May 27, 2011

Session on motivation & Poker for Heroes...

Jared Tendler posted up the full audio for our session on motivation that I wrote about in March. If you have trouble with motivation, or if specifically you are going for Supernova Elite (or are thinking of doing so in the future), I'd say it's definitely worth a listen. Also, this is the audio of the whole session, so could be interesting for anyone wanting to know what a session with Jared would be like. You can listen to it/download it here.

I just listened to the session back, and picked up on a couple of off-topic things that were mentioned:

My "in the well thread" is here.

I finally got the La-Z Boy recliner that I talked about in the session (it actually arrived only this last week). Jared expressed a concern that it might not exactly encourage hard work! After a bit of trialling, I'm not using it as my full-time poker playing chair as I was originally intending to, instead I am using it for the final 1/4 or so of each session, and I find that works nicely!

Listening back, Jared is just a fountain of information. Everything he says, in the sessions we've had and in the portion of the book I've read, makes perfect sense, and really gets you thinking about what you ought to be doing in poker/life. I don't want to me a Mental Game fish as he talks of in his book that I'm gradually working my way through, so I think it is definitely worth it picking up as much as possible from him. I do 4 things on his list of 17 which make me a Mental Game fish:

  • Change a winning strategy because they are running bad/hot
  • Get frustrated when a player plays badly, and even educate them as to why they are bad
  • Play badly when the stakes are too small for them to care
  • Say "one time"

I must say one time at least twenty times a day lol :-/ ... So although 4/17 isn't too bad, I'm sure I have plenty to work on.

You can order "The Mental Game of Poker" here, and use the code "2011" to get 10% off.

PokerStars 45-mans
PokerStars have changed the buy-ins of 45-mans to be exactly as I suggested in my last post. They are now available at the $0.50, $1.50, $3.50, $7, $15 and $30 levels.

Poker for Heroes
On another topic, I am going to play the "Poker for Heroes" event at Dusk Till Dawn on Sunday. This is a charity event put together in memorial of Corporal Liam Riley, and is to support the charity Help for Heroes.

It is £125 with no registration fee, with £100 going to the charity and £25 into the prizepool. Along with the premises and staff being donated for the evening by DTD, lots of prizes have been donated to the prizepool, including:
  • £8000 PokerStars EPT Package
  • Irish Winter Festival Package
  • £1070 GUKPT Main Event seat
  • English Poker Open seat
  • Sky Poker Grand Final seat
  • Blackbelt Academy seat
  • 5 copies of The Mental Game of Poker
  • Lots of other prizes...

Some well known players will be in attendance such as EPT Champion Julian Thew, WSOP Bracelet winner Jeff Kimber and Paul Jackson. It has a decent structure (10k chips, 30 min clock) and I think it will be a fun tournament, with a great atmosphere, and all for a good cause.

Check out the event page here if you are interested in attending.

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.

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
  • 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


Structure
  • 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 


Lobby
  • 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.


Hyper-turbos

  • $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


Summary

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


May 17, 2011

Joey Knish...

I thought a non-ranting-at-PokerStars-SNG-changes post was in order. I'm getting a little sick and tired of all the changes and debating, and you're probably sick of me going on about it all.

Listen in
As I've mentioned before, I've had a couple of sessions with Mental Game coach Jared Tendler over the last two or three months, which I feel have been very productive. I blogged about our last session a few days ago, but now Jared has posted up the audio for it, so if you are interested in hearing it for yourself you can download it here.

Man Love
I got a nice mention in Barry Carter's blog recently (aside from him suggesting I look twelve, when I am infact 26, thanks for that Bazza). Although we've only met in person a couple of times, Barry has been someone who has looked out for me over the years ever since I got to know him through the Blonde Poker forums (perhaps it's because he's 31 and I'm 12?). I am really pleased for him that his new book with Jared has hit the shelves. He seemed pretty chuffed getting his hands on the hard-copy for the first time. It must be a wonderful sense of achievement for both of them. Any sense of achievement I have gets spent on nappies and take-away, so to have something tangible that a lot of hard work and dedication went into must feel pretty satisfying!

The Mental Game of Poker
Speaking of their book, The Mental Game of Poker, it arrived in the post a couple of days ago :). I have only read half of the first chapter, which is the Introduction, but it already looks very promising and I can't wait to get stuck into it. I know this sounds kinda lame, but I really like the font they chose! I'm sure this isn't the best part of the book.

In fact one thing has really stuck with me already from the first handful of pages. Dusty Schmidt recalled some great advice that Jared gave to him:
Jared once asked me, "When you look at a weather forecast, and it says it's going to rain, do you get mad when you go out and it's raining?.. So why do you continually get angry when you know variance is going to happen? 
The next time I feel the urge to shout and swear at the computer, bang the computer, and tell my opponent to f** * right off, which is something I do when I'm having a bad day or whatever, I'm going to remember this piece of advice from Jared, and perhaps it will chill me out a bit (and prevent me from teaching my 20-month-old son some choice catchphrases).

Rounders
I randomly decided to watch Rounders for the second time the other day. It's cool how it was made in 1998 but it still stands up as a really good film today. Okay, some of the poker itself is a bit dodgy (for example, I believe Mike McDermott, the character played by Matt Damon, open raises for 20 times the big blind with KK whilst playing heads up. WP sir), but considering the huge evolution of poker since it was made, it isn't too bad.

There are definitely some similarities between Mike McDermott and my old self. I risked my degree to play poker (and like him, inevitably dropped out). I would take shots that were way outside of my bankroll. I was always thinking about the glory of becoming a famous poker player.


However, these days I pride myself on being much like the character Joey Knish. Poker is the means of supporting my family, and that is the most important thing, so taking any undue risks just isn't an option. Although Knish gets looked down on a little for his 'all grind no glory' way of life, I am so much happier now grinding it out like Knish than I was facing the swings of McDermott.


Having said that, it seems that every month a UK player who I'm friends with, or at least know, has some sick success in live tournaments. Be it James Dempsey, Stu Rutter, John Eames, Toby Lewis, James Keys or, just recently, Rupert Elder. I do get the odd hint of jealousy, and perhaps wish that could happen for me one day. It's only a fleeting thought though. If I get the chance to take a few shots in the future, then that's cool and who knows, one day maybe I'll bink something. For now though, I'm happy enough just grinding out a living, and trying to build my life bankroll as well as my poker one.

May 13, 2011

My last post & current thoughts...

So, Blogger (the platform this blog is published on) apparently had some major issues and had to remove any posts made in the last couple of days. Consequently my last blog post, in which I had a fair old rant at PokerStars, was removed. This morning I was absolutely bricking it because I wasn't aware of the technical issues, so I thought the only explanation must be that I had said something libellous, and the PokerStars solicitors had been in touch with Blogger! My girlfriend won't thank me for that piece of laundry!

I'd already been thinking that perhaps I'd gone a bit too far in my judgements on PokerStars' meddling with SNGs. Though I do think all the points I made are valid, at the end of the day, they are their own mistakes to make. Yes, I am a paying customer, and have every right to criticize, but I am also very lucky to be able to earn a comfortable living by playing poker on their website, and if I wasn't able to play there it's very likely I would make less money for me and my family. Isn't there a saying about biting the hand that feeds you?


Also, whilst I am complaining bitterly about decisions made in relation to SNG changes, I'm probably not giving the site as a whole a fair rap. PokerStars is clearly still the nuts when it comes to software (and continuous improvements to their software) customer service (the way they have handled things since Black Friday has been admirable, though clearly it might have been advisable not to commit alleged fraud in the first place!), and amongst other things, it is the only place you can realistically grind MTT SNGs.

Nevertheless, it remains true that PokerStars have handled things extremely badly recently in regard to SNGs. If they weren't going to follow through with their promise to decrease rake, why tell people they were going to in the first place? To go one step further and increase it (in the games with the highest traffic) was just plain mean. Furthermore trying to BS us that the rake changes represented a rake decrease, twice, was hugely insulting. 

PokerStars have made lots of other mistakes (discussed here) in the last week (as comically derided in this 2+2 post), but to their credit, at least they are clearing them up one by one, and they do seem to be paying attention to the feedback given to them by players on 2+2. It does seem rather unnecessary to have lost a week of play because of the mess that was created though. Still, personally I can go to playing my $20-$100 18-mans quite happily, with the structure now back to how it was originally (except for an extra level at 150/300(25) which seems a reasonable addition). Of course if I were a $6.50 or $16 player, I would have had to leave the word 'happily' out.

Thankfully it seems that the un-rounded buy-in amounts are now in the process of being changed, reflected by the changes to micro-stakes games which were implemented today. Soon, only one issue will remain, it is the most important; rake. I really hope PokerStars lose the attitude they have taken towards rake, and take the opporunity to readdress it when they adjust the buy-ins as they have for the micro-stakes. Unfortunately, the stubbornness that was evident in PokerStars' response to the backlash suggests they might not be willing to.


It's one of those situations where you are sure you are right, but you can't seem to get that point across successfully, no matter how many well articulated blog posts you write! It's a bit like trying to convince your parents they should no longer pay for gas and electricity separately, but they still choose to do it. You know it would save them money to get a dual-bill, truthfully they know it as well, but even though they can't give you a good reason to stick to their guns, they still do.

My argument is quite simple. If you reduce the rake, then games become more profitable. This encourages people to play more, and the winners are more likely to earn enough money from the games, allowing them move up in stakes. Although you would be directly reducing the immediate rake per game, it would be more than made up for by the increase in traffic that would result.

Such a scenario has been simulated, in this interesting post. Although it makes the flawed assumption that a player will be able to sustain the same finish distribution in a $50 SNG as they did in a $5 SNG, I still think it sufficiently demonstrates the positive effect reductions in rake could have, and the win:win situation that would result for both the poker site and the players.

The fact that STTs at the current level of rake are virtually unbeatable, and run so infrequently when you consider how much traffic their MTT SNG counterparts receive, is sufficient evidence in itself that rake reductions need to take place. They are still raked at a similar level to what they were 5 years ago, when the games were crushable and traffic in them was booming. Now they are often played only for rakeback, and consequently they are slowly dying. The games are positively calling out of a rake reduction, but they still relent.

Perhaps they are unwilling to take the risk of losing rake, especially as they are still trying to recover from the effects of Black Friday. However, I contend that the risk of increasing rake, changing all the buy-ins and altering all the structures was a much bigger risk. I think this is best explained in an overly-long equation:

   Making your customers happy
+ probability that traffic will increase
+ possibility that rake will increase in the long term
+ possibility that rake will decrease

is greater than...

   Risk making your customers very unhappy
+ possibility that rake will increase in the short term
+ possibility that traffic will decrease
+ possibility that rake will therefore decrease



Although initial traffic drop off since Friday (which really had me quite worried!) seems to have recovered somewhat, I hope this doesn't trick PokerStars into thinking they 'got away' with the rake increases. I think it's inevitable that the increase in rake in the $5-$20 SNGs will have a really negative impact on future traffic on the site.

As I wrote in my 'lost' blog post...

The low stakes games ($5-20) will no longer be as beatable, so less regs will be inclined to play them. They are the people who 'drive' the games (sit down first so other players are more likely to join a game that is likely to run than one that is empty), losing them will mean less games run. The break-even players will become losers and will stop playing, the good winners will become marginal winners, and may look for a different game and/or site. Recreational players will have less chance of winning, and bad players will lose faster, which may discourage them from playing as much. Also, less people will be able to make enough money to move up in stakes, and we will see a knock-on effect where the higher stakes games will lose traffic as well.

Had they taken the opportunity to make big rake decreases, as I suggested here, the exact opposite would have been likely. The games would become more beatable, so regs would be more inclined to play, meaning more games would run. The break-even players would become marginal winners, and would be encouraged to play more. The winners would become bigger winners and would be encouraged to move up in stakes (where they would pay more rake). Recreational players would have more chance of winning, bad players will lose more slowly, and consequently may be encouraged to play more as well.

PokerStars you have one more chance to put this right, please make it third time lucky!

May 10, 2011

Sorting it out?...

It looks like PokerStars are responding to the uproar that has occurred because of the SNG changes that were initiated on Friday.

So far the problematic increased time-banks have been reduced back to what they were in most games (most notably the 45-second increasing to 90-second timebank in turbo SNGs has been reduced back to 15-seconds).

Also, the structure for "Fifty50" tournaments has been changed back to what it was before "Black Friday II".

Furthermore, it was announced that :

"PokerStars will directly address all questions/complaints posted here, including those referencing rake, by the end of Wednesday [11th May 2011]"
So let's hope this mess is fixed come tomorrow. I foresee a server restart on Wednesday morning (a fairly common occurrence) that will bring in the new software update (detailed here), and hopefully along with that will come a fix to the changes.

I see two directions which PokerStars could go in. They could either "abandon ship", and simply revert everything back to how it was before Friday, and then subsequently "tweak" things such as rake and structure to make improvements, rather than having a complete overhaul. Or they could make substantial changes to their new system.

U-Turn
Buy-ins
I think one of the main problems PokerStars has experienced is that the buy-ins they already had were firmly established. Although the new standardized system is perhaps more logical and streamlined, sometimes people just prefer what they are used to.

It has also had a big impact on reg's bottom lines. Below is a table showing the difference in what is being contributed to the prizepool by each player:

Old Buy-inNew-buy-in% change
$6$5-16.67%
$15$10-33.33%
$25$20-20%
$35$30-14.2%
$55$50-9.09%
$105$100-4.76%

Although this was expected from the announcements made prior to the changes, I thought the impact of this would be less of a concern because of the potential ROI increase if lower rake was introduced. However, the 3 buy-ins where the % change is the highest are also the 3 buy-ins which have experienced an increase in rake. So the $-per-game each player can expect to win has decreased quite significantly in places.

For example, a player earning $1.60 per game at the $15+1s, will only make $0.89 per game at the $10+0.85s, assuming that the skill level of him and everyone else remains the same (to see this calculation, click here). That is a huge difference.

Whilst the overhaul was an attempt to create consistency, there's no reason they couldn't make little tweaks to buy-ins in order to achieve this to some extent. For example the $7.70 180-man could be changed to a $6.50 180-man, the $36 180-man could become a $38 18-man, and so forth.

Rake
If Stars were to revert everything back to how it was, and keep it fundamentally the same, lowering the rake must still be a priority. My last rake table went down well on 2+2, so here's my attempt at one if buy-ins were kept the same. Again, I think this is reasonable enough for Stars to incorporate, would satisfy the regs, and would have a positive impact on traffic across the board.

Old Buy-inRake %*New Buy-inRake %*+/-*
$1.50+0.2514.2%$1.57+0.1810.28%-3.92%
$3+0.4011.76%$3.10+0.308.82%-2.94%
$6+0.507.69%$6.05+0.456.92%-0.77%
$15+16.25%$15+16.25%0%
$25+27.4%$26.50+1.505.55%-1.85%
$35+37.89%$36+25.26%-1.22%
$55+58.33%$57+35%-2.33%
$105+97.89%$108.50+5.504.82%-2.39%
$210+156.66%$215+104.65%-1.66%
$315+205.97%$320+154.48%-0.97%
$525+305.4%$533+223.96%-0.9%
*Rake/(Buy-in+Rake)


Structure
The old structures worked fine so just revert back to them. They were already fairly consistent, and I don't think many people had a problem with them. Tweaks could still be possible, for example adding a 150/300(25) level would make reasonable sense in the SNGs where it jumped from 100/200(25) to 200/400(50).


Fix the current mess
Buy-ins
They quite simply must move to rounded numbers. As I talked about in my last post, the lobby is just a huge mess, and this post on 2+2 depicts the problem very well:
Imagine a fish who wants to play a $5 SNG. He customises the lobby to only feature $5 buyins of NLHE, and is faced with the following:$5.50 180man
$5.43 180man turbo
$5.50 90man
$5.43 90man turbo
$5.50 45man
$5.43 45man turbo
$5.50 27man
$5.50 18man
$5.43 18man turbo
$5.48 6mx 12man
$5.50 9man
$5.43 9man turbo
$5.48 6man
$5.40 6man turbo
$5.23 9man hyper
$5.21 6man hyper
..he thinks "lol **** this" and goes out to buy some scratchcards or something.
One alternative might be to add a "rake" column, so at least the "buy-in" column is cleared up, but I still think rounding the buy-in+rake, and only displaying the buy-in in the lobby, is the way forward.

Rake
The changes made to rake were just ridiculous, and must be sorted out. Having alienated so many regs with the changes and the whole way it was handled, here is a chance to appease them.


There has been discussion on 2+2 about the positive effect vastly reduced rake. I argued for it in this blog post, and in this post on 2+2, but given PokerStars' first shot at a "rake decrease" last Friday, and the effects they will be experiencing, I don't see them making those kind of radical changes. There has been good feedback for this table that I produced, and I think basing a new rake structure on this, or something along these lines, would suffice for the time being:

Old Buy-inRake %*"My" Buy-inRake %*+/-*
$1.50+0.2514.2%$0.90+0.1010%-4.2%
$3+0.4011.76%$2.75+0.258.33%-3.43%
$6+0.507.69%$4.65+0.357%-0.69%
$15+16.25%$9.32+0.686.8%+0.55%
$25+27.4%$18.65+1.356.75%-0.65%
$35+37.89%$28+26.67%-1.22%
$55+58.33%$47+36%-2.33%
$105+97.89%$94.50+5.505.5%-2.39%
$210+156.66%$190+105%-1.66%
$315+205.97%$285+155%-0.97%
$525+305.4%$477.50+22.504.5%-0.9%
*Rake/(Buy-in+Rake)

Structure
Whilst there was nothing particularly wrong with the idea of changing to 3 minute levels and flattening them out, it was seemingly naive to think that every type of SNG would be able to mould around the exact same structure.

I'm quite concerned about 18-man SNGs as things stand. These are my bread and butter, and as the highest earner in them in 2011 (apologies for the sick brag), I don't want to see them deteriorate just because a bad structure was introduced. The general consensus from all the regs is that the current structure takes all of the skill out of the end-game, and will take a lot of a good player's edge out of the game.


Most suggestions seem to agree that one or two of the early levels are unnecessary, but that there aren't enough shallow blind increases from 300/600(60) onwards. I don't see a problem with average time going up by a couple of minutes if it helps to improve the structure overall, and just because you add a 3 minute level, it doesn't mean that the tournament will directly last 3 minutes longer on average. Adding some more levels, or perhaps switching to 5 minute levels later on, must be the thing to do here.


Other improvements
Now might not be the time to suggest further improvements, as it is important to fix everything that has been recently broken first, but I think cleaning up the SNG lobby was one of the goals of the changes, and so I'm going to take a quick look at how this can be done further...

There are certain games that just never run, or run so infrequently that it becomes unnecessary them being there. They are taking up too much prime real-estate, in return for little to no rake.

For example, there are currently nine 90-man SNGs registering from $3+, and none running. Just get rid of them. People play 45-mans and 180-mans on Stars, and these 90-mans are just taking up lobby space. Sometimes you can give people too much choice.

I also wonder if non-Hold 'em SNGs should get a sub-tab. On a random sample taken at 13.15 WET on 10th May 2011, this is the approximate state of the lobby:

Texas Hold 'emAll non Hold'em
SNGs running2750125
SNGs registering13001250
Ratio2.1:10.1:1

Okay, yes, you can filter them out. But for the average fish logging onto PokerStars who doesn't bother with the filter, the lobby is just so clogged up with non-hold 'em games that aren't running.

Summary
I'm not hugely sure which route of either complete U-Turn or fixing the changes that were made is the best one to take, but I think it could well be the former. An interesting article was published yesterday on the BBC, detailing a couple of big changes by big companies went wrong, and they ended up reversing the changes completely, such as when Coca-Cola changed it's recipe.

I really wish I could do something hands-on to help PokerStars, other than write these blogs. I have so many ideas and thoughts. I just hope someone there is taking the time to read this blog, and the suggestions that have been given on 2+2, and manages to rectify the situation. Something needs to be done ASAP, and I really hope the response from PokerStars tomorrow reflects that...


**EDIT**
Shortly after this was posted, PokerStars restored the old structure to 180-mans, which is certainly a step in the right direction!


(Blind structure graph and Rake/Tall building graphic jacked from this thread)

May 08, 2011

Epic fail by PokerStars: SNG Changes

PokerStars made some big changes to SNGs over the last couple of days, announced here. By changes I mean they have ballsed them up completely. For a site that is usually so good at making improvements for it's players, this is just an epic fail.

A few months ago it was inferred that PokerStars would be reducing the rake in SNGs, and I made this post giving my suggestions for what I thought they should do and why. Yet instead of reducing the rake, they have hiked it up for the mid-stakes games, and reductions at the higher levels are very slight. One of the worst things is they are trying to pass it off as an improvement, which is, at best, stretching the truth and is, at worst, complete BS.

PokerStars has wasted an opportunity to really improve things for the long term good of the game, and perhaps make revolutionary changes that would have made them the most appealing site to play SNGs on. However, instead they've decided to be greedy, and try and rape the $0-30 stakes players as much as possible. Whilst there has been some rake reduction in places, only the high stakes SNGs (and Heads Up SNGs, not shown here) have seen any real benefit, for the rest it basically just means players are being raped a little less than they already were.

Old Buy-in
Rake %*
New Buy-in
Rake %*
+/-*
$1.50+0.25
14.20%
$1+0.15
13.04%
-1.16%
$3+0.40
11.76%
$3+0.32
9.64%
-2.12%
$6+0.50
7.69%
$5+0.43
8.60%
+0.91%
$15+1
6.25%
$10+0.85
7.83%
+1.58%
$25+2
7.40%
$20+1.70
7.83%
+0.43%
$35+3
7.89%
$30+2.55
7.83%
-0.06%
$55+5
8.33%
$50+4.04
7.48%
-0.85%
$105+9
7.89%
$100+7.65
7.11%
-0.78%
$210+15
6.66%
$200+12.75
6.00%
-0.66%
$315+20
5.97%
$300+17.85
5.62%
-0.35%
$525+30
5.40%
$500+25.50
4.85%
-0.65%
*Rake/(Buy-in+Rake)

However, it doesn't stop here. Whilst I think the standardization of buy-ins to 1, 3 ,5, 10, 20 etc. is a reasonable move, they have made a huge cock-up by showing the buy-in+rake in a non-rounded form in the lobby. With the standardization of buy-ins, and the new columns they are bringing in shortly, it seemed as though were trying to "tidy up" the lobby. But it looks worse than ever now:
Cartoon #4516 - 'We find it helps our less motivated employees.'

What fish wants to play a $5.48 tournament, a $53.84 tournament or even more comically a $10127.50 tournament? Who thought it would be a good idea to present the tournaments in this way? A fish wants to play a bloody $5 tournament, a $50 tournament or if they have a lot of money to spare, a $10,000 tournament. Imagine if the WSOP Main Event was changed to a $10,000+743.27 buy-in ffs. It looks utterly ridiculous.

They've also altered the structures, and seemingly "fixed" something that wasn't broken. The change has affected MTT SNGs the worst, as now you are stuck playing a bunch of extra levels early on when the good players are folding most of the time, and left it so you are shortstacked in the late game, thereby reducing a good player's edge, and ultimately their win rate. As if the increased rake in the $5-20 MTT SNGs wasn't enough, they throw this spanner in the works. I get the feeling from other grinders this could be the worst change of them all, the turbos are apparently complete crapshoots now (I haven't played just yet). Maybe they needn't have bothered with introducing a hyper-turbo SNG trial on this basis! But of course hyper-turbos have less rake...


There's still more! They're now providing 45-second timebanks in turbo games (up from 15-seconds). That's 1/4 of a level. If four players use their timebank in one hand, then the blind's will increase by the next one. That's ridiculous. Imagine the stalling that could occur in a bubble situation. I generally only end up timebanking when I get a backlog of tables due to multiple difficult decisions arising, and TableNinja's "auto-click timebank" comes into effect.  I'm sure the fish are going to love me time-banking for 45-seconds holding seven-deuce offsuit UTG at 10/20.

The timing of the changes was also rather absurd. They decided to do it randomly in the middle of the day. God knows what people who were playing at the time must have thought, and I wonder if anybody mis-registered for tournaments because of it. There was a server reset just two days before they brought the changes in on Friday 6th May. Surely this would have been a better time?

PokerStars has annoyed a lot of it's regs with this move, which just seems so counter-productive. I'm one of the biggest pro-PokerStars people I can imagine you'll meet, and here I am writing this blog berating nearly everything they've done to SNGs, on what is becoming known in SNG-circles as Black Friday II.


After all the optimism and ideas that had come about from their suggestion they would be reviewing SNGs and lowering rake, it is more than disappointing to see what they have done. It's like Pepsi telling you they have improved their formula, and you finding that urine has been added to the ingredients list. One 2+2er echoed my thoughts exactly:
I feel like a kid who's come down on christmas morning to find santa bending his mum over, and then opens his present to find a big steaming pile of reindeer s**t.
PokerStars need to admit that they've scored a huge own goal here and sort it out ASAP. From my knowledge of the lobby, less games seem to be running than I would expect at each buy-in level, so I hope the reduced traffic is a huge wake-up call and will force them into action.

I'm going to take another shot at a possible fix for the SNG buy-ins, and hope that someone from PokerStars reads it. The last time I had a go at this I may have been too ambitious for what they would be willing to do (although I still think my suggestions here are more the way forward), so I've tried to be more realistic with these suggestions:

Old Buy-inRake %*"My" Buy-inRake %*+/-*
$1.50+0.2514.2%$0.90+0.1010%-4.2%
$3+0.4011.76%$2.75+0.258.33%-3.43%
$6+0.507.69%$4.65+0.357%-0.69%
$15+16.25%$9.32+0.686.8%+0.55%
$25+27.4%$18.65+1.356.75%-0.65%
$35+37.89%$28+26.67%-1.22%
$55+58.33%$47+36%-2.33%
$105+97.89%$94.50+5.505.5%-2.39%
$210+156.66%$190+105%-1.66%
$315+205.97%$285+155%-0.97%
$525+305.4%$477.50+22.504.5%-0.9%
*Rake/(Buy-in+Rake)

Whilst I'm not suggesting this table is perfect, it would help ease tension with the regs who are currently 'up in arms', and mean they have keep their word and reduced rake. It would make the lowest stakes games a more reasonable prospect, it would make the mid-stakes games actually beatable, and it would solve the problem of the lobby looking a complete mess, as buy-ins would be a round number.

I would get rid of the extended time-banks, and change them back to what they were before. I would also temporarily change the structures back to what they were before, and do some significant research on how altering the structures would affect each type of SNG. I wouldn't be opposed to them implementing some changes if they have a neutral or positive affect on the games, but clearly not enough thought was put into this. Although standardization of structures seems a reasonable idea on the surface, one 2+2er made the analogy that not every car would want the same engine, and a "Ferrari" 18-man SNG, might need a different structure to a "Morris Minor" Fifty50 SNG.

Whilst my faith has been shaken in regards to PokerStars over the last month or so, it is still strong, and I have faith that they will make amends for this epic fail, and make more sensible changes. But still, for the greater good of the whole site, this needs to be reviewed immediately. It might even be better if they reverted to the old SNGs temporarily until they come up with a reasonable solution.

Please don't make us wait another 3 months though, and next time do it right.

**EDIT**
Shortly after posting this, PokerStars SNG Manager Steve Day made this statement:
"PokerStars will directly address all questions/complaints posted here, including those referencing rake, by the end of Wednesday"

May 05, 2011

2nd session with Jared Tendler...

I just finished my second session with Jared Tendler. If you don't know who Jared is, he is a very well respected mental game coach, and in our sessions so far he has been focusing on my motivational issues, as we highlighted this as one of the biggest obstacles that I face currently. As I mentioned last time I simply find it harder than I would like to sit down and play a session of poker.

We started off by filling in the gaps since of things that have affected me since our last session, including all the Black Friday uncertainty, tinker with my playing schedule and the adjusting of my goals.

Although I'm no longer going all out to get Supernova Elite, it wouldn't hurt to keep it within the realm of possibility. Something that came up as we talked was that although I am only 1/4 of the way there with 1/3 of the year gone, I also have a 250k VPP headstart compared to what I would have next year. Things could change in a few months time and it would be a shame to have let it slip completely if a chance to make a second run at it were to come up.

An interesting point that Jared made was that sometimes you can fantasize about something, in this case becoming the most super-motivated person who naturally worked hard without trying, can actually be de-motivating. You realise there is no 'switch' to become this person, and that realistically it will take a lot of work and effort to get into that mindset. The thought of the difficult road to becoming this person saps your motivation. Sometimes what Jared says just clicks, and I think this is very true of me, in relation to motivation, and in other areas of my life. I likened it to the fantasy I have about being a famous rapper, but my knowledge that it would take so much hard work just to get yourself in the position that it might be a small possibility, is hugely demotivating. Maybe this is why I haven't recorded a song in 6 years.

Jared asked me what one of the biggest problems I faced with regards to motivation and playing, and I mentioned how easy I find it to not play because an opportunity comes up to spend some time with my son (now 20 months old). Those times when I'm starting my afternoon session a bit late, and Clark wants to go "ow-ow-out" (as he says it) or whatever, it is just so easy to give in because I love spending time with him, and it seems like such a good excuse to not play.

Cartoon #4516 - 'We find it helps our less motivated employees.'

The problem is, this ends up eating too much time where I should be playing, and although spending time with Clark obviously isn't directly a bad thing, I do get to spend plenty of time with him anyway and I don't need Jared makes a good point that I'm not necessarily sending the best message, that for Daddy "work" = "maybe work" or "sometimes work". Not only does he need to learn that "no means no" and similarly when "busy means busy" (especially considering I work at home), but also I don't want him to adopt the same attitude towards work that I have. This part of our session really hit home with me, as I obviously want the best for my son. If setting a good example by working hard and being motivated means Clark avoid's the issues I've had in my life with not working hard and not being motivated (definitely true of the last 10 years), then this can only be a good thing. I can glean motivation from my parental desire to do the best for my son in the long-term.

Whenever I'm in these sessions I get such an inclination to go out, be super motivated and keep to a good playing schedule. I'm hoping this sticks as much as possible, and it's part of the reason I'm writing this blog post, so I can reference back and remember how motivated I felt from this session. It's hard to explain, but Jared's advice is complex yet really straightforward at the same time, and it's like a lightbulb is constantly going off in your head as he gives his insights and advice.


After the session I snap-bought Jared's new book "The Mental Game of Poker". I was always going to buy the book, it seems a steal at $50 when you consider how much Jared charges for his coaching (upwards of $250 an hour). If you enter the promo code "2011" you get 10% off and also the forum I post on, Blonde Poker, gets a small slice.

Here's to me being motivated to stick to a playing schedule that enables me to grind has hard as I can :)

May 03, 2011

April review, $100k & EPT San Remo

April Review
By all accounts, April wasn't the best month. Although for the most part everything has turned out alright for non-Americans, Black Friday caused a fair amount of worry. Sadly, as a result of BF my hopes of gaining Supernova Elite have fallen by the way side, but there is a cause for optimism in the coming months. Although the games don't fill quite as fast with traffic down 20-25%, they do seem a little softer, and I am quite excited about the SNG changes that PokerStars are bringing in very soon.

I pretty much took the second half of April off after Black Friday, and consequently my volume for the month was pretty dire. My results were pretty bad for the first part of April, but put a good run together to at least salvage something from the month.


$100k
I can expect some insta-run-bad for even mentioning this, but I noticed I passed the $100,000 mark for lifetime SNG/tournament earnings on PokerStars (for the first time, and hopefully the last time else I'll have downswonged my way there next time!). Sharkscope recorded my first game on 16th January 2006, which perhaps makes the milestone a little less impressive as I've had over 5 years to get there. However I really only started playing seriously in June 2009, and having a look back at some of my old blog posts (such as this one starting an experiment on Stars) it's interesting to see how I got started on Stars.

I remember seeing this post on Blonde Poker with a player (screenname 'Salfi') talking about how he'd made a lot of money playing 45-mans on Stars. I'm a sucker for sick graphs, and I couldn't believe how sick his graph was for playing only $12 games, and the kind of money that was possible. So I made the transition from playing HUSNGs on Boss Media (as I had been doing since the Tribeca network shut down at the beginning of 2007) over to MTTSNGs on PokerStars, and it was probably the best thing I ever did. Now I have a sick graph of my own to admire, and hopefully the poker gods won't deem this post as too much of a brag so that they send it crashing down!


EPT San Remo
A big congratulations to Rupert Elder for winning the EPT in San Remo today for a whopping €930,000. I've actually only met him in person once, but he's a regular poster on the forum that I post on (Blonde Poker) and actually has a percentage of me in an ongoing MTT stake that I'm running. He's a nice chap, a great player and it's awesome to see him get such a huge result.
Rupert Elder, EPT San Remo Champion 2011
I actually watched much of the Final Table on PokerStars.tv and what a hand to turn it around heads up. Rupert and his opponent Max Heinzelmann inevitably got the chips in on the turn in a sick hand, with Rupert's 66 vs Max's nuticious T8 on a 679A board (with 2 possible flush draws), and Rupert binked the 10-outer. At the time this looked like the title-winning hand, as the graphics showed they were roughly even in chips at this point, but it turned out Max had a 2:1 chip lead at the start of the hand, so there was still a long way to go! Fortunately he made a couple of great calls and ended getting the chips in good with A5 vs Q5 and held. Wiiiiii.

I've listed his blog for quite a while, and if you're interested in checking that out, click here, I'm sure there will be a rather epic post on his win forthcoming.