Several of poker's most high-profile, high-stakes players have joined forces for a planned sit-out Dec 1-3 to protest changes to PokerStars' rewards program.
The changes, announced by PokerStars on November 1, come into effect Jan. 1, 2016 and will primarily affect high-volume players, although many say the changes will trickle all the way through the poker ecosystem.
Among the most significant changes are the current system of Frequent Player Points replaced with new "StarsCoins" valued at 1c each, which is about a 25% reduction in value for some players.
VIP Club rewards will also be capped at 30% and Pot-Limit and No-Limit games with blinds of $5/$10 or more will no longer offer VPPs.
Several high-stakes pros have been very vocal about the changes - with regards to both the timing and the framing of the changes as a redistribution of poker benefits towards recreational players - and have now joined forces to sit-out PokerStars games from Dec. 1-3 in protest.
72 Hours off PokerStars to Protest VIP Changes
One of the most vocal high-stakes pros upset about the changes is Dani "Ansky" Stern, who says they are unfair towards profesional high-volume players and ostensibly make those games unbeatable:
Poker must be a game that players can win at. It's what makes it special, and not roulette. An unbeatable game will attract no one.— Dani Stern (@TheRealAnsky) November 27, 2015
In no way is this a comparison of who brings more value, just refuting the idea that pros bring none. https://t.co/ZfacCxhuh8— Dani Stern (@TheRealAnsky) November 27, 2015
As a sign of their displeasure they will not play any hands on PokerStars for 72 hours and are encouraging others affected by the changes, or who agree with their position, to do so as well. An extensive thread and more details can be found on 2+2 here.
Among the most notable players to join in the action so far are Phil Galfond, Doug Polk and Mike "Timex" McDonald, an EPT regular, who pledged their support on Twitter:
Thanks to @TheRealAnsky for pointing me (and so many others) in the direction of this thread... https://t.co/x29rifNRKu— Phil Galfond (@PhilGalfond) November 27, 2015
@TheRealAnsky @PokerStars in— Mike McDonald (@MikeMcDonald89) November 27, 2015
More actions are planned should their sit-out/discussions not alter PokerStars' course.
Negreanu Preparing Blog, In Discussion with Mgmt
Perhaps the most high-profile star involved in the current situation is PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu, who has voiced his support for the changes and the overall shift of focus toward recreational players, although has said he doesn't agree with the timeline PokerStars has announced for the changes.
He has indicated he is in constant discussions with the PokerStars braintrust about the changes and will release a blog shortly that outlines his views, what possibilities for change there might be and other, more positive revisions he says are on tap for 2016.
According to PokerStars just 2% of its players will be most negatively affected with the bulk of its players seeing positive returns instead. Wrote Eric Hollreiser in the PokerStars corporate blog:
"PokerStars will also revamp the loyalty program to effectively incentivize and reward more players and to encourage competitive play over high volume play. The changes will result in improved rewards for the vast majority of players.
"Approximately two percent of players - including our highest volume and high stakes players - will have significantly reduced rewards. The reason we are focused on the highest status levels is because these rewards have become so enticing that we have inadvertently altered why some people play and how they play.
"We are introducing these changes to move towards a more balanced long-term poker economy and to return the game back to one that rewards skill via winning at the tables rather than playing primarily for volume."
Stern and others, however, say this is a mis-representation of the nature of the changes and their intended effects:
"PokerStars/Amaya has announced an aggressive overhaul of the 2016 VIP system. They have deceived SNE players about benefits they would receive, are discontinuing the SNE program, and they have completely removed all rewards for high stakes (5/10+) cash games.
"While PokerStars claims the changes are to provide relief to recreational players, there is no such change happening."