at Tiger Gaming. Tiger has recently revamped its tournament schedule and now offers a 100k guaranteed tournament on Sundays. It's definitely worth considering if you're not enthused by PokerStars' confusing and mediocre Chests system coupled with nonsensical rake increases. Check out our review of Tiger Gaming poker for signup instructions.