Pokerfuse exclusive: PokerStars is going to trial "Stealth Mode" tables, their name for anonymous tables. This is a major change from PokerStars' previous policy of always having screen names on display.

Online poker giant PokerStars will test out anonymous tables in the coming months, pokerfuse can exclusively reveal.

It marks a reversal of a long-standing policy to always show permanent, unchanging screen names at the tables.

“We are always working on new features and products and we have a lot coming up that we plan to test and gain player feedback on,” said Severin Rasset, PokerStars’ Director of Poker Innovation and Operations, in an exclusive statement issued to pokerfuse.

“This includes testing adding some anonymous tables in upcoming months, which we will monitor very closely as the overall player experience and health of our poker ecosystem is top priority for us,” he added.

Pokerfuse understands that anonymous tables will be optional, with a “stealth” icon alongside tables that allow anonymity in the lobby. The picture above is a mockup put together by pokerfuse on how it could look, not an official screen shot.

The stealth icon could go in the far left column, as depicted here where the “zoom” icon goes, or in the regular “game type” column where 6/9 max and game currency is displayed.

It is thought that there will be a large display at the tables showing whether a player is in “stealth mode” or not, and it may be possible to toggle in and out of stealth mode for each table. Again, this is a supposition by pokerfuse, not confirmed yet by PokerStars.

Hand Histories Won’t be Anonymous

To ensure players can still track their and their opponents’ play, PokerStars will still show screen names in hand histories a day after they are played. That way, hands can still be imported into third party tracking software.

This feature has been developed with the integrity of the game at its core, and in order to ensure our players continue to feel secure, they will have access to hand histories with the UserID of their opponents exposed 24 hours after the hand has been played,” Rasset said to pokerfuse.

Anonymous tables are certainly nothing new in online poker. In fact, most online poker operators either offer optional anonymous tables, allow regular screen names changes, or enforce random names as a default.

However, PokerStars has always chosen to offer only tables with regular screen names. Players choose a unique screen name—in PokerStars parlance, a “Stars ID”—and that name is always shown at all cash game and tournaments tables. It can never be changed.

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As a PokerStars FAQ reads: “An important part of poker is knowing an opponent: the more you play against someone, the better you know their style of play, and thus how to react to it.”

“If someone changes their Stars ID, the other players will think it is someone new, but that person still knows them, thus gaining an experience advantage at the tables,” it goes on to say.

Incognito Now Becoming the Norm

Online poker operators have long experimented with optional or forced anonymity at the tables. US-facing offshore operator Bovada led this charge, with its anonymous-only tables dating back eight years. Unibet then brought the concept to the European markets in 2014, with its new client allowing players to set up new profiles whenever they liked.

MPN was one of the first online poker networks to offer anonymous tables, first at heads up and then later at ring games. It has allowed regular screen name changes since 2014.

And then there is online poker’s 2019 upstart Run it Once Poker, which goes one step further, giving all players a random name whenever they sit down at a table.

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Like PokerStars’ proposed Stealth Mode, other large operators have shied away from a full-scale, anonymous-only approach. Instead, they have offered specially-designated anonymous tables for those who want them or screen name changes on a limited basis.

iPoker has offered optional anonymous tables for a long time but not screen name changes. French market leader Winamax allows changes twice a year and has offered incognito tables for many years.

Among the top operators, partypoker is notable for moving towards both more anonymity as well as more accountability this year. It actually forced all players to reset their screen names in June of this year in a bid to “level the playing field” (a second reset for some players was required). This was a one time deal—these names are now locked in permanently.

At the same time, it trialed a unprecedented “real names only” policy at the high stakes and heads-up games. It has since back-tracked on that and made real name tables optional. It has offered anonymous tables in the past; removed them; and is now slated to bring them back very soon.

Operator Screen name changes? Anonymous tables?
PokerStars No Not yet – Stealth mode soon
GGNetwork No No
Winamax Yes – every six months Yes
Partypoker No – happened once Yes
888poker No No
Bodog/Bovada N/A Always
iPoker No Yes
MPN Yes Yes
Unibet Yes No
Run it Once N/A Always

When Will It Go Live?

When this feature will go live is unknown. “For when, where, what and all other details… you’ll have to wait and see,” Rasset told pokerfuse.

Pokerfuse has seen signs that this feature may already be in private testing on some clients. As seen with other big updates from the operator—whether it is new game variants or unique all-in cashout features—these features often go live in smaller markets first. So eyes are on clients in markets like Denmark, or possibly a segregated market like Italy, as a potential first rollout before it goes live on dot-com.

2018 was the year of PokerStars trying out lots of new game novelties—with games like Fusion, Unfold and Split Hold’em all deployed for a limited time. It was capped off with Six Plus Hold’em which went live in January and has remained in the client ever since.

2019, on the other hand, is the year of it looking again at its core product offer. Changes like the buy-in reduction at the Sunday Million, the limit on four simultaneous cash game tables, the large drop in time to act and its unique style of all-in insurance have all transformed the online poker offer.

Stealth tables continue this theme. It will have a major impact to the cash game offer, with liquidity split between regular and anonymous tables wherever the tables are deployed. The operator will be hoping that players will enjoy being able to play incognito, and it continues the industry trend of looking again at online poker through the eyes of casual, recreational players, and how that game play experience can be improved.