PokerStars Continues Pro-to-Rec Shift by Limiting Live Satellite Packages and Paying More Spots in Tournaments

In yet another policy change designed to make PokerStars more appealing to recreational players, the global online poker leader will begin limiting its live event satellite packages to one per person.

Previously, players who had already qualified for a PokerStars Live event via online satellite could continue competing for additional seats, earning the cash value of a tournament package directly to their account.

Unsurprisingly, this created a market for so-called “satellite grinders” – or professional players who parlayed success in the satellite system into extra cash. As a result, the ostensible objective of online satellites – feeding recreational players into larger tournaments – was largely overridden by pros who dominated the satellite tables.

In a statement published to the PokerStars Blog on August 30, poker operations manager Mike Jones outlined the impetus for satellite limits:

“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. These players have taken advantage of a system that allowed them to profit from winning against recreational or less experienced players.

While this hasn’t been against the rules, it doesn’t make for as enjoyable experience as we would hope. The practice has, in fact, been off-putting for many, as we are seeing an increasing number of recreational players not even attempting to qualify for live events.

This means that they are as a group less likely to experience the excitement that comes from playing live and the further investment in the poker world that comes from playing in a major live event.”

Predictably, opinion on the latest PokerStars reform – spearheaded by parent company Amaya in an attempt to increase the site’s profit margins – has been mixed within the poker community.

One particularly vocal critic of the move was Irish poker pro Dara O’Kearney, once a fixture on the PokerStars-owned UK and Ireland Poker Tour (UKIPT) and PokerStars Festival tournament circuits which the satellite system feeds.

According to O’Kearney, who used his personal blog to address the issue, PokerStars’ previous policy – one which he and fellow pros were asked to advise on – actively encouraged high-volume players like himself to grind as many satellites as possible:

“I answered honestly and made some suggestions, specifically that bigger side events were needed to encourage more serious players to travel, and if they allowed multiple seat and packages to be won players like me would grind satellites and provide more liquidity to ensure they ran.

After the tour took off, it seemed our feedback was no longer needed or heeded. The first major mistake Stars made was moving the buy-in up to over 1k. That proved a step too far, moving even the satellites out of the reach of recs. The satellites became less attractive for everyone.

As the satellites got smaller and smaller with more regs, many smart recs began to realize they were a heavily losing proposition for them. Internally in Stars, it seemed that people needed scapegoats, and instead of putting their hands up and saying, ‘We messed up increasing the buyin,’ it was more prudent to blame the satellite grinders: ‘Those guys are stopping recs from qualifying,’ – never mind the fact that they were still heavily incentivizing us to play the satellites with an expanded leaderboard prize pool and other perks.”

While the satellite debate limit rages on, PokerStars put out another new policy prioritizing recreational players over pros.

On September 7, Jones posted to the PokerStars Blog to announce that tournament payout structures would be flattened across the board – resulting in more players experiencing “winning moments” by making the money with a minimum cash:

“On September 11, most tournaments on PokerStars will be changing to deeper payouts.

Tourneys that have been paying 12% will change to 14%; 14% will change to 16%; 16% will change to 18%, and 18% will change to 20%.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t affect every tournament; there’s no change to approximately 30% of the weekly recurring schedule. Examples of unaffected tournaments are Progressive Knockouts, many high buy-ins, and tournaments already paying 20%.

The changes will be subtle and most players will only notice when they realize that they’re experiencing the thrill of cashing a little more often. It’s been years of tinkering to get to this point, and we’ll keep working to create the best overall playing experience.”

Flattened payouts tend to reward recreational players by reducing the top payouts typically captured by pros, and spreading those funds out through additional payout spots.