In the show’s first 1 hour+ episode, Nick and Mike discuss the reason for taking a week off, the huge spring online poker series season, the announcement of partypoker MILLIONS Online, the Global Poker Awards, Bots and Seating Scripts, UFC Spins, PokerStars VR and more!


Full Transcript

Mike: Hello and welcome everybody to the Pokerfuse podcast. It is April 12, 2019. This is Episode 11. I am your host, Mike Gentille, along with my co-host, Nick Jones. Nick, how’s going?

Nick: Pretty good. You say Episode 11. It could be season two, episode one.

Mike: Season two, episode one, officially in the books. Well, not yet but officially on its way.

Nick: We missed last week. Apologies to our regular listeners that we didn’t get it out last week. What excuse are we giving our viewership, Mike?

Mike: We are going to give the excuse that we had a scheduled break between the end of season one and the beginning of season two.

Nick: We took a semi-break last week. The plan was we were going to record last Wednesday and we were pretty jammed with getting the pro-report complete, which we just managed to do. We also looked at the discussion. There was very little to talk about we felt. We found a reason to not do it, and now we’re sitting here putting together show notes on. It’s Friday. We’re a day late today as well and we’re probably going to have a double length shows to pay our


Mike: We’ll make up. It seemed like a lot of the news last week actually hit toward the latter part of the week. Recording a day early didn’t really fit well with the news guys, out there. I think recording a day late this week is going to pay off when we do have an extended episode.

Nick: Buckle up and enjoy this what could be an hour-long episode of the Pokerfuse podcast.

Spring Online Poker Series

Mike: This time of year is really exciting for online poker players, as all of the major rooms are running their spring tournament series. Probably the biggest time of the year from a prize pool perspective, would you say, Nick?

Nick: Today, we had the SCOOP 2019 schedule release. That is the last of all the major operators and it’s going to be the last schedule of the season as well. Right now we have a party podcast. Powerful is running, 888. Blizzard is running. Unibet and MPN series run in a week or two, but it’s going to be— yes, SCOOP is not going to be for a months time.

The details are just coming out now. We have the total price pulled to a number of tournaments. I think that the schedule might have literally just been released as we sat down to record this. That is spring, pretty much all in the schedule.

Mike: Well, there’s plenty to talk about, the SCOOP schedule for sure. Before we get on to that, there’s also another site that’s running a spring tournament series that really hasn’t made it onto our radar in recent years but seems to be coming in with a big splash this spring. That would be?

Nick: GGNetwork. I’m not sure if we’ve talked about them much on this podcast at all.

Mike: A little bit when it came to their mimicking of splash the pot.

Nick: There’s no denying that— It’s a network, if you’re not familiar with the at all, they are solely focused on the Asian markets and the Chinese market. They’re very large. According to their own traffic cash gang figures, they are in the top five networks in the world. They are very large and they are very quick to develop their software do upgrades. They’ve only been around for I think three or four years.

In the last six months to a year they have really been cranking out. They’ve also been doing more PR reach out. They’ve just been put themselves on our radar a lot more. They ran their first ever tournament series, I think last November, last December, which was a pretty ambitious kind of $3.5 million guaranteed tournament series which is recovered nearly almost all their guarantees. They just announced blade series with a pretty staggering $11.5 million guaranteed which is-

Mike: How does that rank with the other major players?

Nick: Outside poker stars and party poker, it is right up there. It’s the same kind of size of Winamax S eries, which I think is— well, that’s probably larger. I think it talks about it maybe €13 million, $15 million say . But their second only MTT series, this is a high stakes series. I believe they’re guaranteeing at least like a million dollars a day something like that. Honestly, it’s staggering.

Mike: It’s even more impressive given the fact that they are not operating in any of the regulated markets. As far as I know, correct?

Nick: Yes, they have one skin that has a UKGC license and operates in the UK market. It’s actually It’s their flagship internal skin, but the rest of it is— I thought they’re going to launch in Sweden, but that didn’t come to pass as it stands. In fact, another piece of news we wrote on Poker Industry PRO this week is they just launched in Latvia under a new skin there. Predominantly, they are kind of Curacao-based or Philippine-based license focused primarily on the, as we understand, Asian-Chinese markets.

I’m just going to check the dates here. This is starting April 14, two days time runs for I think two weekends, like 10 or 11 days, something like that. They’re certainly an unexpected addition to the spring calendar on one. Normally we don’t really talk about, but it is write up much larger than 888 series, so that is blade.

Mike: I’m going to put blade, all right. I’m going to put your bid on the spot here. If you had to total up all of the guaranteed prize pools for the major online operators this spring, what are we looking at?

Nick: I’m talking about estimate here but that’s 75 million, and then we add on 30 per party, $130-$140 million. something like that.

Mike: That’s pretty significant.

Nick: Let’s dive into SCOOP a bit. We don’t have all the details there.

Mike: Well, we do know that they got 75 million total guaranteed. How much was it last year?

Nick: Last year, it was 65 million for SCOOP. The last WCOOP, last fall, was 70 million. This is the largest online tournament festival ever held by anyone, as we can stand by a long shot. PokerStars have been increasing very consistently. Their guarantees on SCOOP and WCOOP by $5 million. This is going back three or four years. It went 40, 45, 50, 55, so 75 million is not surprising. That’s the one thing we did expect. I wouldn’t expect PokerStars to have much difficulty covering this prize pool.

Mike: One thing that I saw in one of the charts over on Poker Industry PRO that was detailing SCOOP and WCOOP, it portrays the total guaranteed prize pool against the total number of events. We, obviously— maybe not obviously, but there was quite a difference in the number of events for something like WCOOP compared to SCOOP. I know SCOOP has the three tiers, so you’re going to see more events there. It was a bit of a very up and down line on that graph and then I noticed that since 2017 that seemed to flatten out.

Nick: This time we talked about the average guarantee per event which is something that we talked about quite a lot. It’s quite an interesting indicator to obviously every series could be massive they could guarantee however much they have wanted even they have more tournament. You could guarantee 200 million, the series could last two months, and you could have a thousand events. That even wouldn’t mean much even though it’s via a high number. What we look at as well is the average guarantee per event.

With SCOOP this year, I’ll just bring out the numbers there 370,000 is the average guarantee per event which is a slight increase on last year which is good to see and that definitely shows that although the schedule has expanded 22,101 individual tournaments this year which is an increase on last year. They’re still guaranteeing an average more per each event. Going back to what you’re saying there, Mike, with WCOOP, of course, classically WCOOP was PokerStars’ most prestigious series and they didn’t have this three-tier. They have one-tier. They were all high buying events. You had a much higher average guarantee per event of over 600,000.

Then in 2017, or is it 2016, I think 2017, they added in the mini WCOOP, one lower tier. In 2018, for the very first time, they made it just a standard three-tier tournament series. What we’ve got now is it used to be spring usually the time where everyone could play. The bind starts like $2 and high binds go up to a few hundred dollars and then the main events overall three-tiers they would guarantee at least a million, but everyone could take part and WCOOP was the more prestigious high buying stuff. If you wanted to play, you have to sack your way in. Now they’re pretty much the same. They have roughly the same number of tournaments across the same buy-ins, guarantee that same amount, slight increments each time. Last WCOOP was 380,000 average guaranteed, 70 million total. SCOOP’s very similar this time around.

Mike: Yes. I think this speaks to the depth of some of the data and some of the graphs that we have over on Poker Industry PRO. I was actually looking at a graph that was the number of events versus the total guaranteed prize. They do have a very similar shape.

Nick: Yes, absolutely. Although it’s expected to go up 75 million and we expect it to easily cover, it’s still good to see that. It only shows the appetite for big scale online poker tournaments it’s still there amongst poker players. PokerStars is announcing this a couple of days away from their $10 million guaranteed Sunday Million anniversary. The investment into big-ticket MTT tournaments is absolutely still there. To see the average guarantee growing as well is further indication that the investment is there from the online poker prizes.

Mike: A difference that we’ve seen this year compared to other years is the scheduling. They were often this big tournament series would run together because the operators figured that while people were online playing they might as well play multiple sites. Similar to maybe how you have restaurants that are all grouped together in one location. They feed off each other. This year, it seems to be a little different.

Nick: Yes. Everybody is running theirs this month basically except for PokerStars. They’re either running now and Partypoker’s powerfest is running now. In a bit, we’ll have Unibet. They’ve just announced their series five. Which also, is worth noting that is their largest they’ve ever run as well, a slight increment to the three that they ran last year and the one they ran in January. That’s running soon. The GGNetwork’s one that we’ve just talked about, that’s running this month. SCOOP was going to be standing on its own next month.

This is interesting, we saw Partypoker say that, “We don’t look at what PokerStars does anymore. We’re going to just do our big festival.” They’re really tied to their $30 million guarantee, which through one lens was their largest ever, through another lens was quite a bit smaller. It really depends what your comparative is. I think we talk about that two or three weeks ago.

Something interesting that we did see happen was Partypoker also announced that they were going to run KO series next month. Not their big flagship one. Another series they run three times a year that’s bounty only tournaments. That was scheduled to run next month and it was over two weeks. When SCOOP series was announced it was going to be overlapped by one week. Then we wrote about SCOOP and we wrote about KO series, and Partypoker changed their schedule to align exactly with SCOOP.

Both KO series and SCOOP will run over exactly the same two weeks next month. A pleasant coincidence or in fact they do actually still look at each other’s schedules. That will be another $30 million apparently. The no-schedule chance is just a small note on their website. That’s a huge guarantee for a bounty only series if Partypoker does run it.

Mike: $30 million, to be a footnote. That seems a bit underplayed on their part, but who knows? Maybe we’ll start to see that promoted a bit more as the weeks progress.

partypoker MILLIONS Online

Nick: This leads quite nicely into the next segment on this podcast. When talking about Partypoker’s scheduling and changing things after the last minute is Partypoker millions online, which we had some exclusive details on PokerNews a week or two back. Then a bit less exclusive details, a few days later. Mike, would you like to read us a bit about the history of Millions Online and what happened in the last couple of weeks?

Mike: I could tell you about the immediate history. What recently happened is that last year they ran Millions Online and it was the largest online poker tournament ever held. The total prize pool reached nearly $22 million. We saw that Party was getting ready to release some information on the 2019 running. They have actually put a web page up that indicated that once again there would be a $20 million guaranteed prize pool, but it seems like recently that bit of information has been scrubbed off the website.

Nick: Yes. Just to be clear, this was not— we would have to be worried because poker rooms, in general, can be little lacks with the information they put on their websites. We won’t just run something because there’s a tiny little mistake on a web page or an update. This was very clearly a new page they put up. It said that it was once going to give me $20 million guaranteed to have the dates for the 2019 series. It was clearly a proactive publication of information about these upcoming meetings online.

That’s obviously quite a big deal because the last event, which had $20 million guaranteed covered by 10%, was a big undertaking for Partypoker. They covered it, they run guaranteed tickets satellites for many, many months to satellite people into this to make this guarantee. As they covered, there’s probably quite a bit of cost in getting people in seats by giving away these tickets. It was a near year-long effort to do this. This is an event that’s November December. To launch it now very quietly in April with that, again, is a pretty big deal.

Mike: Just to be clear, the dates are November 24th through December 4th currently. Those are always subject to change, but they’re scheduled to run it for just under two weeks, 12 days, I believe it is. The interesting part is that the buy-in which, was at the $5,000 price point, was it 5,300 last year?

Nick: Yes.

Mike: It is now going to be a 10K buy-in.

Nick: Well, this year. You should probably just make it clear that as it stands today, the $20 million guarantee is up in the air. That information was since removed after we published our article. We’ll circle back to this, but I wanted to make that clear before we talk about the buy-in. This was opposition because they talked about in January, February time that all of them, millions of events including online, were going to be at $10,000 or whatever the local currency is buy-in. It will be double the buy-in than the last time if they were to go this route.

Mike: We have seen evidence on other pages of their site where they are giving away, for example, to Diamond Club elite members a seat to what they’re calling the $10,000, 300 millions online. There is some indication that that is the price point they are going with this year, in addition to the statement that they had made earlier, which could have played into the decision to rethink the $20 million guarantee.

Nick: The tid bit of information at this point is that Patrick Leonard, an ambassador for Partypoker and quite an outspoken social media commentator on Partypoker industry as a whole, replied to our social media and our article and said— Can you remember what he said , Mike?

Mike: I think he put a question mark on the end of his statement, but it was something like, “Double the buy-in double the guarantee? Pinky face.”

Nick: That absolutely can’t be the case, guy. If you were to ask me now, I still think it’s going to be $20 million guarantee.

Mike: Yes, maybe they’ll shoot up to 25. It seems like they are already starting later with their promotion than they did last year. They did reach nearly 22 million last year. The increased buy-in is definitely going to have an impact on the number of entries that they draw but 40 million just seems so, so ambitious. I’m not sure that they can realistically pull it off.

Nick: No. Whatever they do, they’re going to have to do quite soon because although it is only April, these things take long time to ramp up for and start running satellites. I guess we expect to see more information on this very soon, but that is where we are today.

Mike: We’ve reached out to them. We’ve tried to get them to disclose some information to us. Everything we’ve gotten was that they will make a statement in full on the prize pool in the very near future.

Nick: Something else they did say which again, was alluded to in the website copy that we saw but they did confirm, is that they planned for millions online to be part of a larger festival, a larger online tournament series.

Mike: Right, which I think there’s an indication that that may be a High Rollers series.

Nick: Yes. The thing is they did this in 2018. They had website copy the whole time that Millions Online will be part of High Rollers. I think it’s called High Rollers tourney series. I might be getting confused with my name because PokerStars also has High Rollers club now, but I think it’s called High Rollers. That ended up just not running up and until quite late it was promoted as I recall, and then information Millions Online based just round on its own.

It is like a seven-day event. I think there are multiple day ones and then it goes day two, three, four maybe five, something like that. This thing goes for a long time. It did start on its own. But they’re talking again now that this will be part of a larger tournament series. Let’s wait and see.

Again, we’re now just talking of just 20 million. If you’d asked me a month ago, I thought they might not run this at all because I think it’s quite costly. You can really again at like 5 million. I think that’s what it was before. I think the year prior, the first time they run it, was like five million guaranteed and they went 20 million. Pulled off potentially at some cost. I thought they would just stop. Just doing it again at 20 million would be quite an undertaking.

Mike: One of the opportunities that they have from a marketing perspective as well would be to a pro guarantee and first place, so I think it was somewhere maybe 1.3?

Nick: I think it’s 2.5, wasn’t it?

Mike: $20 million guarantees.


Mike: Here it is it says eventual winner was Manuel— I’m not even going to try and pronounce his screen name. I’m not even going to try and pronounce his last name. It was a guy named Manuel that took home just over 1.3 million. After a deal.

Nick: Yes, because they made four millionaires, didn’t they?

Mike: Now you’re testing my knowledge. It doesn’t go bad that far. I have written in the copy that we have at Pokerfuse that was basically a screenshot of the Partypoker Millions Online webpage. Yes, I can’t say for sure.

Nick: Let’s wait and see what they do here. I suppose is anyone’s guess at this point just how large and ambitious team Rob Yong and Tom Waters want to go on this one. I think it was two and a half million guaranteed, is that crazy sure?

Mike: Click here, alright. Last year, so I can see this page and it says he actually won 2.3, not 1.3.

Nick: Okay. It probably was 2.5 guaranteed. He made a deal?

Mike: Yes, it looks like they had it wrong on their 2019 page because it says 1.3 million after a heads up deal. But when you actually go back and look at their page that recaps the 2018 series, we see that it’s actually just over 2.3 million, and actually the second place finisher after the deal which is come from Mother Russia B— Again, I’m not going to try the last name. He took down 2.3 million as well. Third place has 1.3 million and fourth place is just under 1.1 million, so yes, Nick, you were correct. Four millionaires.

Global Poker Awards

Nick: I’m going to put my hands up and admit that I did not and still have not watched the GPI Global Poker Awards.

Mike: Really ? I did. I watched it live and then I think I went back and watched parts of it on the replay, which is free on PokerGO. If you want to know how to get there, check out F5 Poker, I think it’s linked at the top. You can go there and find your way over to the PokerGO page that has the replay on it. I thought it was very entertaining.

Nick: How long was it? I have interest.

Mike: It was I want to say about an hour and a half, maybe two hours. I don’t remember for sure. Just watching it, time seemed to go by quickly. It didn’t drag on.

Nick: Who had the best acceptance speech?

Mike: There were two good ones that I thought. I did and I guess they came out of from different perspectives, there was and— You’re putting me on a spot because I don’t remembered his name. Who is the big streamer guy?

Nick: Lex, didn’t he win streamer?

Mike: No. He did, but the most popular-

Nick: Brad Owen.

Mike: Yes, Brad Own . His speech was very comic and entertaining, so definitely one that I enjoyed. I also enjoyed Justin Bonomo speech. It was a bit more political in nature, but I think that it really tried to drive the point home about poker and variants and the idea of luck and privilege. I definitely appreciated his more serious take on it.

Perhaps another speech really stood out to me. If you watch it, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it was at the very beginning. The first award was Alex Foxen, and he got the GPA Player of the Year award. Then, Ali Nejad , who was the host part of his introduction of the female poker player of the year award, he introduced Kristen Bicnell as Alex Foxen’s girlfriend, which I was like, “Okay, you really didn’t have to do that.” He got totally, I won’t say exonerated but, the focus went off of what he did, because when Kristen got up there, it seemed like a majority of her speech was talking about Alex. It wasn’t just Ali bringing it up, it was was her.

You can tell it was coming from a point of genuine appreciation and she really wanted to take the time to acknowledge Alex and all the hard work you put in. It just seemed like, well, Ali introduced her as Alex’s girlfriend and then she came up and she talked for a majority of time about Alex as well. I thought that was kind of interesting.

Nick: Cool. We talked about this a few weeks ago when the things were first announced. We had a few criticisms about the awards at that point. The ones that I recall, where I think that we both agreed, was that there was almost no real online focus to it. It was all live despite it being the Global Poker Awards and the sponsor being PokerStars and streaming online poker, most of the awards were really live focused. The other criticism was there wasn’t really any defined criteria of how would you classify the best media content or the best stream. Would you say those two criticisms still hold up having watched the show?

Mike: Yes, I think so. Me having watched the show, I can tell you that I have a blind spot. That is what the awards even were. I remember people that came up there and gave their speech and won the awards, but what they were for seems to have faded into the background a bit for me. I think it was because of those reasons that you mentioned.

Even the criteria as well. Sometimes you have to be careful not to be too specific on how people should judge a particular category. I just feel overall, even beyond the media category, that the ceremony and the awards themselves would benefit from having a bit more clarification on what the criteria for each award will be.

Nick: Yes. One thing that I was concerned about was that this just seems so last minute that the end production result would be poor, I guess, but that that didn’t bear out at all. You said to me just for recording that it was really good.

Mike: Yes, it was super high-end production. It looked great. The video feed, big shout out for me to Ali Nejad because I thought he was fabulous. He did really, really good. There was a very emotional speech in the beginning by Eric Danis, president of GPI. I think it showed very well. Regardless of things that we may want to see as improvements with regards to the awards themselves from a spectacle standpoint, it really, really came off well.

Nick: I think Eric must have been working 24 hour a day for a month straight to pull it off to the level he did. Huge props there. Again, all the all the feedback and the criticism, all the suggestions does just go to show. Remember, we talked about this last time, that is something that people want. People want to commend each other people want to shine a spotlight on the good in the industry, the good work people do both at the felt and behind the scenes. Kind of all criticisms come from that place of love, I suppose.

Mike: Yes. It also serves, to have that kind of discussion, to raise the profile of the event a bit, gets people talking about it, raises the buzz. It seemed like there was some other things that did that as well and maybe a little bit of social media sniping back and forth after the awards.

Nick: Yes, this is this would be my main exposure to it, is this spat going on between the hosts of the Chip Race podcast,- a podcast I’m a fan of and the guys over there, I think they do a good job- and Daniel Negreanu, who is also part of the DAT Poker Podcast. We won’t go through the whole …

Mike: He said, she said, or he said he said, whatever.

Nick: ... about that, but the thing is that these two have— Or, I say, Daniel and I think both Dara and— Or maybe it’s just between Dara and Daniel, have had a spat going back a long time. This just seems to be like a further manifestation of that rather than something specific that happened.

Mike: Yes. There’s definitely some history that led to it. There were some incidences that happened at the event that continued to spark that on. We’ll point the listeners over to the social media feeds, Twitter, specifically, of the Chip Race and Daniel got


Nick: Yes, ultimately, Daniel said, “Ooh,” very audibly when they were announced as winners of the podcast and then apparently, also said that during the voting, there’s some judges who’ve … . It’s not some huge, massive scandal that happened live.

Mike: No.

Nick: The main thing is that this is what the whole show all about. You have big spats about— You look at the Oscars, the only thing I hear about them is all the drama that goes around with it. If it didn’t have that, it wouldn’t be on my radar at all. An award show absolutely needs people saying how somebody should never have won and someone saying, “This person was totally snubbed.” The Brad Owen thing was really, really good for exactly that reason. Honestly, this spat between the two podcasts is fantastic. That’s exactly why it’s on your radar.

Something that I was listening to— one more podcast to name drop , which is The Fives. I was listening to that this week. One criticism from those guys, which I absolutely agree with, or something that needs to start happening now for the next awards show is when big events happen, the GPI should be there going like, “Oh, will this win for next year?” You can start the ramp up for the next award show now and say, “This is a great piece of media content, what a great moment,” share that clip and say, “This has got to be shortlisted for next year. What do you think?” You’ve got to have that build up. You were saying before we started recording, Mike, that even now, you feel like the GPI website could be doing more to promote the award show that’s just passed.

Mike: Yes. I was actually going to write a piece of content on it, so I figured, where’s the best place to go to find out who won is the GPI website, but when I got there, there was no list of winners. There was a twitch box right at the top, but it didn’t have even the replay of the award ceremony, so, yes, there’s things that can be improved upon. I definitely think that trying to keep the name of the awards and the idea of the categories in the media throughout the year, like you said, to nominate. When you see something good, let’s throw the Global Poker Awards tag on it and let’s get it out there and get it promoted. That will be a good move forward.

Nick: Of course, we’re already a third of the way through the [year] . We just got January’s PSPC. We could be talking about that now, about how that’s got to be a highlight for next year’s awards.

Mike: Right. Through the lens of the awards, to look at all of the occurrences that happened throughout the year through that lens, I think could be a really good marketing approach for the guys over at GPI.

Nick: Yes. We’re going to keep pushing for more online awards. D o you think having watched it, that there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have had like, best poker software or best online poker tournament sales, or do you feel like that wouldn’t have really fitted into that?

Mike: Well, no. I think that it definitely— I admit that I’m biased because we come from that world of online poker, so I definitely think that it would fit in well. One thing that got me thinking is when you look at all of the poker podcasts that are out there, it strikes me that we were one of the very few, we are one of the very few that is not hosted by poker players. The Fives, those guys don’t strike me as regular players themselves, Lance and Donnie, but they do talk about and talk to players, so they do have that connection. I think we are probably one of the very few that just talk about the news. I don’t know.

Nick: Yes. If we’re not on the list—


Nick: All right, let’s— We’ll keep our nomination pitch down to a minimum on this show. I thought it was a great event. It was well-pulled off. Props to those guys and hoping that we can continue the momentum going into 2019.

Bots and Seating Scripts

One of the biggest risks or detractions, challenges— Let’s call it that. One of the biggest challenges for online poker is to keep the automated software tools and what is commonly referred to as bots under control.

We saw one of the major online poker operators come out this week and talk about their experience with bots recently, which isn’t something that we always get. There’s not always complete transparency. Partypoker did come out this week and talk about steps they have taken to help clean up the game.

Nick: You absolutely hit the note there which is there’s no real transparency with this. Not just partypoker but all operators really. Partypoker said between December 1st and March 31st, so a four month period, they closed 277 accounts which they associated entirely with running bots and confiscated or reimbursed, redistributed $735,000 back to players who were impacted by these bots.

You have this problem with all stories by this, and this is just in the mainstream media as well is that— I suppose we’re guilty of it because we wrote this article, and we present these absolute figures. There’s nothing to compare it to. Is that a lot? Is that 10 times what they did the time previous? That number just kind of sits there. It sounds like it works out something like $2000, $2500 per account. These bot accounts weren’t just sitting there playing with $10 in their account playing micro stakes. Were bot people doing withdraw their money that frequently? Don’t really know.

We’re not going to sit and pretend that we know the inner workings of this industry because rarely do these numbers come across our desk to write about.

Mike: Yes. Even further on the transparency point is we have no idea how much these bots took off of human players.

Nick: Yes, absolutely.

Mike: That lack of transparency there, there’s been plenty of reasons stated by operators in the past as to why they don’t disclose that figure, and there may be some legitimacy to that. I’m not trying to say that there isn’t, but not being able to see that information, I think just cast a bigger cloud over the entire topic.

Nick: The other nugget of information were released in this press release from partypoker were they have a new poker fraud team in charge of hunting out these accounts and closing them and redistributing money. They said that it comprises former professional poker players which is curious. They say, “People who are equipped with the necessary knowledge and expertise to investigate suspicious activity and aid partypoker in ridding the site of unscrupulous accounts”.

Again, this is one of these I hate to be negative because it’s obviously a great effort, but the first thing you think is, “Were you not doing this until December 1st, 2018?” I think a lot of people are going to think that. They also say, “More than 75% of the account closures came as a result of detection. Thanks to this newly created fraud team”, which again is just like , A, 25% weren’t due to them, so what were they due to? If 25% is still through player reports, that’s a very poor percentage, but of course, if it’s 25% through the other things that you have internally , that’s fine.

But then are you saying prior to December 1st 75% were just not being detected. Kudos that you’ve taken that step, but it’s clearly made a huge change. It’s worth stressing at this point that other operators absolutely have this problem, the biggest online do. PokerStars have had bot ring closures in the past. I think there was a big ring in PLO two or three years ago. They were at the double-or-nothing tables.

Mike: Wow. You’re going way back now.

Nick: That led to them stopping offering that format because it was so conducive to—

Mike: Difficult to police.

Nick: Yes. Winamax had people at the Lottery Sit and Go games as recently as last year two players who were considered using bots or automated tools. This is a widespread problem. It’s fantastic that partypoker is getting that information out, but the other context there, Mike, is why they’ve announced this now which I find interesting.

Mike: Before we get into the why, I will say that before all of the questions that they have, that the press release leaves, I still think they did a pretty decent job of spinning it into a positive, so I’ll give them kudos there, for sure. The next question is, what other steps are they taking? I think that Rob Yong has, once again, reiterated that they’re going to be removing other third party tools such as HUDs, the use of HUDs on their site.

Nick: Yes, this is why they put this press release out now, in my mind. Rob Yong stated— I found it a bit strange at the moment that a lot of the news is coming from him, who’s doing interviews with journalists rather than formal statements. He said about a month ago to a journalist Calvin Ayre, Lee Davy that HUDs would be banned soon, I think, so all HUDs would be banned. He stated again in a video podcast with Jeff Gross, who’s their recent ambassador, former PokerStars’ ambassador, that all third party tools would be banned.

He reiterated that HUDs by the end of this month would be banned, all tracking. They would prevent hand history downloads. Everyone would have an alias change. There will be a new replayer. Basically going full no third party tools at all, so following in the footsteps of Unibet, Run It Once Poker, and definitely the trend that we’re seeing in the industry. Big change.

I think one criticism when any site does this, and absolutely in the case of partypoker, is that players say, “How are we going to be able to police your games? We’re detecting these bot accounts. We’re reporting them to you. We need to know this information. We want tracking stats on our players because we can identify when they exhibit behaviors like bots”. I see this was an immediate response at this press release saying, “Look, we feel we can confidently do this now because we have this new fraud detection team”.

Mike: Question and maybe your recollection is better than mine. Is this the first official announcement than we’ve seen out of partypoker with regards to reimbursing players as a result of closing down bot accounts?

Nick: It is the only one that I’m familiar with. That’s not to say they haven’t done it.

Mike: They may just not have promoted it or put it out in a press release.

Nick: Yes, I’ll be honest, I’ll be surprised if players had not had some reimbursements, but I don’t remember any PR about it. It’s only that PokerStars has done a bit in the past, and players often go on forums and say, “Hey, I’ve had this money back into my account”, that kind of thing, and they receive an email saying, “This is due to these accounts getting closed”. Partypoker , I think, is I would say less forthcoming about that. Obviously, PokerStars is absolutely been a big target because they have the liquidity. I imagine the unscrupulous players and bot operators feel like they can fly under the radar a bit more just because it’s such a huge player base.

I wouldn’t be surprised if PokerStars has been the brunt of it for a long time. They absolutely do have invested a lot and have world-class detection, which might have led bot operators go onto the smaller sites. It’s great to see— The top line is for me is it’s great to see partypoker talking about this now. I hope they continue to and they’re not just doing it one time to try and quash the concerns about the banning of HUDs.

Mike: Yes. As the industry tends to move and shift towards less allowance for third party tools, we are also seeing that PokerStars is taking further steps in limiting seating scripts.

Nick: Yes. Not to say we called it, but we kind of called it a few weeks ago when PokerStars announced their new rules regarding automated seating scripts, which are tools which you click a button and it automatically find a good table for you to sit in based on if a player is color-coded, you’ve color-coded them as a not particularly good player, or you have statistics saying that they’re very loose and passive or something like that. Will automatically seat you in tables in seats that fit your criteria. They’re automated seats, and PokerStars prohibited that if the tool used player profiling. They did that a month or two ago.

We said at the time, we said on this podcast that a problem with that approach is that third party tools would try and work around it and follow the line of that rule but find clever things to do. That’s kind of exactly what happened.

Mike: Right. What we saw was the result, was from changes that these seating script developers had made to their product. We saw just an abundance of reserved seats at tables, and players were having a hard time trying to find a seat. You’d look at a table, and you’d see just flooded with these reservations and no players sitting in the seats.

Nick: Yes, I believe what happened was that these tools— They couldn’t use color coding or statistics, so they purely used the metric of whether a table was filling up fast I think. I’m guessing here, but potentially, there’s just that waterfall effect of one seating script goes, “We’ll join that”. Then another seater goes, “Someone’s just join that. I’ll join that table. There’s only one seat left. I’ll join that”. Now, you’ve got two or three people playing three reserved seats, and then all the players go, “I don’t want to take that seat because those are all clearly seating script people who’ve got the reserve seat”. Then no one takes it, so then tables never fill.

That’s my guess of what happened. This only came out in the last 12-24 hours, so I might have got the specifics there wrong. Broadly speaking, PokerStars tried to do a middle of the road thing with the seating scripts. The tool developers did something clever to get around it. Tried to use different metrics to decide. The end result was worse than it was better. PokerStars now disband all automated seat scripts regardless of what criteria they use which I’m surprised they didn’t just do it from the start, but that’s where we are today.

Mike: We haven’t yet received any press release on the complete banning, have we?

Nick: No, we haven’t. This actually kind of an old school throwback to how PokerStars used to operate two, three years ago, which is they process information on Two Plus Two and then we write these story about it. This very, very rarely happens. It’s really quite strange. Someone started a thread on Two Plus Two saying “I’ve started this petition”. How old school is that? You start a petition. You start a petition saying we need to ban all seating scripts because this has happened, and then within hours almost like the a skeptic might think this was a constructed thing. I don’t think it was, but within hours a new green named PokerStars representative came on and said “Yes, we’ve addressed this and banned all seating scripts”, and that’s where we are.

Mike: I would be very surprised if it was completely a reaction to the thread being started. I have a feeling that PokerStars follows their games close enough to have seen what was happening, so this was probably coincidental in timing. I expect that a some point we are going to see an official press release. I haven’t checked to see if their terms and conditions have been updated on the site. It’s likely that that’s coming as well.

Nick: Yes, we do have an official statement from PokerStars stating that this has happened and that they’ll ban. We’re confident on that. Another factor is that this might have actually just happened very fast. Maybe a tool yesterday did an update which completely just changed the environment. All of the sudden now there’s a few hundred people using this tool, and it’s auto reserving your seats.

Mike: I don’t think that was the case. I did some digging around in Two Plus Two yesterday, and I saw that some of the posts complaining about these reserves had gone back away. It wasn’t just within the last day or two.

Nick: I’m just glancing at our show notes here, and we’ve got one little thing to mention which is something that happened at Americas Cardroom that I saw you wrote Mike, on F5 Poker . I haven’t read anything about, so maybe you can finish us off with that.

Mike: All right. This goes back to the whole bot topic, and it turns out that there was a streamer. His name is Eric Collier, if I’m correct. Let me pull it up. Yes, Eric Collier, and he got down to heads up in a $16.50 buy in with a 10k guarantee, and while he’s streaming this on Twitch, it turns out that his opponent was a bot. The opponent folded every hand preflop while they were heads up.

Nick: That could be— I don’t know. I’m trying to play devil’s advocate.

Mike: The person that we know, the streamer, Eric Collier, the live player, the real human, started at more than a two to one chip disadvantage when it got down to heads up. Even the last hand I think he folded 180,000 chip big blind to a mid raise leaving him less than 12000 chips- [crosstalk]

Nick: I’ll tell you what it is. I’ve got a theory.

Mike: Let’s hear it.

Nick: The person was away from keyboard, so there was nobody at the computer but he has a tool which if you get sat out automatically sits you back in again, which is a tool that exists because I know most tables have that. It’s a hot-key thing that will sit you back in if you sit out.

Mike: Wow. In theory that sounds okay, but there’s no way because the account in question knocked out the third player to get to heads up.

Nick: Yes, it’s a player he’s playing, and then there’s an emergency fire in the apartment, gets a call. He’s taken away, but he’s got a software that keeps him sat back in. I think that’s more likely than it’s a bot.

Mike: Really? More likely?

Nick: Yes, that tool definitely exists. It’s useful because if you’re multi-tabling, you always sit out at tables, but you want to get sat back in. It’s more likely than if it’s a tournament. I don’t know if you— I don’t know. A bot in a multi-table tournament where a human doesn’t sit in when it gets to the final table or heads up would surprise me, honestly. If there’s a lot of money in, then normally you would think someone would sit in at that point.

Mike: All right. I’ll put that out there as a possibility. I will also say that you should be expecting to get a call from Americas Cardroom public relations teams and maybe get a job offer coming your way maybe.

Nick: [laughs] All right.

UFC Spins and PokerStars VR

Mike: Branding is something that we commonly see in the online poker world, and there was a release of— I was just going to say release of new Spin & Go’s, but that’s not actually what it turned out to be. We did see a new branding partnership recently between the UFC and PokerStars, and the new UFC branded Spin & Go’s did hit the tables this week. Nick, you have thoughts on that topic?

Nick: I don’t get it. I just do not understand it. The timeline I’m roughly is I think it was in January that PokerStars signed this deal with UFC, so Poker Stars name is on the billboards, in the UFC televised matches. I said matches again.

Mike: On the pitch.

Nick: Yes, on the pitch. It’s a big branding deal. Then a month ago, we had a little exclusive story that they were planning these UFC themed Spin & Go’s. We guessed at the time that maybe they’d be four-handed, maybe they’d be knockout, maybe something a bit different. A couple of weeks ago, a story on F5 where we suggested that in fact maybe they won’t be that much different; they’ll just be three-handed. Yet they came out this week, and it surprised me still that all they have done is all Spin & Go’s are now just branded UFC Spin & Go, so they’re not an extra game, a different game. They’re just called UFC Spin & Go’s now.

Mike: We were talking a bit about this before we jumped on the air, and I guess I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. It seemed like a perfectly good branding exercise, partnership to reach new people. Nick, you thought there was more opportunity there.

Nick: It just seems like a missed opportunity. I get it. I suppose what they’re saying is the idea is they want to bring in new players with this. People are going to see the PokerStars brand because they’re watching the UFC match, and they go on PokerStars, and they’ll see there’s this UFC themed promotion. Another thing is that this was released with no promotions at all. They’re just starting to trickle out some promotions. The PR just came across our desk in the last half an hour or so about a free roll I think, or I think you can win to go and watch the next UFC fight, but it was released with no other promotions. There it is. Player come down. There’s a UFC game, and you play the UFC game.

I suppose I get that, but I just feel like, A, are they always just UFC themed Spin & Go’s now, or within a year’s time, will they just go back to Spin & Go’s? That just seems odd to me. Another thing which just doesn’t work is that PokerStars has Spin & Go Omaha, which is obviously PLO Spin & Go’s, and they have Spin & Go Max. You’ve got the PokerStars client. The top tab at the top says UFC Spin & Go. You click on that, and then you got UFC Spin & Go’s. They’re the Hold’em ones s. Then you also have Spin & Go Max, and they’re not UFC themed, but they sit under a UFC Spin & Go tab because they’re all UFC.

If you playing Max, the tables don’t look like the octagon. They look like Spin & Go Max because it’s a different game, and that wouldn’t work. The Omaha ones are still Omaha. They’re not UFC themed, but they’re regular ones. Just from a users’ point of view, you’re like, “Okay, these are specially UFC ones”, but they’re the least, the most normal, common. There’s 20 different buy-ins of them, and then you have UFC themed Spin & Go’s, which send you to Monte Carlo to play in the EPT Monte Carlo package. You have a UFC themed Spin & Go to win a ticket to the Sunday Million. You’re playing on the octagon to win an EPT ticket. It seems so strange.

Why not have Spin and Go and then UFC is Spin and Go which is four-handed. Why not that? Then existing players will be interested, and new players will be like, “It’s a special UFC thing”. It makes sense because maybe the game ties in with UFC fights a bit, rule change.

Mike: Think of live poker. We often see sponsors on felt. This is a bit grander scale than that but same concept.

Nick: Why not just make them heads up? You could have heads up Spin and Go’s, can you? Why not have that?

Mike: Winner take all, obviously.

Nick: A random prize. Why not have that? They did this with their knock out tournaments. They branded heavily with— I can’t remember one of their sports stars at the time. Is it Neymar or somebody? I suppose they’ve got that a bit more because it was a new tab. It was a new thing. It was a new branding. It was a new lobby. This is just like a theme replacement. I’m not sure if it’s— I don’t know.

Mike: From my perspective, I think that all the things that you’re talking about would be fabulous ideas. What I see that would be targeted at their existing player base. I think what they’re doing is probably targeted at bringing new players in because improving upon the format of a Spin and Go is not going to have as big an impact on a new player that’s new to PokerStars as it would on an existing player. I think that their main objective here is to reach new audiences.

Nick: Wouldn’t you think if you’re a fan of UFC, you see a PokerStars brand, you’re going to play poker? You see a UFC game you expect it to relate to UFC in some way?

Mike: Yes, perhaps. Perhaps. I think that would be an added maybe a perk that a UFC fan would find when playing the game is that it relates a little bit more to the sport that they love for sure.

Nick: Another thing that PokerStars announced this week which I think it’s worth just dipping into very briefly is PokerStars VR so something that we both played with a little bit. We might have talked about on this podcast before, I’m not sure.

Nick: I don’t know.

Mike: This week they announced that— They announced that- I found interesting through their PR -that they were getting new features in PokerStars VR. Main one is they’ve added sit and go tournaments. That was how the PR was structured. The thing that I found was most interesting and what I read about is that they’ve added monetization. As I’m understand up till now there was no monetization in the game. It was a free play game. They have now added that you can spend real money to purchase free chips so just like Zynga Poker or PokerStars social poker app. I think it’s called Jackpot Poker. You can now purchase chips to play. That’s changed the entire economy of it. Sorry, go ahead.

Mike: I was going to say that my first impression was, wow, there was already a barrier in place for me to play a poker VR game in that I needed to go out and purchase an Oculus Rift or some other headset. Now, on top of that, there’s also the added cost of purchasing play chips. That was my initial reaction. I think looking at it now there does need to be some way to manage the chip economy within that environment.

Nick: You still get free chips, so you can still play for free. Just like with Zynga Poker you can still— If you sign up you get let’s say 10,000 chips I believe. I think they still have it that if you dip below that after a week or on a weekly basis, your account will reset to 10,000 chips. You can still play the low-stakes game, the low buyin tournaments, the low buyin cash games, and you can constantly do that. Again, this is always like it’s free to play. If you want to play the high stakes games and you don’t want to grind your way up playing these things, you can spend real money to enter the high roller tournament.

I see your point that yes you would have to, obviously, invest a lot. This is always the thing with the VR is that I doubt anyone’s going to go out and buy a headset because there’s PokerStars VR. It’s only going to attract the people who already have it, or you’re going to get a critical mass where there’s enough VR games that people go and pick one up.

Nick: Sure. Look at it this way, let’s say that you already have the headset, and you’re out there. You’re playing PokerStars VR, and you bust your role in an hour. This gives you a way to continue playing on the site, which increases their liquidity and increases their reach. It gets them the gain to be more popular because without that way to get additional chips on demand, you’d have to wait until the period- [crosstalk]

Mike: Yes, I presume that’s true. I guess in theory, it have been that if you busted your whole roll, you would just instantly get more chips.

Mike: Right, but then that leads us back to managing- [crosstalk]

Nick: Yes. Another thing that they did with this was they’ve added rake for the first time so cash games a rake of 5% and tournaments a rake to 10% which fairly standard, but obviously something you want to do if you want to add internal value to your chips which have no external and extrinsic value. I think I’ve just made that word up: extrinsic. They’ve added rake in. They’ve also added these clear tier of buy ins, and they’ve added their sit and goes. I think the highest buy in sit and go is let’s say like a million or something like that, which you would have to grind a lot to get that or spend quite serious money. It was like $50 if you wanted to just buy your entry to the highest stakes sit and go. There’s opportunity to play for real high money in this obviously fake world.

I’ve also found interesting which I’m not sure if it was done in any other kind of social poker free play game which is the cash game tables, you have to have a minimum bankroll as well as a minimum buy in. To sit down at the 1 million chip buy in tables, you have to have a bankroll of at least 5 million.

Mike: Yes, that’s interesting. I don’t remember seeing that before in any other free to play poker game.

Nick: No, I guess it stops people get like sitting down with one buy in and busting it. I guess it was kind of a play protection mechanism.

Mike: Yes, maybe increases the realistic nature of the game in that way. Because yes, you don’t have people just taking shots with two or three big buyins.

Nick: I think the most interesting thing about this piece of news is obviously PokerStars thinks it’s worthwhile to try and monetize this game, which has got to be a good sign. We know that it’s proved popular within the pretty small niche that is VR gaming. I think it’s ranked quite high in the VR games. It’s got a lot of really positive reviews. We’ve played it when we’re in the PCA. I know you were frustrated because you kept smashing your hand on the desk. There were some technical issues, but my experience once I got involved was it was good.

The other thing it was genuinely really social. You’ve got a headset on; people are talking. Real people are talking, and I actually felt like a bit nervous playing because there’s other people sitting there criticizing you. It’s quite hard to pick your chips up, and there’s real people going like “Dude, just put your hand down”. It was a real experience.

Mike: It’s definitely different from online poker in that regard in that you have— There’s that added level of social interaction. You have chat in online poker, but this is completely different.

Nick: Imagine sitting down playing in one of these new sit and go tournaments, and it’s a million chip buy in. That is you’ve either spent $50 to buy that stack, or you’ve grinded like a few weeks to build that up. There’s probably like real tension there. That’s going to feel pretty close to a real money poker experience, which I think is— It’s fascinating I think PokerStars has taken that step. It’s definitely a good signal that they’re pleased with how this product is going. I wish I had a headset so I could watch it a bit more closely. I’m not sure if there’s anyone out there stream because I know it’s got built in streaming as well. I’m not sure if there’s anyone out there that’s streaming it.

Mike: Streaming of free to play games is probably not as popular as real money, but I think I have seen some of the PokerStars pros stream, I believe— I don’t even want to say because I think it was Jeff Gross when he was still with Stars was doing a home game, or maybe that was intention. I can’t remember if he actually went through with it. I was a bit surprised at how quickly they rolled this out. VR has been— They announced it when— Last August they disclosed it to the media in Barcelona, and it’s really only been a matter of months since it’s been open to the general public. This is a pretty big step forward.

Nick: Yes, I know they’re working with an external development team. Lucky VR I think it is behind the game itself. I’m not sure if they were using— they already have an existing poker VR game that’s being reworked and rebranded, or at least they’ve got an existing kind of toolset that they’re using. They’ve certainly turned this around fast. I find this a very interesting direction. As we know, the free play market through the lens of Zynga is huge. They are up there in terms of like how much partypoker make in real online revenue from from poker. There’s a lot of money in social poker games. Obviously, VR is going to be a much smaller niche, but yes, very interesting direction.

Mike: Yes. I can say that if an Oculus Rift headset magically appeared in your mailbox and mine, we’d probably be more— There’d probably be more conversation on future podcasts in regards to the PokerStars VR product.

Nick: Yes. 100% agree. If one of those boys— You’re right on that. And obviously a powerful enough computer to use that headset because you can’t just plug it into any old laptop. Probably, on my doorstep would have to be a really beefy computer.

Mike: Yes, a gaming computer. Yes, sure. Why not?

Nick: So PokerStars, UFC, PokerStars VR both in the news this week.


Mike: All right. I haven’t looked at the timer on our recording yet, but I’ve got to imagine that it’s approaching the one hour mark. I think it’s probably time for us to wrap up. Nick, would you say?

Nick: Yes, it’s the official double length edition, and we won’t be making a habit of this, for sure.

Mike: Season two, episode one in the books. Thanks everyone for tuning in. We’ll catch you next time.