Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: New Jersey
Pokerstars April 2013 Player Meeting Trip Report: Gags30
Hi guys. Sorry it took so long to get this out. I had to wait quite a long time for stars to post their report, they finally posted theirs and then I changed a few things in mine. I know i was only the NJ rep and it seems like a lot of you werent even expecting a report from me, but I was still a rep for the players and wanted to give my input on the meetings as well. Here you go:
Tried to tab the paragraphs, but apparently 2p2 won't let me...
As you are aware, Pokerstars recently invited a few players from twplustwo, and a few other major message boards to partake in Player Representative Meetings, giving the players a chance to see the inner workings of Pokerstars and offer our suggestions, ideas, and improvements. I was selected to represent not only twoplustwo, but also New Jersey, as Pokerstars plans to open an online poker room in NJ, pending licensing procedures in the state. Along with myself, two other members from twoplustwo were selected: mexicannatis and chadders0. Unfortunately, Chadders was not able to make it due to a car accident, but I have heard he is doing ok and suffered no major injuries. Chadders was replaced by Shane Stewart.
In order to get to the Isle of Man, where Pokerstars headquarters is located, I first flew into London Heathrow Airport. I spent the weekend in London, mostly playing online. On Tuesday, I headed to Gatwick Airport to travel to the Isle of Man. There are not many flights to the Isle of Man, as the country is very small, and although we did not realize it at the time, 4 of the 5 representatives were on the same flight. After landing, we were greeted by a cab, holding a sign with “Pokerstars” and our names on it. I was introduced to the other reps: Shane, Mark (mexicannatis), and Adil (the representative from the forum Pokerstrategy.com, from Germany). We were brought back to the hotel and settled into our rooms. The hotel was an older building, but had quite a charm to it. The rooms weren’t anything overly fancy, but were certainly more than adequate. I was lucky enough to get a room facing the inner “atrium” of the hotel, a giant open space with a glass ceiling and tons of plants, where they often host weddings and other events. It was quite the view.
The four of us had agreed to meet back downstairs to get some dinner and to discuss the upcoming meetings and our thoughts and ideas. We wandered the small streets before finding a restaurant and started to get to know each other better, discussing our poker backgrounds, and topics of interest for the upcoming days.
The following morning the meetings began. While waiting in the lobby the 4 of us got a chance to meet the 5th representative that would be present at these meetings: Guillerme (hope I’m spelling that right)..or “G” as we referred to him, A PLO player from the Brazillian forum MaizEV. We were again met by a cab, and brought to Pokerstars’ headquarters. The office is located in a normal looking office building, again, nothing overly flashy. We were given ID badges to wear, and met Steve Day in the lobby. PokerstarsSteve, as he’s known on twoplustwo, introduced himself to all of us and we stopped real quickly in the conference room to sign the non-disclosure agreements. After, he gave us a tour of the Pokerstars facility. Their offices are on two floors and are very expansive. There are many different departments and we got a chance to meet some of the people working in each of them. It was very interesting to see the breakdown of all of the departments. I think a lot of players have the idea that there’s just like 4 or 5 people behind some desks, then they have some servers, and then a massive customer service center. It’s not like that at all, there are a ton of different teams devoted to different aspects of the company, from the Poker Room management and software development to security and VIP store items, we got a chance to see it all.
There were always snacks such as cookies and pretzels available for us, as well as a fully stocked fridge with many coca cola products. You can tell that stars really takes care of their employees, and all of the beverages in their break room were free of charge for all employees. Steve spoke a little bit more about the purpose of the meetings, and introduced us to a few other member of the pokerstars team. The one thing that stuck out the most about the purpose of being here is that these were not meetings for the players to demand stars change this or that (as many posters on 2p2 think); this is a dialogue between players and pokerstars, time to dicuss issues and work towards a solution, not necessarily solve everything.
After meeting the team, we discussed different aspects of sit and go’s, as well as husngs. There are some problems with the way heads up sit and go’s register. One thing that truly amazed me is how much time and effort Pokerstars puts into every decision they make. When there’s a perceived issue with one aspect of their client or service, such as husng lobbies, they put a team on it and create a report of the situation and then work through some solutions. It was quite interesting seeing this process in full effect. There are a couple of solutions to fixing the husng lobby and pokerstars is still working through which will be best. Personally I think one was a clear better choice, but both solutions were good and there are certainly pluses and minuses to both.
We broke for lunch, where we were taken upstairs to the building’s cafeteria and got to order a meal of our choosing. After lunch we started discussing a major issue on twoplustwo: PLO Rake. Several members of twoplustwo have published some studies they have done, and the main point that players are making is that no one is actually winning in PLO cash games before rewards and VIP benefits. Stars was, again, very aware of this issue, and had a wealth of information on the subject. We had pages and pages of data to pour over and dissect. After a lengthy, but healthy, discussion and debate, it seemed there were a few possible solutions. I was the only representative that was not a full time cash game player, and 2 of the 4 other reps were full time PLO players, so there was a ton of really good discussion. Another aspect that came even more clear to me through this discussion: stars really does have everyone’s best interest in mind. Sure, they’re a business, and like every business, they want to make money…but they’re not this giant rake machine looking to suck the poker economy dry. Anyway, the PLO rake issue is still an ongoing one, and Pokerstars plans to invite a few top respected PLO players to discuss the issue further and realize a solution.
We were then introduced to a few more members of the Pokerstars team, those responsible for handling player communications. Again, stars is extremely active in this area, and has built their reputation as having the best customer service in the business. This communication extends past just customer service though, and includes all of the posting on forums that you see. Everyone kind of agreed that although stars is present on the forums, they could do a better job, perhaps engaging in more conversation with players, and making sure every sub-forum has its own stars representative. Adil and G mentioned that pokerstars representatives are not as prominent, or even present on their forums, and would like to see stars reaching out to forums that are not in English. It seemed unanimously agreed by all members of stars and the players that this was very important and stars would work on changing this, Steve has already begun posting on the pokerstrategy forums.
Finishing up the day, we had a quick general discussion, and went back to the hotel. After a very brief rest, we were picked up by a cab to be taken to dinner. Stars treated everyone to a really great dinner a local restaurant, where we had a private room in the back and got to enjoy some great food and great company, as we were joined by several others from Stars that we had met earlier that day. The dinner was fun as conversation evolved while the drinks flowed from sophisticated discussions of balanced 3bet ranges and rake and payout structures to whether or not the Wire or the Sopranos was the best television show of all time (it’s the Sopranos, btw, clearly Sopranos).
Edit: on day one we also spoke with person who is in charge of payments, i.e. deposits and withdrawals, in a small unplanned session. The Brazilian representative had a lot to say on this subject as brazil is a lot more limited in their options to get money on and off the site. Stars plans on reevaluating some of their methods they currently use, and is going to look at how to get the word it that there are newer options available that many players seem to not know about.
Thursday had us up bright and early and we dove right into the days topics. Due to a small schedule change Ratholing was first on the menu, and again all of the cash game players in the room had a lot to say. Stars is again very aware of these issues and we were again presented with a lot of data. Stars agrees that players should not be switching tables for the sole purpose of being able to play with a shorter stack. This practice harms not only regulars, but also recreational players, and there are several ideas to stop this practice. We were once again presented with a huge report on possible solutions and possible problems with these solutions, and spent a great deal of time dissecting all of them. Pokerstars has one main idea that will most likely be put into practice, however, they are still working the kinks out and will be discussing it internally and with cash game players through the forums. UPDATE: This idea has since been presented on the forums, and involves using player identities to make people rebuy at a new table using an ‘identity’ that the system creates, based on the amount of money they last left this limit with. I thought this idea was a great one, and was fully supportive of it. I look forward to seeing it in practice, and think it will do a very good job at preventing the mass grinders who constantly rat hole.
The next team to be brought in was the Pokerstars Product Team, the team responsible for software developments and the development of the new client: Pokerstars 7. I was extremely excited to get a chance to see the new software, as I’ve heard about it for quite some time, and was hoping to see it released soon. I was basically blown away by what was presented in front of me. The software caters to regulars who love to really customize the software for their liking, and also to recreational players who want to simply sit down and begin playing poker, without having to worry about 100 different filters and settings. Honestly, the software looks great, and I can’t wait to get a chance to use it. From an MTT players perspective, there is everything you could ever ask for. I had a list of about 15 items from the MTT community, and probably 6 or 7 of those requests I did not even have to bring up to stars, as they already had these requests fulfilled in the Pokerstars 7 client. Overall, stars is getting a slick redo, and going to be much more visually appealing, extremely customizable, and a lot easier to use for everyone.
After software we had a quick lunch, which was catered in, some great sandwiches and wraps. We then spoke briefly about PLO Rake again, touching on some of the things we talked about the day before before moving onto ring game seating issue: players that deliberately sit out and work the system to skip big blinds, and wind up paying fewer big blinds than other players, and fewer big blinds than small blinds. Again, stars is very aware of these issues and have a few solutions to solve this problem. Right now, there’s no way to really detect these players other than manually, which is not a real solution since it requires someone pointing out to stars that a player is doing this, then stars has to spend a lot of time and resources to see if the player is really breaking the rules. Stars has come up with a few great ideas to prevent these issues from taking place, a preventative measure, which is by far the best. From an outsider perspective as someone who does not play a lot of cash games, the solutions stars comes up with are really very smart and well thought out. Again, these solutions are still being worked on to make sure all the kinks are out before being deployed.
We were then presented with the Promotions team, as they unveiled some upcoming planned ring game promotions. The success of the billionth hand promotions is pretty clear, as players have all enjoyed them. Stars has some great plans for upcoming promotions that you certainly don’t want to miss, so keep your eyes open for upcoming announcements from stars!
Finishing out the day we again had a general discussion and presented some of our own ideas, mostly building off of what we had already talked about during the day. We ran a little bit over this day, so we stopped briefly at the hotel to drop some things off, before heading to a different restaurant. JAR was the restaurant of choice, and again we had a great meal and great company. After dinner a few members of Pokerstars suggested going for a drink, and took us to this very small local bar for their karaoke night. It was quite an interesting little place, and gave us the full Isle of Man experience!
The third and final day of meetings saw discussion start with sit and go promotions. We discussed the since implemented golden sng promotions. We saw a demo of how they will work and discussed the various aspects of them. The idea was very well received, all of the players thought it was a great idea. I think the community also is enjoying them since they've been deployed, the reactions seem pretty positive overall.
Also discussed was the battle of the planets promotion. This sit and go promotion has been around for quite a while and many players feel it is rather stale. It's always ongoing, so does not feel special, and only gives a select few players a chance to experience the rewards of being at the top of the leaderboard. Some of the representatives thought that battle of planets should be totally scrapped, whiles others thought changing it to make it more appealing to both regulars and recreational players would rejuvenate it. Personally, it's a promotion that as a casual sng player I never even thought about it. I think that in itself shows that it's not a great promotion and at least needs to be changed. The golden sngs appeal to recreationally and regulars alike, and I think it is overall a better promotion. Pokerstars is looking into the battle of the planets and is open to ideas and suggestions about it, but for the time being it looks like it will not be changing.
The next topic of discussion was multi table tournaments. BryanS joined us in what was a very exciting discussion for myself, as I am primarily an mtt player. The first topic that was discussed was turbo rake. Now, there are several points of view as to why turbo rake should be lowered. Win rates are certainly lower in turbos, and stars does acknowledge this, and has changed rake accordingly as can be seen by the lowered rake in hyper turbos. However, hyper turbos are extreme examples of turbos,and the structure of turbos has improved quite a lot since stars has added all of the 30/60 40/80 levels. A turbo on stars plays quite a bit deeper stacked than turbos on many other sites. One suggestion was to scale the rake accordingly; instead of lowering the rake to hyper turbo levels, lowering it a percentage, to make it more balanced with the structure. When analyzing all statistics of win percentages and roi, it is quite evident that lower limit large field turbos have plenty of players that are proven winners over large samples. The biggest problem with turbos is only at higher stakes, in smaller field tournaments. We also discussed potentially only lowering the rake in these, instead of across the board. Stars was very open to hearing what I had to say, and is considering how the rake of turbos affects players and the economy as a whole.
The second thing that we discussed was the general mtt schedule. The schedule has had numerous tournaments added to it over the years, some were deleted, but mostly there have just been additions. When looking at the lobby, it is simply a mess. Stars has been working on a new mtt schedule for quite some time. I did not get a chance to actually see the schedule, however, made it very clear what the mtt community was asking for: normal speed tournaments. There is an abundance of turbo offerings, however the number of full ring regular speed tournaments is simply lacking. Stars was certainly aware that the schedule is crowded and lacks normal speed freezouts, and has high hopes for their new mtt schedule changes. As with anything, it's tough to get exact dates for when you can see something, but let's say we can hope to see something "soon".
The over-crowding of the lobby is something that personally bothered me quite a bit as an mtt player. It is nearly impossible to navigate the lobby without using some type of filters or sorting. I want to see new ways to sort, filter, etc. As I mentioned earlier, when we got a chance to view pokerstars 7, there were many features I was hoping to see, and did not even need to suggest because stars had already implemented them in the upcoming client. Without getting into specific features that we got to see, I can guarantee the mtt community that they will be very satisfied with the new pokerstars client, and many of their wants and needs will be met.
Satellites were also discussed, especially guarantees on some of them. There was discussion that certain satellites that were only guaranteeing 1 or 2 seats were regularly paying out 13-15 seats. Stars is always monitoring these situations, and constantly adjusting guarantees accordingly. They took down all of the specific situations that I could present, and are going to look into each of them.
During scoop and wcoop there is always a big outcry for more full ring no limit events. We discussed the upcoming scoop schedule, and went through the types of games that were offered. Scoop and wcoop are meant to be championships of all derivations of poker, and not simply no limit. No limit is certainly a huge part, hence all of the big Sunday tournaments and win events. We discussed the possibility of adding other series and the impact this would have on the major championships, as well as the smaller tcoop, micro millions, etc. As always stars listens to the communities suggestions, and constantly changes the scoop and wcoop schedule to reflect this. Be sure to stay active in the threads that Bryan starts, and remember that even if stars doesn't always respond to everyone that they really are reading all of the comments.
The final topic of discussion was New Jersey and pokerstars involvement and upcoming purchase of a casino in Atlantic city. Now, as many of you are aware, stars deal to purchase the Atlantic club is apparently dead. At the time of my meeting with stars, they were fully committed to purchasing the casino and had no intentions of backing out (at least that's how it appeared to me). Stars is still committed to entering the NJ online poker market, and is still in court over purchasing the Atlantic club. Everything I've written on NJ so far is my own personal thoughts learned from what I have read online and in newspapers and does not represent the opinions or statements of pokerstars. Anyway, we discussed many aspects of stars owning a casino in nj. We talked about how stars will compete with the other casinos both online and in Atlantic city. Stars would like to build a nice poker room in their casino, and has many ideas to make themselves very appealing to current Atlantic city customers, and also potential new customers. I am very excited about the idea of pokerstars owning a casino in NJ and wish them the best of luck in the nj courts. Due to the undetermined future of stars in the nj market, I am not going to discuss more of the specifics of stars plans for their casino because, well, first they need a casino.
The last time we had for discussion was a general discussion where the representatives had a chance to decide what we thought were the oat important things we talked about, and tell stars our thoughts of what should be focused on. By far, everyone agreed that implementing pokerstars 7 was the most important thing stars should be focusing on. There are features that will appeal to mass multi table grinding regulars, as well as recreation players that one table. The new software will improve the user experience of players whether their favorite game is full ring nlhe, sngs, mtts, heads up cash, or courchavel hi/lo. Getting the software out as soon as possible is important, and stars was certainly glad to hear how well received the software was. The second thing we wanted stars to focus on was the PLO rake. This has been a big issue for quite some time, and stars is committed to coming up with a solution that will satisfy everyone. There are many good ideas on alleviating t he problem, and stars has been working very hard since the meetings to realize a solution.
Overall, the meetings with pokerstars were a great experience. I learned a great deal about pokerstars as a company, and respect them more than ever. The biggest thing I took away from these meetings is that stars really does listen to everything everyone says. They read every forum post, and put thought into every single suggestion every player gives. Just because you don't always get a personal response from a representative don't think that your idea was not read and thought about. Many ideas that stars implements are directly or related to something a user has posted on the forums. Stars employees put a great deal of thought and effort into not only reading forums, but trying their best to please every player that plays on their site. From the regular grinders to the recreational players, Pokerstars is focused on making he poker playing experience a great one for everyone that opens their software.
I will do my best to answer any and all questions you may have (remember, I can't always give specifics, but will do my best). I am currently still in Vegas for the wsop, so please bear with me, but I guarantee I will respond to everyone. Thanks again for being patient for me to release this report.