PokerStars Alternatives: Why Play Poker Pros and Grinders When Other Poker Sites are Full of Fish?
There was a time when PokerStars were the only place to play. The choice of games, big tournament guarantees, and slick software made them stand out from the other sites.
For me, choosing PokerStars as your main site in 2021 is crazy.
There are grinders, even in the penny games, which will sit for hours, literally sucking life out of the games. If the ‘eastern euro’ tax does not get you, the rake will (regardless of what Daniel Negreanu says, high rake is a poison on the games). Support, which used to be top quality is now cold and corporate.
If that were not enough, gimmicky games are moving the ever-diminishing pool of recreational players to highly volatile ‘fun’ games and side bets.
Here is my challenge.
Fire up a couple of the alternative sites below. Have equal buy-in cash games running. Simply sit back and watch the action for half an hour.
If you don’t come away understanding exactly why PokerStars is best avoided, I’ll personally be shocked!
This page dives into the alternatives for different types of players. Under the table I have outlined the pros and cons of each site – then go into depth on the different styles of poker (tournament events, lottery sit n goes and so on). A quick note for US readers: This page is focused on the big international brands. I have covered the offshore US sites in depth on my best US poker sites page.
Table: Best Alternatives to PokerStars in 2021
Number #1 Alternative to PokerStars: Party Poker
Party Poker have always been the place to head for recreational poker. All these years later, this is still the brand best known by people that don’t play poker.
A lot has changed since their ‘glory days’ in 2006 – you’ll be surprised how many of these changes are positive.
There is high stakes action, there are a certain percentage of ‘grinders’ – overall, there are way more recreational / amateur / fun players compared to PokerStars.
You’ll get $30 / £40 in tokens to try out the different games for a $10 deposit at Party. This makes for a low-risk way to see just how much softer the games are than other sites. Use bonus code SNGPLANET to claim – see www.partypoker.com for more!
Here are the key reasons that I rate Party as my number one alternative to PokerStars:
- Brand name which still attracts first time / recreational players
- Cash back into your account each Monday (tip: play on Mondays, the fish get rebates too!)
- Excellent choice of soft games, with 100’s of tables at the lower to mid stakes
- Events like PowerFest and qualifiers for live events, which attract huge fields
Software has Been Upgraded Too
New software will come as a positive surprise if the last time you played at partypoker was back in the day. The download will give you the full functionality. This is recommended if you are playing on a desktop or laptop.
You can access the games via smartphone apps too. These are smooth, though obviously things like multi-tabling are harder. Party apps work best for short games like Sit n Goes, as well as the fast fold cash games.
There are other sites covered below, though in 2021, I strongly believe that partypoker is heading the field for a softer alternative to Stars.
Check out the soft games, and claim your $30 / £40 welcome bonus (bonus code = SNGPLANET) now over at www.partypoker.com
Alternatives to PokerStars #2 – 888 Poker
The heart of 888 is their casino. This is great news for poker fans looking for soft games. If you have ever played at 888, you’ll see a contrast. Surprisingly often, you get a gambler at your table. This type of player obviously loves the casino – and is playing poker to have fun (not to maximize ev).
Of course, the most interesting part of otherwise solid tables when a gambler arrives is to see how people react. Some try to isolate; others wait for the goods before getting their money in.
If you can react to how people react… well, you can make good money!
Of course, there is a lot more to 888 than that. I will warn against the micro-limits there. These tend to get filled with eastern euros / Russians… you know, the kind that live in a one-goat village and thing that grinding 10 tables making $6 per hour is well worthwhile…
Here are the highlights of 888 Poker, and the reasons I’d pick this site as an alternative to PokerStars.
- Cross over traffic from the casino means ‘gamblers’ pop up at the tables
- Mid stakes are soft, with plenty of UK and German players enjoying a recreational game (though avoid the ruskie-filled micros)
- Excellent events, with the ‘Super XL Series’ seeing some big (and fishy) fields.
- Blast! Sit N goes are fun alternative, these are timed, with everyone all-in when the clock runs down.
New players at 888 Poker get free play without needing to deposit.
The amount available depends on your country. In the UK this is £20, while many other places get up to $88. That is split into 11x $8 instalments as you earn points, in the form of buy-ins for the different games.
I also rate the 888 Poker loyalty program highly. You never go down a level in this scheme.
Check out the soft games and claim your no-deposit bonus now over at www.888poker.com!
Alternative to PokerStars #3: Unibet Poker
This pick is an outlier. Unibet takes a completely different angle than the other sites. Their tables are rich, colourful and cartoon-like. You won’t find multi-table grinders at this site (though there are plenty of games). If anything, the action will seem slow if you are used to the mainstream sites.
If you are playing poker to relax, want a fun and entertaining environment and a more social feel – then Unibet makes a great pick.
What you won’t find here are the grinders. There are cash games, 1 table tournaments and MTTs. Some mid-sized buy-in tournaments attract a few good players. On the whole these are full of regular people having a laugh.
Here are my top reasons to choose Unibet as an alternative to PokerStars:
- Brilliant software, the tables look like no other site (in a positive way)
- Lack of pros: This is a very recreational site
- Qualifiers to the live ‘Unibet Open’ games around the country.
- Smooth app, which makes the most of the unique software.
New player at Unibet get £ / EUR 20 extra on deposit, then a play-through bonus based on how much effort you put in worth up to another £500. There are plenty of tokens for tournaments and other player promos in the pipeline too.
Check out the colourful and unique software (and soft games!) over at www.unibet.com now!
Alternatives to PokerStars: Cash Games, Tournaments and Sit N Goes
This section looks at the alternative sites from a different angle. Instead of listing the attributes of the rival sites, the different formats of poker are considered. Some players will prefer one kind, others will indulge in all 3. Whichever appeals to you, there is a mix of alternative poker sites to Stars / Full Tilt that work.
On the surface, cash games look similar wherever you play. Sure, the buy-in structures and table sizes will vary. What really counts is the speed / smoothness of play, your ability to multi-table – and the proportion of grinders to recreational players.
As you move up, you’ll naturally encounter more experienced players. Fish sitting at a $500 table have no chance at all. Tools make a big difference. With Party and Unibet, you won’t find players collecting your data (and highlighting your weaknesses) using 3rd party software. At 888, this is more of a problem.
You can also consider the fast-fold games. These need decent sized player pools to work. Both Party and 888 have these for Hold’em, though not for PLO.
For me the party cash games are the sweet spot. I’d avoid them during the (European) daytimes, though evenings and weekends will see plenty of fishy action.
A lot to cover here. Sure, nobody can quite match the Sunday Million or WCOOP. You’d be surprised just how big the tournament events at the alternative sites to Stars have become.
It is not only the big events, day to day tournament schedules might not get the headlines – though they do provide opportunities to break through for new players all the time.
All the sites have expanded the variety of formats compared to a few years ago. Progressive Knockouts (where your bounty increases the more people you eliminate) are all the rage at the moment. These sit alongside fast-fold variations, rebuys, turbos, second chance, PLO (and other poker variants).
Buy-ins literally start in cents, with a peak in field sizes between $5 and $22.
One big advantage of playing at the alternatives to PokerStars listed here is that the field sizes are more manageable. If you have ever sat at 4am on a work-night, waiting for the final few tables of a tournament to end, then you’ll know what I mean!
All the PokerStars alternatives have events. These days, they are scheduled at the same time as the popular Stars events like the SCOOP and WCOOP.
My pick is again Party Poker. Their ‘PowerFest’ events are the biggest, though there are plenty of others targeting different poker formats and buy-in ranges. There are always plenty of satellites for these bigger buy-in tournaments. Many new players break through each time – some making life changing money in the process.
Grab $30 / £40 for a tiny deposit at party poker while you check out when the next big events start. Use bonus code SNGPLANET. See www.partypoker.com for details!
Other poker events worth a mention are the Super XL Series at 888. If you enjoy live tournaments, then 888 are one of the sponsors of the World Series of Poker. You can qualify for the Main Event, or the smaller ($888) buy-in ‘Crazy 8’s’ tournament. See www.888poker.com for details.
Sit n Goes / Lottery Sit N Goes:
The final area I’ll compare the PokerStars’ alternatives on is their single table tournaments. These used to be a staple at all the online poker sites. With the introduction of lottery sit n goes (which were started on iPoker), the recreational player pool that enjoyed these games in the past is largely absent.
Lottery Sit N Goes covers a category of super-turbo games with random prize pools. These are 3 handed games, with the quickest version (Blast! Poker at 888) only taking 2 minutes. The appeal is that you can win up to 10,000x your prize pool.
My vote goes for the Blast! Games at 888 in this category. The SPINS at party are equally soft, and a lot of fun, so don’t let that put you off.
Wrapping Up: Which Poker Sites are the Best Alternatives to PokerStars?
After so many details, the bullets in the table at the top of the page should now make a lot more sense. This table is repeated below.
I wrestled with a love / hate relationship with Stars for many years. They have the liquidity, the big tournaments and the variety – credit where credit is due. They also have all the pro grinders. I’m sure you’ll know that these opponents are a tax on your profits, even if you can beat them.
For me, both Party and 888 have stepped up their game in the last couple of years. These sites are growing - and offer a more recreational place to play than Stars. Sure, there are pros on all sites. The trick is to get the right balance. If there are not enough new or fun players on a site, things become a real grind…