May 24, 2011

A summary of the finalised SNG changes on PokerStars

The PokerStars SNG changes have been finalised over the last few days. It took a couple of weeks longer than both players and site would have liked, but it's a relief that it is all finished with after two weeks of contentious debate.

I'm going to take a look at each of the areas of change in turn, starting with what turned out to be the most debated issue, the rake.


  • Reductions in rake at micro-stakes ($0-5) and high-stakes ($50+)
  • Not much change in rake at mid-stakes ($20-50)
  • Increase in rake at low stakes ($5-20)

I was going to glitz the blog up with a bunch of fancy tables, but PokerStars have done it for me, so to see a comprehensive list of the finalised rake changes click here.

I think it is fair to say that players were surprised that the reductions that were made were so minimal, and were generally expecting more. What they certainly weren't expecting was for rake to be increased in some areas.

Did players have an unrealistic expectation in regards to how PokerStars would change the rake?

During his interview in the latest 2+2 Pokercast (episode #172), PokerStars SNG Manager Steve Day stated:
Some players built up some kind of expectations that the rake would be cut in half, or something like that. I'm not sure how, I've reviewed all of my statements made on the matter and I can assure you there's nothing there that would imply that.
Personally, my expectations were built that rake would be decreased somewhat when it was announced on 9th February 2011 that Double or Nothing SNGs were being discontinued. In that announcement Steve Day stated that:
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.
With the Fifty50s being raked at a 4-5% level since they were introduced, I interpreted this statement as suggesting all SNGs would be raked more reasonably. Admittedly, I wasn't quite so optimistic for them to drop to this kind of percentage, as there is a need for Fifty50s to be this low in rake in order for them to be beatable, but I do think it was a reasonable assumption to make that we were going to see some form of rake reduction.

It is certainly possible that I misinterpreted Steve's comment. He may have meant that SNGs were all going to become rounded buy-ins with uneven rake amounts. For example, the $30+1.44 Fifty50 appeared in the lobby as a $31.44 tournament from their inception. On May 6th, when the initial changes were made, this is how all SNGs became presented. Of course it looked a complete mess, and thankfully PokerStars have since changed this.

Another thing to consider is that between this announcement on February 9th, and the implementation of the SNG changes on May 6th, was Black Friday. It is quite conceivable that a rake decrease of some description was planned, but with PokerStars losing ~25% of their traffic they could no longer afford to do this. This would explain why some buy-ins infact saw a rake increase, to try and make up the deficit.

Whatever the case, I think it was a mistake of PokerStars to tease a review of rake. If you aren't going to do something which will please the players, then why say anything? PokerStars do try and keep players notified of forthcoming changes, which is usually a good thing, but they got it wrong here if they weren't going to be able to follow through.

I also think it has been a mistake of PokerStars to try and sell the rake changes as a decrease. Although this might be statistically provable, the games that generally receive the highest traffic saw rake increased. If a large percentage, or especially a majority of your SNG players are going to be negatively impacted by something, it is somewhat disingenuous to try and suggest you have done a good thing overall. You could say it was bad politics. If the Government announced they had cut taxes overall, but people who earned £10,000 - £35,000 had to pay more tax then they were already, then people would not be happy.

Before I talk about the effect of the rake changes, I think it has to be respected that this is PokerStars' decision, and they have every right to do what they think is right or necessary for their site. I think my reaction, and the reaction from some of 2+2 has been rather disrespectful at times. I guess emotions can run high when people's livelihood's are being affected, or when you hold a strong opinion. That probably isn't enough excuse for my continued rants :)

Having said that, I do believe PokerStars have gone in the wrong direction here.

Perhaps the most criticized change has been the increase in rake in the ~$15 games, as $15+1 has become $13.89+1.11. Presumably this has been done in the hope they will make more money from these games, however I question this logic. They have made the games less profitable for the players, so they are less likely to play. The break-even grinders, who grind for FPPs, will now become losers and will be breakeven after rakeback. The guys who were scraping by will become break-even. The losers will lose faster, the winners will win less. All of these things will mean players are less inclined to play as much, and traffic may decline.

This is why arguments for more substantially decreased rake across the board make so much sense to me, as they have the exact opposite effect. Consequently I think that they have missed an opportunity to increase traffic, and taking what I think is an important step and reviving 9-man SNGs (which are virtually dead because of the near unbeatable rake). Instead, by sapping more money out of the low stakes games, the "poker eco-system" on Stars could fall into decline, as players struggle to move up in stakes. Only time will tell, but I think it's a shame they have taken action which is more likely to cause a decrease in SNG traffic than an increase.

Most Pleased: HUSNG players
Most Unhappy: $16 turbo SNG players

  • Buy-ins more rounded than before
  • Removal of some buy-in levels

PokerStars initially deployed standardized SNGs, of buy-in levels $1, $3, $5, $10, $20, $30, $50, $100 etc, and they also showed the added on rake to these buy-ins. With the rake being odd amounts, meaning tournaments such as $5+0.43 showing in the lobby, it looked a complete mess as I explained here. It also had the affect of reducing player's average buy-in (ABI), and therefore their bottom line, as $6 tournaments became $5, $15 became $10 and so forth.

I think PokerStars realised they'd made a big mistake by not rounding off the buy-ins, and they took other player's and my advice and now have it so the buy-in+rake is a nice round number. This definitely makes the lobby look more appealing, and is also much more fish-friendly.

They have also done away with the standardized buy-in levels mentioned above, and we now see buy-ins of $1.50, $3.50, $7, $15, $30, $60, $100 (for 6-max to 18-mans) which has solved the problem of reducing player's ABI's too much, and also reduced the dilution of players between buy-ins.

During this process they eliminated the level between $30 and $60 that used to exist ($38 games used to fall between $27s and $60s). I'm not necessarily thrilled about this personally in my games, as don't think the $30 games will necessarily attract the same traffic as the $27s and $38s combined, meaning they are again losing out on rake that they had before the changes, and I might lose out on some volume. I'm not sure if the reducing the dilution is enough of a positive to have taken this step, but I'll hold off on judgement just yet.

45-man players are the worst hit by the changes as PokerStars has decided only to run $3.50, $10 and $30 games above the micro-stakes levels. As a former 45-man grinder I can't understand why they have taken this step. The former $6.50 and $12 games used to get plenty of traffic, and they have now left it so there is a huge gap between $3.50 and $10. Personally I don't see why they couldn't mirror the 18-man games, as they almost did before May 6th (excepting instead of $16s there were $12s). Running $3.50, $7, $15 and $30 45-mans would solve this problem in an instant. I think the sooner this is implemented the better, as they can only be harming potential 45-man traffic at the moment. There is a petition on 2+2 asking for such a change if you agree, I have already signed.

180-man players will be the happiest with the changes as with $2.50, $3.50R, $8, $15 and $30 games giving player's a higher average buy-in, with the $8s proving to be more popular than the previous $7.70s. I think this is related to the fact more 180-mans appear at the top of the MTT lobby, which is definitely a good move  to increase their popularity.

Most Pleased: 180-man turbo SNG players
Most Unhappy: 45-man turbo SNG players

  • An extra level of 150/300(25) between 100/200(25) and 200/400(25) that didn't previously exist in most SNGs.

Initially PokerStars rolled out a new structure for all SNGs that featured more levels with shallower increases, but less time spent on each level. Whilst I didn't particularly think there was anything wrong with the original structures, I wasn't opposed to a new structure if it improved things, although I did think it was a little dangerous to tinker with structures that all the regs had adapted to. If it ain't broke don't fix it, etc. 

One of the goals with the structure change was for them to become more standardized across the board. Although this seemed like a reasonable goal at the time,  in retrospect (things are much easier to analyse in retrospect, don't you find?), sometimes things are better tailor made to suit there owner. Improving the structures was also a reasonable goal, but it certainly wasn't achieved by the structure they put in place.

Consequently changing the structures turned out to be a massive mis-step. It seemed as if they structures hadn't been tested substantially enough. It was immediately very apparent that the structure was not adequate for 180-man turbo tournaments, which became glorified crapshoots. It also had the impact on 18-man tournaments of extending the amount of time a player was likely to survive, without reducing the duration of the tournament. As a result final tables were played with much shorter stacks than before, thus reducing the potential edge for the good players.

Credit has to be given to PokerStars though for listening to player feedback, and reverting back to the old structure that we all know and were happy with, with 1 extra level as mentioned above. This extra level removed a huge jump that existed before between 100/200 and 200/400. I think this is an improvement and am quite happy with things as they are.

Most Pleased: Those that disliked the new structure
Most Unhappy: Those that didn't 

  • 2 new columns, "speed" and "type"added
  • Some unpopular games removed

PokerStars has taken steps to improve the lobby, cleaning it up somewhat. Before these were introduced, some games would be listed in a different manner to other games (for example regular 9-mans were just listed as $5+0.50, whereas 45-man turbos were listed $6.50 turbo 45-players). Now all games are listed the same way, as well as new icons clearly showing which games are played in Heads Up, 4-max or 6-max format.

There has also been the removal of some games that just never got running. Most notably no 90-man tournaments exist above $7 as they literally never ran. It definitely makes sense to push player traffic to the games that actually get going, and I was pleased to see this particular change take place not very long after yours truly suggested it in this thread :)

These changes are definitely good, the only downside that has been mentioned by regs, is that turbo games no longer say 'turbo' in bold, which might not advertise them quite as much over other games. I don't think this is too big a deal though as it's quite clear which games are turbo via the "speed" column.

Most Pleased: OCD sufferers
Most Unhappy: Nobody, really.


  • $7 Heads-up, 6-max and 9-man games being trialled.

Previously hyper turbos had only been available on PokerStars in SNG satellites, and the odd MTT, but they have decided to give them a trial for cash entry. I think the structure they have been given is good, it feels slightly less crapshooty than your average super/hyper-turbo. You start with 500 chips, and the blinds start at 10/20(2), increasing every 2 minutes, but the blind level increases are a little shallower than in other SNGs.

They seem to have proven to be rather popular so far, with lots of games running. I am unsure what ROI is achievable in them, but they are currently raked at 4.5% (9-man), 4.3% (6-max) and 2.2% (Heads-Up).

As a successful turbo-SNG grinder, who has never properly played super or hyper turbo SNGs, I'm actually a little worried about their popularity. I think it makes it fairly likely we will see them rolled out at higher buy-ins in the future. 

If this happens, it is inevitable that they will 'steal' a fair amount of traffic away from the turbo games. This will either decrease my possible volume somewhat, or mean that I have to play them. Whilst I think it is reasonably likely I would be able to adapt, hyper-turbos are a different animal to turbos and rely on you taking really thin mathematical edges. I think it would require me to study a lot more than I do currently, and I'm not sure if I'd be realistically be able to "mix them" in with my current games or not. They are also jam-packed full of variance, and I am a variance nit. I'm not very good at dealing with downswings, which is why I like the games I play so much, as I seem to be able to play them with minimal variance thanks to a fairly decent ROI. Well it's goodbye decent ROI if I have to play hypers. If the satellite hyper-turbos are any kind of guide, a 0% ROI is a decent result and you become an FPP pro :-/

Although it's possible I might be able to make good money at hypers (just sharkscope PokerStars Team Online Pros Jorj95 and acoimbra) I think I prefer to go with the guaranteed over the unknown, and turbos are the 'guaranteed' for me. So I think I'm routing either for them to only exist at lower stakes, or not at all. We'll have to see what PokerStars decide.
Most Pleased: Full Tilt Super-Turbo SNG grinders
Most Unhappy: PokerStars Turbo SNG grinders


Lots of mistakes were made when the initial SNG changes were brought in on the 6th May. Consequently there was a uproar from the players, and PokerStars spent the subsequent couple of weeks fixing the things they'd messed up. To their credit, they responded to player's feedback fairly swiftly.

As a consequence, not that much has really changed from before May 6th. Everything has had a bit of a "makeover", with different buy-in levels, an extra level in the structure, and a neater lobby. Perhaps things have slightly improved in this respect, although the dropping of a couple of buy-in levels is perhaps questionable

We did also gain hyper-turbos, which are proving popular (perhaps too popular), and there were changes made to rake. We saw slight reductions in games $50+, which were a good thing, but probably too minor to have much impact. However the increase in rake for the $5-$20 games could have a greater impact, which I expect it to be bad for the SNG eco-system, although that remains to be seen.

Fundamentally, I think things will stay much the same. So for me personally, that is fine, as I was quite happy with things before the changes were implemented. $16 turbo and 45-man grinders are unlikely to be of the same opinion though, and I still think this was an opportunity missed to breathe new life into SNGs that was already overdue.

I have obviously been quite opinionated on all the goings on over the last few weeks. I hope my critisism has been viewed as constructive rather than abusive. I do feel like PokerStars have adopted a few of my ideas, so perhaps my ranting has been of some use :)

Most Pleased: Hyper-Turbo players
Most Unhappy: $16-turbo and 45-man grinders

Share this

4 Comments to "A summary of the finalised SNG changes on PokerStars"

Anonymous said...

i heard the podcast with steve about the rake.
for me it is still a big joke. when even sippincriss complaints its not really beatable: increasing the rake is insulting. 7% at lowstakes and 6,66% rake !!
stars is not worth it except you are SNE.

i think the hyperturbo cash are beatable, but i am not sure if they will be implentented in future. the traffic isn't great in general.

Unknown said...

I didn't know you played sngs on pokerstars mate, does this effect you?

Anonymous said...

from time to time i play some donkaments on stars and to pay less rake always helps when you dont have a status.
with a big rake reduction i'd have played mainly on stars, but as it did not change anything its not worth it.
hyperturbo cash will be an option, the actual hypers SAT have too much rake

Sn1per said...

Due to my inability to set my filters correctly (so as to account for when the $10.50 HUSnGs suddenly vanish mid-session and TableNinja registers me for a host of $15 which I lose, blissfully ignorant that I am playing higher stakes), my backer has informed me that I am liable because I violated our BR-rules.

So no, not all HUSNG players are happy, although I can see myself getting there some time in the future when improved rake makes up for my faux pas.