Online poker outfit PokerStars has taken two steps to modify its ecosystem following last month’s meeting at its Isle of Man headquarters between management and a select group of Stars players. One of the policy changes is specifically aimed at protecting recreational players while the other will primarily benefit its winning players.
The latter group will appreciate Stars’ campaign against ‘ratholing,’ which describes a player who wins a big pot then quits the room, only to rejoin shortly thereafter with a smaller bankroll, thereby denying winning players the opportunity to claw back their losses from a lucky fish. Stars has proposed tracking players’ stack sizes when they leave a table in order to establish a minimum buy-in if the player rejoins the action shortly thereafter. Stars is mulling an 18-20 hour tracking period to create these “stack identities” but admits that determining a specific duration is “challenging.”
The second policy change is more significant, in that it represents a rare attempt by Stars to put systems in place to protect its recreational players. This policy removes the ability of a player to sit at a table while refusing to play until a recognized fish takes a seat. Now, if dealing stops for a preset amount of time, the table will close. This ‘king of the hill’ solution prevents active players from sitting out until a demonstrably weaker opponent unwittingly puts his head in the noose. The crackdown on ‘bumhunting’ is currently limited to selected games and stakes on Stars’ .com and .eu sites, but Stars is promising to expand the policy in due course.
That Stars would make such a gesture for their recreational players is admirable, but the policy won’t eliminate bumhunting on the site. At best, it will make winning players work marginally harder to find their fish. Stars is treating the symptom, not the root cause. The only real cure for bumhunting is total anonymity, but Stars isn’t ready to go there just yet.
There is reportedly a faction within Stars’ management that would like to adopt policies similar to the Bodog Poker Network’s recreational player model – up to and including Bodog’s fully anonymous tables – but a much larger faction has no desire to alienate the poker forums. So until the primarily winning player voices on 2+2 cry out in unison for an anonymous table option, it ain’t happening.
Regardless, for a multi-tabling pro-friendly site like Stars to publicly express concern for its fishier players suggests Stars is at least flirting with reducing its emphasis on the ‘aspirational’ marketing model – in which new players are supposedly clamoring for the opportunity to match their underdeveloped skills against Stars’ pro roster. This approach has served Stars well in the past, but the poker world is moving away from its focus on pros, and Stars would do well to implement more policies that put recreational players first.