April 29, 2011

Impending changes to SNGs on PokerStars

PokerStars have released some information pertaining to the SNGs they run, following their teaser in February that they were "currently evaluating all SNG offerings, including rake". This original statement led me to write this post on SNG rake, and it looks like PokerStars may have come to some similar conclusions to me based on the details they have released so far.

"PokerStars Steve" aka Steve Day, who is manager of SNGs on PokerStars (amongst other roles), was asked what was happening with SNGs during his interview on the recent episode of the 2+2 Pokercast (from 1:29:18 to 1:32:29). From that information, and his posts on this thread on 2+2 it seems the following changes will be made "sometime in May".

Standardization of buy-ins
Certainly one flaw with the SNG lobby at PokerStars currently is that it isn't very organised in relation to buy-in. It's a little bit all over the place. Turbo SNGs have different buy-ins to non-turbos, some 45-mans and 180-mans have completely different buy-ins to their 9-man and 18-man counterparts, and also some of the amounts are quite unusual, such as there being $6 and $15 buy-in SNGs.

This looks set to change, and we can expect to see buy-ins conform to a more standard $5, $10, $20, $30, $50 model.

It also sounds like the lobby will be smartened up by including "speed" (turbo, non-turbo etc.) and "type" (Hold'em, Omaha etc.) columns, rather than that information being included in the tournament name as it is currently.

Slight reduction of rake
Although it's somewhat disappointing to hear the rake reduction be described as "slight" as opposed to "significant", "colossal", or "ZOMG, forget rake, we're going to pay you to play", it is exciting to hear of any reduction of rake. I believe it is in the best interests for poker in the long term, as well as in the best interests for my pockets in the short term :)

Although no exact details have been released yet, the buy-in+rake format will look like this: $10+x, $20+y, and in many cases the x/y are likely to be non-rounded figures.

I'm not sure listing SNGs as $10+0.56 (for example) is a great thing to inspire fish to play, I think listing a SNG as $10 and it being $9.48+0.52 (for example) makes more sense. However I'm not really wishing to criticize anything that results in a reduction in rake, so I'll take it!

It has been said that not all buy-ins will see a reduction in rake, but we will "definitely" see a gradual reduction in rake as you go from the lower stakes to the higher stakes SNGs. This was one of the main points of my aforementioned blog post, so I am pleased to see them fix this issue.

Blind structure
There are also some changes to blind structures and levels. Structures are being standardized/synchronized as much as possible at NLHE and PLO. The new structures have shorter levels with more frequent but smaller blind increases. Antes will be 10% of the big blind.

These changes only affect non-satellite Sit&Gos.
There has always been a huge jump in turbo SNGs on PokerStars from 100/200(25) to 200/400(25), where your comfortable 12bb stack suddenly becomes a red-zone 6bb stack in the space of one hand (pretty much 100% of the time it's when I'm about to be in the big blind, FML). This jump doesn't however exist in a turbo 180-man SNG which transitions from 100/200 to 125/250(25) to 150/300(25) to 200/400(50).

9-man, 18-man and 45-man turbo structure, but not 180-man

Presumably anomolies such as these are being eradicated, and although one can currently only speculate, it sounds like we may see the turbo structure go from:

  • 5 minute levels: 10/20, 15/30, 25/50, 50/100, 100/200, 100/200(25), 200/400(25), 300/600(50)
to something like...
  • 3 minute levels: 10/20, 15/30, 25/50, 30/60, 50/100, 75/150, 100/200, 100/200(20), 125/250(25), 150/300(30)

We shall have to wait and see. I think the standardization of structures is a good idea, and although I am unsure what effect the reduction of level time/increase in the number of levels will have on the games, I can't see it being a bad thing. Despite these alterations, the duration of SNGs will remain approximately the same to what they are currently, for the most part.

Many people seem to be wondering if non-satellite Hyper Turbo SNGs will be introduced with these changes. I would speculate that they won't be, as Stars seems reluctant to bring these in; evidenced by the fact they don't exist already. Personally, I'm not sure if I want to see them introduced or not.

On the one hand, it might provide a game where I could earn a higher hourly rate, and potentially earn more VPPs to get back on the SNE train. On the other hand it might drive away traffic from games that I currently do well in.

I also think Hyper/Super-Turbos blur the line between poker being a skill game and gambling. Whilst obviously that skill edge will still exist for good players, the edge is thin, and in the short term for the average recreational player, I'd argue that these games are tantamount to playing a few hands of blackjack. Having said that, it would be interesting to see some kind of trial rolled, as happened with the new Fifty50 SNGs earlier in the year.

MTT Lobby?
Personally, I think it will be interesting to see what effect the changes have on the MTT lobby, which lists some SNGs at the top. This is prime real-estate which can potentially supply a lot of traffic the the games it lists, if they. I feel it gets too clogged up with too many Hyper Turbo satellites being listed, as well as games that don't run enough to benefit from this exposure (how the $60 Turbo 90-players SNG is still there I'm not sure. I don't think even one of these runs a day. You can't expect a fish to want to sign up to a SNG that only ever has 4 people signed up!). I think it could be beneficial, for example, to list the new $20+45-man tournaments on this page. Hopefully PokerStars will give this some thought.

MTT Lobby with my cleaning-up suggestions!

Final thought
I am very happy to see PokerStars taking active steps to improve their games. I was worried that this issue would get put on the back-burner as a result of Black Friday and the more pressing issues that have come about as a consequence of that (player balances etc.). With poker sites as competitive as ever at the moment, it is good to see the market leader take quick action to keep it's players happy and to attract new players (although hopefully not too many good regs!), with the changes scheduled to take place within the next month or so.

April 22, 2011

GG Supernova Elite

The events of Black Friday have had a varying impact on the poker world. Obviously US Players have been the worst hit, as they currently can't play on any of the big sites. For the professionals, it must be so sick to just have your livelihood stolen away from you out of no-where, all in the space of a few hours. If this were to have happened to me in the UK, I'd probably look to move abroad. However, for me, that would mean uprooting myself, my fiancé and our 18-month old son from the place we intended to raise him. It would mean moving away from all our family and friends, somehow moving house taking into consideration all our possessions, and somehow obtaining a visa for a professional poker player who's only real job was working 6 hours as a shop assistant when I was 17, and a housewife. So it would certainly be easier said than done, and my sympathy goes out to all those US grinders stuck in this situation (except the ones that play in my games :) obv).

Fortunately, players outside the US haven't been too badly affected, and it seems it's pretty much business as usual. However, I'm probably one of the players that is more affected than average as I have had to quit my pursuit of Supernova Elite status on PokerStars. The traffic is down in the higher buy-in 18-mans that I play to the extent that it's not viable. Perhaps if I changed the times I play and/or played more tables, played even longer sessions, and perhaps added some different games it might be just about possible. However, even that's a maybe, and I don't really want to change my playing schedule which I feel fits in nicely with my family life.

So it sucks that I can't go for SNE, but at least I am able to keep playing. It's probable I won't win as much money as I would going for SNE as I am facing a drop in stakes, and it will be hard to keep the SNE-type volume up without that carrot at the end of the stick/pot of gold at the end of the rainbow/similarly cheesy analogy. However, I'm hoping I will be able to win enough to tide us over and perhaps save a little on top of that.

Unfortunately I'm facing a bit of a motivational breakdown at the moment.  I have only put in one or two sessions since Black Friday. Whilst I think it has been pretty reasonable to take advantage of having a break I wouldn't have otherwise been able to have, I need to get back grinding soon and get back into a routine, as this seems to be when I play most efficiently. I feel like I need some kind of target to work towards now my original one has ceased. I'm thinking I might go to Vegas for a week in the World Series, and use some of the money I earn between now and then as a bankroll for when I'm there. I'm a little bit worried about leaving my son though. I know it's only a week, but it would be the longest I've been away from him so far.

I thought I should mention that the cashout I made from PokerStars shortly after Black Friday went through a couple of days ago fine and dandy. Like many others, this was my initial concern, but I tried to be sensible and only withdrew a portion of my bankroll (I was keeping too much online anyway, just for the sake of it hurting less if I went on a bad downswing).

Cliff notes:

  • Not enough volume possible for SNE in my games, sigh
  • Nm, things should be okay
  • Might work towards a goal of going to Vegas for a week as I suck at grinding recently.

Useful Links:

  • There's a very good chance you'll have come across this by now, but if not, check out this epic 2+2 thread
  • There's a new $200 Reload bonus on PokerStars available now
  • This week's 2+2 Pokercast discussing Black Friday is a good (but long) listen.

April 16, 2011

Black Friday

I'm still trying to come to terms with the bombshell that occurred on 15.4.2011, putting online poker in the most jeopardy it's ever been in, all in one fell swoop.

Here's some links if you need to catch up on the events of Black Friday:

I'm sure I'll have something more meaningful to write on the topic, but I'm still pretty shell shocked. This was just so unexpected, and who would've thought something could bring the sky down on online poker so quickly?

Should you not have seen it yet, here's a little something that might just cheer you up in this time of doom.

April 07, 2011

Rake review on PokerStars?

There has been a lot of speculation as to a possible reduction of SNG rake on PokerStars after this statement was made (by 'PokerStars Steve', of 2+2 Pokercast fame) upon Double or Nothing tournaments being replaced:

PokerStars is currently evaluating all Sit & Go offerings, including rake. The stakes offered and rake for Fifty50s are in line with the changes planned for all Sit & Go Tournaments on PokerStars in the coming months.
This has turned into something of a sick slowroll by PokerStars, as two months later nothing has been implemented, and all we are being told is that "these changes are still planned for the coming months".
PokerStars are beginning to sound like the people who owe me money. I've been told "I'll pay you next month" so often that I'm beginning to think there is a 13th month called "next month", and that it only occurs every leap year. Perhaps that's when this will actually happen!

Current rake structure
Currently the rake structure on PokerStars is pretty illogical. There is no real pattern to the rake they charge. It almost seems as if the numbers have been made up at random.

Looking at 9-man and 18-man turbo SNGs:

Buy-in Rake Rake %*
$1.50 $0.25 14.2%
$3 $0.40 11.76%
$6 $0.50 7.69%
$15 $1 6.25%
$25 $2 7.4%
$35 $3 7.89%
$55 $5 8.33%
$105 $9 7.89%
$210 $15 6.66%
$315 $20 5.97%
$525 $30 5.4%

The increase between 6.25% at the $16 level, and 8.33% at the $60 seems completely nonsensical. Based on the astronomical rake for the micro-stakes, and the much lower rake at the highest stakes, a gradual rake reduction would surely make much more sense?

Comparison to cash games:
Level (NLHE)
Rake %
Rake Cap (in BBs*)
*in Big Blinds
**Chart presumes 9 players at table
***Source: pokerstars.com

Similar to SNGs ($25-$55 buyins) the mid-stakes cash game players ($2/4) are getting a raw deal, but a much more gradual reduction of rake is evident as stake increases, to the point where the highest stakes games have barely any rake.

My example 
If I were in charge of SNGs at PokerStars (perhaps I should send in my CV as they are looking for a SNG Tournaments Manager!), I would propose that something similar to table below be introduced. It mirrors much more closely the rake policy for cash games. Obviously my temptation is to put $27+0.01, $38+0, $55-15 etc. as I grind these games myself, but I think that a change to a rake format similar to the one I have devised below would be an excellent change by Stars.

Rake %*

You might ask yourself why PokerStars should make such reductions to it's rake policy, as it is already the most popular poker site in the world, and they are quite literally 'raking it in'. Obviously they are going to earn less money per game under a structure similar to the one I have suggested to one they currently have. However I think the increase in traffic to the games that would result would compensate them for this loss.

A reduction in rake should ultimately make the games more popular. They will become much more beatable, so regs will enjoy a higher winrate. This could well encourage them to play more and is very likely to see them move up in stakes where they will inevitably rake more for PokerStars.

Currently the high stakes SNGs ($200+) are virtually dead and rarely get running. At peak hours there are currently no A particulary favourable rake for the highest stakes games might mean they actually get some action rather than just cluttering up the lobby.

If PokerStars introduces a SNG rake lower than other poker sites, it is very possible it will steal players from other poker sites. Why play a $50+5 game elsewhere when you can play a $50+5 elsewhere when you can play a $55+2.25 on PokerStars?

It is argued that fish don't care about rake, and whilst largely this is probably true, the fact is that with a lower rake they are going to lose their money slower. SNGs with a high rake are hard enough to beat for the best regs, so a fish might get eaten up so quickly that it deters them from playing any more. At least give the fish a fighting chance! It is really important for the longevity of the games that the fish survive. This is shown by iPoker fining and kicking off skins from it's network that had too many winning players.

I remember hearing "server usage" put forward as a calculation towards the rake of SNGs. The length of time they take and such. I'm sorry, but this doesn't fly. If not, why not just make, for example, all 9-man turbo SNGs +$1? $16+1, $38+1, $1050+1, as they will be using the same amount of server space. Also, why do PokerStars run $0.10 360-man tournaments with no rake if this is the case? That's 40 tables, and if you go take a look in the lobby, there are an awful lot of them running. They also just had 113,700 entrants for a $10+1 MTT last week in the Sunday Storm for crying out loud! Now that's server usage! A much more important thing to base them on would be winrate.

Rake & Winrate
The current rake is so high for the $55+5 games that the 9-man turbos are essentially unbeatable. A quick look at the 2011 Sharkscope Leaderboards is a very telling story. In the table which incorporates $15+1 games (the most reasonable rake of the lower stakes games) 13 out of 20 players are from PokerStars, and 12 have earned $4k or more. In the leaderboard which incorporates the $55+5 games, only one out of twenty is from PokerStars, and nobody has earned more than $5k so far this year (see below).

Games that aren't sufficiently beatable are so much less likely to get played. I predict a resurgence in the mid-stakes games if we see a significant rake deduction such as the one I suggested.

VIP Club
There are some people who are making a fuss that a reduction in rake will make Supernova Elite less viable. Whilst this might seem true at face value, I think the increase in traffic in stakes higher to what people are currently able to play will mean it is still just as viable. If you play $55, $35 and $25 SNGs currently, maybe there will be so many $60 games running at the lower rake that you won't need to play the lower stakes games. Maybe you will be able to move up to the $105 games.

Even if this isn't the case surely a higher winrate is a better reward anyway? I mean, what would you prefer to buy? A £50 pair of jeans that you got for £22.50, or the exact same £50 pair of jeans that had 45% off in the sale?

2+2 Thread
A thread has been posted about this topic here, if you want to read what other people have to say on the topic, or get involved yourself...

Cliff notes
*PokerStars suggest they will decrease rake in SNGs
*It hasn't happened yet
*It should happen (and soon, please!)

Quick March Review

I'm not sure if it's a coincidence or if for some reason the games are harder at the beginning of the month, but I can't seem to win for the first week or two, then I have some kind of boom switch and do very well. That has been the pattern every month this year so far. I'm obviously pleased with my results, but I'm starting to waive in the grind and am gradually falling behind pace. It's not fatal, and I'm sure I can catch it up somewhere down the line, but I need to get my work ethic back on track. There was really no excuse for earning less VPPs in March than I did in February with 3 extra days available to play on.

Check out Nick Rainey's blog post to see how other MTT SNG grinders faired in March...

My next blog update will be really soon as I'm in the middle of writing it :)

SNE Quest 2011 Stats:

I'm really putting the pressure on myself further down the line by slacking now :-/

Days played/elapsed:
Hours Played:
SNGs Played:
Hands Played:
VPPs Earned:
(85.5% of pace)
SNE Pace (+/- Pace):
(38,375 behind)

April 01, 2011

SNG Stars in 2011 so far...

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the top 5 winners from all the different types of SNGs on PokerStars so far this year. Clearly if you notice the fourth table down you could interpret this as a thinly veiled brag post, but meh.

Grayson 'spacegravy' Physioc tops no less than 3 of the charts (although admittedly he's run a little Godish in Super Turbos to top one of the tables). Nevertheless, he certainly is King of SNGs for the year so far (thanks to DeTerence for the pic).
King Spacegravy

The stats (clearly taken from Sharkscope) are from SNGs played on PokerStars between January 1st - March 31st 2011:
Heads Up SNGs

6-man SNGs

9-man SNGs

18-man SNGs

45-man SNGs

180-man SNGs

 6-man Super Turbo satellites
*spacegravy's avg. stake is $2 as he mostly plays the 4500 VPP satellites

I asked the top player from each leaderboard to give their top three pieces of advice, which is available on the poker forum I post on. If you are interested in that, click here :)

NB. I know I'm overdue an update but will post up a review of March in the next couple of days!