Power Up is on its way out at PokerStars, but we have uncovered some new games that are on their way, Nick and Mike discuss what they are and how they might be different from standard Texas Hold’em. The guys also talk about updates to the Wire Act case and the announcement of PACOOP. Samantha then joins to pod to talk listeners through the ever-changing landscape of poker ambassadors at PokerStars.


Full Transcript

Mike: Hello, and welcome everybody to the Pokerfuse podcast. It is November 15th, 2019. This is Episode 33. I’m your host, Mike Gentile along with my co-host, Nick Jones. This week on the podcast it’s out with the old and in with the new as we revealed that after a two-year run, PokerStars is planning to remove its ambitious esports style poker game Power Up, but we also uncover two new games to launch soon.

Updates from the States. The US Department of Justice has requested an extension to file to response to the Wire Act case, and PokerStars has revealed details of PA COOP, its first MTT series in Pennsylvania.

Finally, PokerStars is once again saying goodbye to more of its ambassadors. This time, it’s with Boeree and Igor Kurganov putting down their patches.

Power Up is Out But 2 New Games Are Coming to PokerStars

Nick: It has been a one-two punch for exclusive news over on Pokerfuse and Poker Industry PRO this week in terms of PokerStars and their novelty product launches their limited edition game. On Tuesday, this week, we reported that Power Up, a long-standing game that they have had over two years now in the PokerStars client, that will be removed. We think in the next week that it’ll be taken down from the client. We also think it’s going to be replaced fairly quickly with two new games. One called Deep Water, which I think we might have talked about on this podcast before, and another one that was all new that we haven’t heard of before called Tempest.

Mike: Yes. I remember Deep Water the first exposure we had, the first hints that we had that that was going to be a new game coming out from PokerStars was right around April Fool’s Day. I remember it was published on F5 and we weren’t quite sure if they were messing with us, or if it was really going to be a game. It’s been in the pipeline for quite a while, or at least we’ve known about it for quite a while. Do we have a sense for what Deep Water Hold’em is going to be?

Nick: No, not really. We have the name. As you say, we first saw it back in April time, so it’s been, what over six, seven months now. We thought maybe they were messing with us and we’ve seen other games be hinted at and not come to launch. We also saw last year again a game called Fusion took about six months until it was launched. Other games leapfrogged it but it did ultimately launch. We saw an update to it again, in addition to an update to a game called Tempest.

That’s basically all we know they’re the two games obviously, thematically linked. They both have like a nautical maritime vibe to them. We have some demo screenshots, some— What’s the term? Some rough examples of what it think it might look like at the table. They have similarities to them, like similar kind of color palette, their logos have some similarities. Our best guess is they might be linked in some way.

Maybe they start with one game and then the other one comes along and it’s like a more advanced version or with a slight twist to the rules. Maybe even they both launched at the same time on a slight tweak. One is a slight twist on the other. Maybe you start at one table and you progress to the second one or the game turns into the second one.

Other than that, and we think maybe there are suggestions in some of the files that the game might have a variable ante, which is what it sounds like. Presumably, they’re under some condition. There’ll be antis in the game and it will change in size under some condition, of course, Deep Water deep would suggest potentially deep-stack play. That’s about it. Everything’s really guesswork from that point on.

Mike: Wow. Variable ante, have we seen that in any other games online? I don’t recall.

Nick: No. I can’t really think of anything. Obviously, if it’s varying, then, some condition is going to have to trigger so that the next hand maybe the ante is larger. You might be more familiar with it than me but, in live games, you have things like “kill pots” where something happens and-

Mike: Yes, that’s where I was thinking kill pot.

Nick: Something will trigger that it carries over to the next hand. The only other thing even like is where the condition changes between hands. It’s something like a mixed game where, obviously, after one rotation, the game goes on to something else. It’s pretty rare in any poker game that the game stays different in the next hand, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do there. I can’t think of any games just like it.

Honestly, the only thing that we can think is it something it is in a way like the strategic impact of an ante changing could be quite complex. If it’s quite large, if the next hand all of a sudden you’re playing for more money, your preferred ranges should change, your aggression levels should change. That is something that we talked about when Ronnie once launched Splash the Pot.

That was something that when they do this pots splash, they add money to the pot, there’s an additional strategic element there now. It might be ultimately the case you just go all in preflop, but if it’s just say an extra few big blinds, you’re playing a bit looser, you’re contesting the pot a bit more. There’s an extra strategic depth there that potentially might carry over from Ronnie wants to these new games.

Mike: Yes. There’s going to be quite a shift in strategy that’s going to be required if there’s a wide range of how much these antes can vary, going back to the kill pot thing. I guess that is a big difference because for listeners that may not be familiar, kill pots are the blinds go up if a player wins consecutive hands, for example, but that plays out differently because then to enter the pot, it costs more money even for somebody who’s not in the blinds. Whereas this varying ante- I guess that is it’s going to cost more for each player to enter the pot as well, so maybe it is quite similar to kill-pot strategy.

Nick: The only other aspect there is obviously we saw with six-plus hold’em and with PokerStars interpretation of the game and other operators, there everyone has an ante but then there’s also a live-button ante, so only the button has an ante. In theory it could just be a button’s live ante this variable or only added some things.

Again, this is purely- it’s not even guesswork, it’s just potential avenues this could take, but it doesn’t have to be everyone’s putting in more and then ultimately that will just make it a more expensive shallower game, wouldn’t it? Maybe they will stress deep, maybe starts off everyone’s got 200, 300 antes or something but under some conditions that increases so it becomes more like a short stat game. Who knows?

Mike: With these new games, you’d said that they will probably coincide and at least closely with removal of Power Up. We expect then these games to be temporary again like most of the other innovative features that have come out of PokerStars.

Nick: Yes.We reached out to PokerStars when we saw some hints that this might happen and they did confirm that these two games that they’re working on and they did say that these will be limited edition games. In that same conversation, they told us the Power Up was going to be removed. It seems the two are potentially linked, the Power Up will come down that makes way some real estate ultimately in the Poker Clan for a new tab to appear for these new games. That would that would absolutely make sense. Did I answer your question? I can’t remember what [crosstalk]

Mike: Yes you did. One topic that we haven’t really touched on is Power Up going away. For those that may not be familiar, Power Up is like a hybrid game between an esports and poker bringing those two together. It has cards that are able to change the gameplay.

For example, you may be able to get to swap out one of your whole cards or switch one of the cards on the board, peek at your opponent’s cards, various things. It was pretty innovative for PokerStars to launch this type of hybrid game for real money. It had a decent run. I’m curious as to why maybe they are pulling the plug. I guess in the end it has to come down to popularity.

Nick: Yes, ultimately, I think that’s it. The statement that we got from PokerStars says, let me just bring it up here, that it had a strong and loyal following, but ultimately, we can summarize that it wasn’t strong and loyal enough. I can’t think of any reason other than ultimately it did not hit the engagement levels that PokerStars expected.

As you said, it was one of the most It’s ambitious things an operator has done. In my mind, it’s the only, I don’t want to say non-poker game. It’s the biggest deviation from a standard to poker game really that we’ve seen for an operator to offer for real money play in regulated markets. It didn’t ultimately go live in Spain or Italy, although there was talk of it.

I remember when it first came out, when we were first to download it, they talked about how to get it regulated in Spain. They wouldn’t be able to offer certain power cards because that wouldn’t be permitted. It changes the game of poker too much, but others will be possible. They have these plans. It’s got a really good mobile client.

The Polish that they added to this, the level that they added, they created a whole backstory behind the characters. There was this futuristic theme. They ultimately developed this whole new game engine that’s now built into the client. That’s now being used for all of their novelty or limited edition cash games. They’re really stuck.

Mike: That’s an Aurora, all right?

Nick: That’s what they now called Aurora. That’s really started with Power Up to do what they wanted to do. They had to build this new game engine. There was a lot invested into it. They say that a lot of that knowledge and skill is getting used now in other games, but it’s certainly a shame to see these demos, I think.

Mike: I was wondering why bother taking it down even if it has a small following? If it’s not flailing or not drawing liquidity away from other games, it probably doesn’t cost much for them to upkeep it. Something that I had read in one of the articles you wrote, Nick, was that it may be taking up valuable real estate space in the lobby?

Nick: Yes. They ultimately could keep. They definitely got games that I’m sure there’s some limits, some game types. They still have mixed rotation games and spread, but doogie and some high low game stuff that don’t get a lot of traction. Obviously, they feel like that’s should be part of the core poker offer. I mean Power Up could be demoted. It doesn’t have to have a big tab at the top. It still has a bait tag attached to it, but it could just be demoted and be kept for people to find. I’m guessing it’s like a team focus thing and a product dilution decision.

I think it’s ultimately smart. The easy decision is let’s keep it. It’s got a few players. It’s a cool thing to have. From a corporate decision, you must rather have one clear focus for your team of what you’re trying to do, how you’re trying to bring in players. It’s what you see out of companies like Google, for example. They start lots of projects. If it’s not hitting the levels of traction they expect, they’ll just cut it off even if it’s slightly profitable and even if it’s got quite a big following. If it’s not changing the world, then they’ll stop it and make these really tough decisions.

I think from that respect, it’s quite a bold decision for PokerStars. It would be easier to just keep it around and have that offer. I think the thing with this game, what they realized is that it’s not just going to self-promote itself. I wonder if that’s what they hoped for, like they would get people streaming it on Twitch, talking about it, communities will pop up, and it would advertise itself and acquire customers organically. Ultimately, I think that just hasn’t happened. When it launched, it did actually.

We saw a couple of strategy site s pop up. One team of Twitch streams pop up that were ultimately acquired by PokerStars. I think they are sticking around to help them promote some of the other games like Deep Water, for example, that we’re talking about. It did initially get that, but it didn’t snowball into something bigger. It didn’t become this whole other community game. There wasn’t big discussions about strategy, about the meta behind the game or anything like that.

I think they found that for it to take the next step, it would require a big marketing push, which apparently, they weren’t willing to make. I think it was earlier this year they added a new power card called Syphon, which I think you pay the card, it steals energy from your opponents or stops them playing cards or something like that. They did have a bit of a promotion, like a leaderboard, but it was really lightly promoted, I think. Since then, I guess it’s been ultimately dormant at least from a product push perspective. Sad to see it go, but probably the right decision not to just leave around a lot of that technical debt of games and code.

Mike: We haven’t seen any other operator really give something like this a try. There are other games. HoldemX came out from Media rex a while back. What’s the other popular one now that is just being offered for real money?

Nick: Yes, Hands of Victory. It’s not offered for money, but Hands of Victory has been in development for like three years. We have articles from three, four years ago. I think it recently officially launched in the last month. I don’t think it’s for real money. The other ones he listed as well are free play like social games rather than real money games.

Mike: It’ll be interesting to see if any other operator undertakes a similar initiative trying to bridge that gap between esports and poker. It seems like there is a significant amount of overlap in the types of people that play both games. I could see that at some point, I would think that something would be able to succeed in that regard. I don’t know. Power Up was pretty significant. It was pretty well thought out, as you mentioned.

They went through the trouble of creating this entire backstory for the game. Yet, here we are years later and the plug is being pulled. I don’t know if anybody else will venture down that road or if perhaps something will emerge from the eSports side that is more esports and implements enough poker to make it a hybrid game, but it’ll be interesting to watch to see how this develops.

Nick: Yes. I think the biggest thing is will we ever see something that is that crossover that is offered for real money gaming? Because we need to come the esports side, I think there will be— What’s the point? A game like Hearthstone makes just such crazy amount of money without completely avoiding regulation at all and not requiring people to cash out.

People are willing to spend their money on these card packs without any expectation to win money and make withdrawals. PokerStar s was approaching it from the mindset of we’re real money gaming operator, that’s what we do. I think the real question is, would anyone try and undertake that and bridge those two worlds? I mean, absolutely, I think we could see a poker game with the trading card aspect in it or the power card aspect in it. You say, there’s three or four on the market. I’d be very surprised if we see a real-money gaming attempt again for any near term future.

Updates to the Wire Act and PokerStars PA Announces PACOOP

Mike: Online poker in the US is in a pretty interesting position these days. We have the new launch of online poker in Pennsylvania, but we’re also facing some challenges with regard to the ongoing case of the Department of Justice trying to reinterpret the Wire Act. That particular challenge that poses is if the DOJ is successful, then it’s very possible that shared liquidity across the states in the US will go away.

It’s even possible that the restrictions could be so intense, I guess, that in-state online poker could go away. Part of the problem that the DOJ sees is that data from online gaming can flow across state lines, which they consider to be illegal under the Wire Act. Previously, this was not thought to be a problem. That is the reason that shared liquidity between states would be a problem, but within a particular state, it’s often the case where data, while being routed to the routers or over the internet, could cross over state lines and back.

Particularly, if you’re using a cell phone, that data could bounce off a cell tower in a neighboring state and come back into the other state, which would then be deemed illegal under the DOJ’s interpretation of the Wire Act. That has been a case that has been ongoing in the US since earlier this year. We did see New Hampshire pushback and file lawsuit and was actually successful at the district court level in getting the opinion of the DOJ set aside, at least for them.

We did see the DOJ appeal that decision, and they were scheduled to file their appellate brief this week. The original due date was the 12th of November, but they did last week get an extension on submitting that brief. It looks like this case has been kicked down the road a bit.

Nick: Yes. The 11th hour they got this extension through, as I understand it, so they’ve got a bit more time to ultimately file their response to this appeal decision. Do we know to when this day is, this extension day?

Mike: Yes. The new date is in December, December 20th. It is about five and a half weeks beyond the original date. We actually reached out to prominent iGaming attorney Jeff Ifrah, for those of you that don’t know Jeff words. I think he came to prominence right after Black Friday because he was an attorney working for— At the time was it PokerStars or Full Tilt? I don’t even remember, but he took to the Two Plus Two forums to address the questions of players.

He rose to prominence back in that period. We reached out to him and we said, “What does this mean? Why would they be asking for this extension?” He told us that, “Well, it could be that they just need more time.” Given that the appeal was, I think, officially filed in August, but the case itself was decided in June. He seemed to think that that would be plenty enough time to put together a reason why they think that the decision in the district court was wrongly put forth.

Nick: Yes. It seems strange that they have five months or whatever to write their response. Then they need a few weeks more to finally cross the T’s and dot the I’s. Do you think you would get it done in that time? It does seem odd that it’s not like they’ve got like a six-month extension or something, this is just an extra few weeks to get something in.

Mike: Yes. To be fair to the DOJ, they do have a lot on their plate at the moment. Allot of the things that we’re seeing happen politically in the US are being funneled through or include the Department of Justice in some way or form. It could be a matter of priority. Absolutely. Jeff also intimated that perhaps they weren’t ready to put their official strategy into writing.

Now, why that would be, I’m not completely sure. Perhaps they will be seeking some sort of settlement. That’s another option of why we might see this extension going out. Perhaps there are talks where they could come to some sort of agreement that would perhaps not be as limiting as the opinion that they had put forth, that was basically rejected by the district court, and perhaps there’s going to be some compromise.

Nick: It seems in my mind that some kind of settlement could be very bad for proponents of, say, online poker and share liquidity across state lines, because we’d be looking for something in the books that’s very clear court decision, but a settlement might remove that opportunity to have absolute clarity behind their interpretation.

Mike: Right. In that particular case, the risk is that a new administration comes in and decides not to honor this deal or to take a different opinion on the Wire Act that is, again, more restrictive, and here we are back at square one again. That definitely would be a downside. One of the plus sides, though, could be that perhaps the settlement includes the DOJ focusing its enforcement efforts on offshore online operators, which could benefit the legal regulated operators in the States.

Nick: Yes. Meanwhile, whilst this is all going on and seeking some clarity and again, hopefully, by the end of this year, there’ll be something a bit clearer.

Mike: Well, don’t expect it by the end of this year. Their brief is due toward the end of the year, but then there’s an additional probably 30 days or so before the other side needs to file their paperwork. I don’t expect to see a decision in this case before perhaps like mid to late February. That would be the earliest and it could stretch out a lot longer.

Nick: That’s under the assumption that they do ultimately file something in this time period. If, for example, that there’s actually a settlement discussions going on behind closed doors, or they made the decision to not file that appeal, then it could all be resolved by the end of the year. I’d like if they choose not to file anything by the time they’re extensions up.

Mike: True. Yes, there definitely could be a settlement prior to that and they could abandon this pursuit altogether. Both of those are possible. Both of those would resolve the issue in some form until the end of the year. As you pointed out, it’s for online operators. They would love to have this case law decided. While the New Hampshire case, did do that in part, there are some limitations to the decision rendered by the court that leave open some risks for the online gaming industry.

Nick: Can you get into some of those risks?

Mike: Well, I believe I’d have to look back at the decision but I believe that there were some limitations in the original court case that said that this was not applicable to other states, for example, so it’s may only have been applicable to the State of New Hampshire.

Nick: Yes, that’s right.

Mike: I remember at the time we were thinking, ““Wow, why hasn’t WSOP snap filed their own lawsuit to be able to get this applicable to the states in which they operate or to perhaps get it a more broader decision?” I do think that there are limitations as far as precedent goes with the New Hampshire case.

Nick: Yes. Anyway, meanwhile, states like Pennsylvania, which we talked about last week, now has its first regulated online poker room with PokerStars that launched last Monday for a soft launch period. We expect that to stay segregated, and for Pennsylvania not really to pursue any opportunities under the multi-state agreement of shared liquidity until this is resolved. PokerStars is going it alone. Mike, what can you tell us about a week on now since launch how things are going?

Mike: Well, yes, as you said we don’t expect shared liquidity to come to Pennsylvania. The regulator has thus far taken a very conservative approach to this new DOJ reinterpretation of the Wire Act before launch. If you recall, they did want to make sure that even though this was still in the process, and there were lawsuits fighting against this opinion, that their operators were abiding by the strictest interpretation of that Wire Act.

They gave operators extra time to relocate their servers or infrastructure within the state of Pennsylvania if needed, because originally, the regulations allowed for servers and such to be located in other areas, in other states, in other locations besides Pennsylvania. The DOJ reinterpretation definitely hit home with the Pennsylvania regulator and we’ve seen them move forward very cautiously. Yes, I don’t expect that there’s going to be any shared liquidity until there’s a pretty significant resolution to this Wire Act case.

As far as online poker in Pennsylvania, in the first week, it’s been pretty successful from all measurements that we can see. During the soft launch, the number of butts in seats, for example, exceeded what we saw in New Jersey. It was pretty well received by players all around. Cash game traffic that we have in Poker Industry PRO seems to be telling us that the state of Pennsylvania is ranking quite well in renting their relation of other rooms. Yes?

Nick: Yes. I think we touched on it last week and they’ve managed to sustain the levels that they were soon after launch, which is PokerStars Pennsylvania in terms with cash game traffic is larger than all the other operators combined. The WSOP’s tri-state network, PokerStars inside in New Jersey and the partypoker/ Borgata, all those combined is significantly smaller than just PokerStars in Pennsylvania.

It’s, in fact, larger than any regulated US operator at any point in their history. I don’t think any site has sustained anything close really to 400 concurrent players around the clock. From that level being with just trying to ramp up marketing, there’s clearly a lot of pent up demand there that was released within hours of it becoming online.

Mike: Yes. It’s definitely been successful. Just moments before we started recording this podcast, we also published an article on Pokerfuse that PokerStars has announced the first-ever PA COOP?

Nick: Yes. That was going to be my first question. Are we’re going PA COOP or PACOOP?

Mike: Yes. It’s got to be PA COOP. No, the other one just sounds— [sighs] PA COOP to me rolls off the tongue, but yes, I did have a question about that and I have not heard anyone from PokerStars actually say it. That’s just my guess that we’re going to be going with PA COOP.

Nick: Okay. What are the headline figures for the first schedule for Pennsylvania’s first-ever regulated online tournament series?

Mike: Yes. There’s going to be 50 events. The series runs from November 30th through December 16th. Buy-ins range from $30 to $750 and the main event will take place on December 15th and will feature a 100,000 guaranteed prize pool for a buy-in of $300.

Nick: Okay. What prize pool will you be looking at across the whole series, across all 50 events?

Mike: It is a $1 million guaranteed across all events, which [sighs] to be quite honestly, it is a bit surprising, given the success that we’ve talked about. All of these numbers are lower than what we saw PokerStars put on for their first tournament series in New Jersey. I fully expected there to be at least a $1.5 million guarantee.

In New Jersey, back in 2016, they ran 54 tournaments, I believe it was, in their inaugural series with a total of 1.1 million and guaranteed prize money spread across all those events. Given the success that we’ve seen in the opening or the launch of PokerStars Pennsylvania coupled with other factors such as the state itself has about 30% more population than New Jersey, so you have a bigger potential player pool there. The time of year that it’s running.

In New Jersey when they launched the first series that they held ran in May, which is traditionally a slower time of the year for online poker. This one is running right smack dab in the middle of the holiday season, which is traditionally a high time for online poker. It’s surprising that they weren’t more aggressive with their push for this series. I was a bit surprised to be quite honest.

Nick: Look, two thoughts of that. One would be, is there much difference in lead time between launching and their first series? Obviously, they’re running PA COOP you said at the end of this month, so three weeks after going live. Was there more of gamle law that they have a good couple of months lead time between like the first NJ COOP from the launching? I just wonder whether they just feel like they haven’t built up the player base.

Mike: Yes. There was a bit more time. I’m not sure how significant it was. Perhaps easier to get players in via satellites and such. If I recall, I think that PokerStars launched actually mid-March, mid to late March, and NJ COOP was held in May. I don’t remember the exact date that it was held. It seems like there may have been a little bit more lead time in New Jersey, but I don’t know, perhaps maybe that is a factor that I’m just overlooking.

Nick: I think another thing is maybe they just learned from NJ COOP and they’ve learned from what they do in the dot-com market, which is they try and grow WCOOP and SCOOP every single time buying them out. It goes up $5 or $10 million and has done for the last three or four years between WCOOP and SCOOP, where in NJ COOP, they came in at the million-dollar level because that’s where everyone else was.

What is partypoker/Borgata at the time that had the gun say super series that really grabbed the headlines, and it sat there. It sat at the million-dollar level, they can’t go higher without seeing a lot of overlays. Maybe they’re coming at that so they can talk about how everything smash the guarantees, and then we’re going to have a SCOOP equivalent in six months’ time and then it’s 1.2 and then it’s 1.4, and they’re building in a couple of years of being able to talk about the largest ever and it just get some slightly better headlines.

Mike: Yes. That’s a really good point. I think that they need to be careful. We’ve talked on this podcast many times about the escalating guarantees in these tournament series and perhaps that something that they have in mind.

I know that New Jersey is probably- and correct me if I’m wrong, but it may be the only market where they’ve seen a decline in their guarantees for their tournament series. They actually peaked at 1.3 million which was guaranteed in April 2018 for NJ SCOOP. Then we saw the next iteration of NJ COOP with its guaranteed being dropped to 1 million that just took place last month. It’s quite possible that they looked at that and are taking this conservative approach in order to not get too far out in front of themselves and to build themselves more room to grow it over the coming series.

Liv Boeree and Igor Kurganov announce they are stepping down as PokerStars Ambassadors

Mike: We learned this week that PokerStars ambassadors Liv Boeree and Igor Kurganov will no longer be representing PokerStars. It was something that, I don’t know, maybe was expected given the trajectory of ambassadors for PokerStars over the past year or so. The story that we have was posted on Poker Industry PRO and written by our own Samantha Bevington, who’s with us today to talk about the news and what we see as the landscape around poker ambassadors. Welcome, Sam. Great and glad to have you. How did we hear about this news?

Sam: Hi, you’all. Nice to be here again. We heard about it because they posted on Twitter on their independent account but around about the same time of day. A couple of days ago, they announced that they would be leaving which hasn’t shocked us internally. I think we’ve been expecting it for a couple of years because it seems like there’s a lot of changes at PokerStars which started a couple of years ago with a lot of high-profile names leaving, and it does feel that this was the natural progression of that.

Mike: Yes. Looking through your article that’s there’s quite a backstory here. Tell us a bit about some of the high-profile ambassadors that have parted ways with poker stars recently.

Sam: Well, casting our mind back to 2018, there was a flurry of announcements, basically. You had Jason Massey- I’m sorry if I said that wrong [chuckles] his son name. Mercier, Mercier? Not sure. [laughs]

Mike: Yes, I never quite sure which one it is either. I think both are acceptable. I think you could.

Sam: Cool. We’ll just go with you know who I mean. Vanessa Selbst and Felipe Ramos and Elky, they all left within the same month. All citing different reasons at the time. Elky said that he felt that Team Pro was going in a different direction than he really wanted. Jason Mercier, his family. I think Vanessa got a corporate job in New York. There were a lot of different reasons behind it.

Mike: These were primarily long standing ambassadors, correct?

Sam: Yes, big time. Elky had been the best part of a decade. I think even Jason and Vanessa, yes, really long-standing pros. It’s like with Liv, she’s been there nine years which is a really long time, Igor less he’s been with Partypoker three years, which at the time came out as a bit of a shock because he’d always been such a critic of his assault in the past.

Mike: He’s been with who? I’m sorry.

Sam: Igor had been a critic of PokerStars in the past, so is also with the supposing that he signed.

Mike: I thought you said Igor had been with Partypoker that amount of time. I was wondering if you were foreshadowing perhaps.

Sam: Maybe I missed [crosstalk] [laughs]

Mike: What his future plans might be?

Sam: [laughs] Well, you never know. They do like their high profile. They were their high stakes poker players because they’ve got Fedor Holz they’ve got Ike Haxton on the books over at Partypoker , so you never know. That would surprise me less if Igor went there, but I don’t think Liv Boeree does seem that she does want to go into the more presenting route, the science, the TED Talks that she’s been doing. That would surprise me a lot if she then turned around and signed with Party for sure.

Mike: Yes, well, you never know that they have been quite aggressive in their pursuit of former PokerStars ambassadors. They signed a whole bunch, didn’t they? When was that? We saw like Jaime Staples and Jeff Gross. When did that all happen? I don’t even remember.

Sam: That all happened this year.

Mike: That was this year? Okay.

Sam: That was this year. That was almost like the second wave, if you will, of people leaving PokerStars and then signing to Party. You had Jaime and Jeff I think maybe even on the same day, or it was within days of each other, they announced that they were leaving PokerStars but didn’t say where they were going.

Then ultimately, they signed with Partypoker yet. Then Kevin Martin, he didn’t renew his contract. He is signed with Partypoker. We’ve seen a lot of people go over to Partypoker and even ElkY, he now is heading up the partypoker.eu site as the face of the ring-fenced shared liquidity market in Southern Europe.

Mike: There’s been quite an exodus. I think it reflects a change in perhaps priority or strategy on the part of PokerStars. I think we would be remiss if we didn’t also mention the 2019 world series of poker player of the— Former 2019 world series of poker player of the year, Daniel Negreanu, who was the perhaps- well, not even perhaps. He was the highest-profile ambassador on the PokerStars roster.

Sam: Yes, for sure. He said in May that he wasn’t going to be renewing his contract with PokerStars. It’s quite a low of timeline to get your head round. That’s all outlined in the article, so go and read that if you’re listening. That must’ve come as a blow to PokerStars because Daniel has got such a reach and he’s got such an audience. He is synonymous with the brand, so having to part ways with him after such a long time, because I think that had been 12 years that they’d been working together, is a huge change for the roster.

Mike: Who does that leave in terms of high-profile ambassadors?

Sam: Chris Moneymaker is still there. He’s still a really prominent figure because he’s running his Moneymaker’s Road to PSPC which is part of the Platinum Pass to give away and that’s a global tool that he’s heading up. You’ve got André Akkari. Again, I’m really sorry if I’m not pronouncing these names right.

Mike: I think you’re doing good.

Sam: He’s still there. No, it’s Mike. We’ve got Jason Somerville and we’ve got Jennifer Shahade who now she’s going to be the face of PokerStars Pennsylvania. They’ve still got people or poker players that we know of that are still bad. It’s just not what it was.

Mike: Chris Moneymaker is probably now the highest-profile name that they have on their roster. Given that he is credited with the revitalization of poker, not only in the US but around the world, it would be surprising to see them part ways with Chris. His story actually weaves well into the PokerStars narrative of when a PokerStars tournament become one of the biggest poker names in the world. It seems like he’s a good fit for them. Like you said, he is being utilized quite a bit in the marketing of the PSPC this year. It would be surprising for them to part ways with Chris.

Then I think the other one that really stands out to me is Jason Somerville. He is- I was going to say he’s the biggest name in online poker streaming, but perhaps he isn’t even anymore. He is the godfather of online poker streaming. We could say that for sure. He’s got his fingers in a whole lot of pies, he’s out there training and prepping a whole new generation of online poker streamers. He’s a very well-spoken, good ambassador.

Again, because most of their close business ties with Jason, I would be surprised to see them let him go. Then perhaps one of the names that we didn’t mention is Lex, Lex Veldhuis. I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing his name correctly by the way, Sam. He’s also got a pretty strong reach. Him as well, I would be surprised if he’s going to be parting ways with PokerStars anytime in the near future.

Sam: Yes, I’d agree. Just just to one of your points about how Moneymaker fits into the narrative of what PokerStars are trying to do with the PSPC. I think we’ve also seen that with a few of the new additions that they’ve signed to their sponsored pros. You’ve got a few people who one Platinum Passes that they have signed as a sponsored pro. You’ve got Kalidou Sow and you’ve got Arlie Shaban who they have signed up, but then you’ve also got bigger name, which is Ramón Colillas.

Mike: I’m grand you had one and not new.

Sam: I’m sure Nick’s got something to say about that pronunciation. He was the Platinum Pass Winner last year. He was the rags to riches story because— Sorry. He won a Platinum Pass into the PSPC and then he won the whole tournament. That’s like another Moneymaker.

Mike: Yes. Exactly right.

Sam: It all kind of fits into— That seems to be the path that they’re focusing on now. The rags to riches, the every man kind of story rather than maybe the high stakes elite, prestige players.

Mike: Right. Yes, that’s a really good point. It’s interesting to watch from the sidelines as we see this transformation happen. I would ask you to predict who might be the next sponsored pro, but given that we just talked about how they’re choosing just regular people that are able to rise up through poker, it’s probably impossible to predict because it could be the next nobody that wins a big tournament and something that changes their life and PokerStars wants to tell their story.

Sam: I feel even Maria Konnikova, although she’s not a nobody by any means. She has her own career as a journalist and acclaimed writer. Her poker story on the other hand is almost rags to riches in the sense that she had no real experience, has been learning the game, and actually has been really good at it. They’ve signed her as well. That again, fits into this overarching feeling of practice. Any one could be good at poker. You just you’d need to try and this could be you.

Mike: Yes. Maria definitely has characteristics that coincide and align with that narrative for sure. She did have one little advantage that other people might not have. Do you know what that was, Sam?

Sam: I think it was that she got some tutorage from Barry Greenstein. No. Erik Seidel.

Mike: Yes.

Sam: It’s Erik Seidel. Yes.

Mike: Erik Seidel, yes. That’s a not exactly available to them every man, but give her credit.

Sam: That is true. Okay. [crosstalk] We’ll put enough streaks by her name.

Mike: All right. She got in there and performed. You can get all the training in the world you want, but unless you’re able to execute on that training, then it’s really not going to be helpful. She was. She’s been successful in her career. She had a victory down in The Bahamas, I forget where that was in this year, right?

Sam: That was the PCA two years ago.

Mike: Two years ago. Yes. She’s done well. She took the opportunity that she had and she made the best of it. Kudos to Maria [crosstalk]

Sam: Yes, definitely. I think her book’s coming out soon. I think I saw that on Twitter that she’s finished the manuscript, which talks about her story and her training with Erik.

Mike: It’d be very interesting to read that. Interesting I know that, for sure.

Sam: Yes, definitely:

Mike: Okay. Well, stay tuned for more to come as perhaps some new players when Platinum passes to the PSPC and who knows, maybe even get signed up Poker Stars to be their next rag to riches ambassador.


Mike: Well, that wraps up this episode of the pokerfuse podcast. As a reminder, please give us a like and a subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can also follow us and interact with us on Twitter. Nick is at @pokerprojones. I am @SpookyBugs. Thanks, everyone for tuning in.