Planet Mark's Blog. Thoughts, News And Strategy For Poker Tournaments Of All Size

5 Solid Reasons I No Longer Play at PokerStars (and recommend that you don’t either)

For years PokerStars has been the single biggest poker site. I have been recommending international readers to check out their games for as long as I can remember. In mid-2015 I stepped back and took another look at my reasoning. The conclusion is clear, PokerStars is not the best place to play for recreational players, it is certainly not the best place for new players and – unless you really need super high volume to eek out that profit – I no longer even believe it is the best place for semi-pros either.

Here are my 5 reasons to abandon PokerStars and take another look at how soft the games are at other sites by comparison. If you have not visited a brand which is primarily focused on sports betting or casinos for a while, and checked out their poker tables – then I hope this post will encourage you to do that.

Leaving PokerStars – Reason #1 – Armies of Pros with HUDs

You see a screen name, avatar and 2 cards in front of you when you sit down to play.

That is not what the majority of your opponents at PokerStars are seeing.

Instead they see a screen filled with stats. This shows your starting hand ranges, continuation bets, how often you re-raise, go to showdown, how you react to 3 bets and so on. This information reveals weaknesses in your game, and the army of small stakes pros at the tables all adjust their bets to exploit those.

You can still get lucky and book winning sessions. The net effect of these ‘Heads Up Displays’ is to give your opponents a profitable edge over you hand after hand.

These HUDs reveal ‘fish’ very quickly, and the pros isolate them and focus their attention on taking their stacks. That is even before we get to aggregators of win / loss information, and tools which show when known fish join your table.

You might think you are just playing poker. If you stray onto PokerStars you are almost certain to be up against multiple opponents simply using tools / math to erode your stack.

Of course, you could buy a HUD, learn to use it and go down this route yourself…  for the millions of players who enjoy a recreational game of poker this like studying accountancy to better understand the football transfer market – taking the enjoyment from the games.

Image credit: from

Leaving PokerStars – Reason #2 – Stupidly Long Tournaments

Hands up if you like to go to sleep before 4am on average?

Yeah, me too.

Tournaments at PokerStars attract some huge fields, and I mean huge. Thousands of players can join some of the nightly guarantees (you'll never know until late registration finishes). Sure, the prize pools are big, every night some lucky players turn a $10 buy-in into several thousand in prizes.

The trouble is that these fields have got so large that it gets silly.

The 4am final tables is just one aspect. Even before you get there you’ll need to battle through the massive fields. If you get to 2am (7 to 8pm games) and get sucked out on for a min-cash, you’ll start to realize just how ugly these big fields are!

But wait Mark – what about the 180’s? (say a chorus of Stars fans!)

Sure, the 180 SNGs are an option, combining the stages of a tournament with a smaller field and shorter time.

Then again, have you seen how many pros are in these games lately?

I get that they are not all good… though the number of people playing 4, 8 or even more 180 SNGs at the same time is just crazy. How can I recommend new and recreational readers play with so many people who know the math (push / fold comes early!) and are solid early, when there are similar sized games at other sites where the pros / amateurs ratio is more like 10% / 90% than 50% / 50%.

The answer is that I can’t make that kind of recommendation to newer and recreational players any more.

Sure, you can beat the games – but you can beat similar games elsewhere for more profit. Add to this smaller fields in the regular MTTs, and it becomes a no-brainer for me.


Leaving Stars – Reason #3 – The Barrier to New Players, $2 Grinders

pokerstars tournaments too longNew players used to be able to learn the ropes at $2 / $5 buy-in cash games and $3 Sit N Goes. These were great places to experiment with different styles and strategies, build your bankroll and move on up as you felt comfortable.

These levels are now full of Eastern Euro grinders.

Individually, these people are acting rationally enough. Grinding $2 NL for 40c per table per hour is easy enough. Do it over 12 tables and you can make a steady $5ish per hour – a respectable wage in many countries. Collectively they are killing off the games and preventing the recreational types who traditionally started low and built up from progressing (or at least slowing them down). You’d better believe these types have HUDs too… quite possibly stolen from bit torrent.

Many readers will not have seen these buy-in levels for a few years. Go check them out. You’ll find 6 max cash games with 4 of these players – and Sit N Goes full of them too.

Just to add insult to injury, many (though by no means all) players from these counties are generally unpleasant characters in the chat too.

Leaving Stars – Reason #4 – Customer Service in Decline

This one is more anecdotal. Having played at Stars back in 2005 / 2006 I clearly remember how superior their service was compared to other sites. They were friendly, proactive and tried to solve whatever issues there were.

Security is a great example. In those early days I was active in reporting issues like collusion / suspected bots (anyone remember the Vietnam based SNG Players … 8 or 10 of them all named after motorbike types with different numbers yamaha27654 for example?!). Of course, false positives were part of the risk.

I suspected something a few years ago and to say the reply was arrogant would be an understatement.

General service now goes to whichever agent is free at the time, I had an issue last year in which I had to explain something 3 times and was dealt with by 7 different people in total.

Stars have gone from the best to one of the worst.

What is more instead of engaging with players and listening, their service are simply arrogant enforcers of the rules. I'm sure that their corporate metrics show that they are doing just great, I'm also sure that I can't be the only one that has noticed the human element has disappeared almost entirely. 

Shame on you PokerStars, you ruined one of your greatest strengths.

Leaving PokerStars – Reason #5 – No Cross-Over Traffic

At many smaller sites, a big source of new players are people who sign up for the other gambling verticals. Sports Betting is the best example. Regular people join to have a bet, and then see that there is also a poker room at the site and go and check it out.

Compare this to PokerStars. Here the players are those who have found poker somehow (maybe through a sports betting site!), found they enjoy it, got some experience – and then moved to find a bigger / better poker site.

It is not only the lack of cross over recreational traffic, the players are PokerStars are self-selecting as the more experienced types. They learn at other sites, seek more volume, and end up at Stars - almost every time.

I know where I would rather play.

This is not just ‘in theory’.

These days the time spent on my business projects means poker time is more limited. When I do play I want to enjoy the games (and to win money or course). I want to play amateurs having a good time at the tables, and not armies of pro grinders examining their HUD stats.

Most of my play is now at 888 Poker, which fits the bill for cross-over traffic  very well. I still believe that the iPoker sites are good too (you might need to be selective in some games, though the tournaments / SNGs are silly soft).

Well, this turned into a longer post than I first expected.

PokerStars has great software and big events. I urge all my international readers to consider their reasons for playing there carefully – and to at least check out and compare the toughness of games at the cross-over sportsbetting / poker sites.

GL at the tables,


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