Recently I’ve been railing against the proposed changes to the PokerStars VIP system, posting my own thoughts on the matter and linking the blogs/posts of others who share my concern. If you’re unaware of the changes, feel free to catch up with a timeline, comprehensive list of actual changes, and a well-respected high stakes professional’s explanation of what those changes mean for the game. Until now, however, I have yet to address the potential strike.
On December 1st, thousands of players on PokerStars are planning to boycott the site for three days. A group of Russian players were the first to organize and since then, have been joined by other campaigns and many notable players in the poker world. On Tiltbook, the owners created a website to tell Amaya, the parent company of PokerStars, that its players were “All-in” and wouldn’t “rest until our voices are heard and answered the way they deserve.” While I agree with all parties who are about to strike, as of this moment, I hadn’t signed up.
Why? Well, it’s not because I feel their cause is without merit. It’s been about a month since the VIP changes were announced and I’ve been incredibly vocal across multiple social media platforms. I’ve posted on 2+2, Facebook, tweeted, emailed, and blogged about Pokerstars’ unfair and unethical treatment of its player pool. Yet at the same time, I’ve been wrestling with the question — Is it in my best interests to join the strike?
It’s admittedly an extremely selfish question, but it’s also true that only a very small percentage of human behavior is completely altruistic. Currently, I’m 125,000 VPPs from reaching Supernova Elite, a tier that’s worth $30,000 if I can reach it by the end of 2015 so that remains one of my highest priorities. Depending on my average buy-in, accruing the necessary VPPs should take me roughly 200-230 hours and with only a month left in the year, that’s no cakewalk. I’d have even less time if I joined the strike.
In addition, the idea of playing those three days — December 1st, 2nd, and 3rd — has me salivating. Imagine how soft the games must be! With a glut of regulars choosing to sit out, the tables should have a much higher percentage of recreational players and that ultimately means I’ll make more money. Possibly a lot more. In an industry of diminishing returns and dwindling edges, that 72 hour strike period could be a proverbial gold mine and one of my last opportunities to really crush.
But I can’t. I won’t. I’m far enough ahead in my Supernova Elite chase that I can ‘afford’ to participate in the strike. Sure, I’ll have to cram a few extra hours into my Dec 4-Dec 30th grind, but it’s not the end of the world — just a little bit of extra stress. One of my main points of contention regarding Amaya’s changes to the VIP system is that I feel it’s a money-grab; a way to increase the company’s profits over the next quarter to show shareholders that they’ve ‘improved’ PokerStars when in fact they’ve done opposite, compromising short term gains over long term health and longevity. A particular phrase illustrates this point — ‘You can shear a sheep many times but only kill it once.’ Instead of making small cuts (shearing), Stars is quite possibly killing the games and dampening the public’s future interest in poker. If I chose to load games during the strike instead of joining my fellow poker players, I feel I would be committing the same error that Amaya is about to do; opting for a short term money grab instead of focusing on my long term equity in the game of poker.
Will the strike even make a difference? It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot and honestly, I don’t know. There’s some precedence that it might. Less than two years ago, PokerStars announced that they’d be raising the rake in heads-up formats, only to revert course shortly after a large contingent of heads-up players organized a protest in the form of sitting out. PokerStars’ current proposal does share some similarities with their previous one (both are effective rake increases), but these new changes represent a drastic shift in their overall business model. Amaya surely was aware that their plan would upset many players and possibly cause some sort of backlash yet they went ahead with the changes anyway. It’s very possible that even after they suffer from three days of significantly less rake, the billion dollar corporation doesn’t even blink. And if that happens? So be it. At the end of the day I’ll be proud to say that I stood up for what I thought was right, banded together with friends, colleagues, and even foes to fight against monopolistic tyranny and underhanded business practices.
In short, I’m All-In.