PokerStars grabs most of the “recreational poker model” headlines. That means the company also deals with most of the criticism from the high-stakes poker community that views many of the changes as diluting the game with luck-based elements.
But PokerStars isn’t the only online poker company that has been shifting in this direction, nor is it always the catalyst of the change. In fact, it’s safe to say that in many cases during the past several years, PokerStars has simply been following in the footsteps of others.
For example, PokerStars’ Spin & Go’s may be the poster child for the jackpot sit & go tournament craze. However, it was Winamax that first introduced the jackpot sit & go to the poker world when it unveiled Expresso in August 2013.
And while it was Bodog that coined the term “recreational model” back in 2011, it was PartyPoker that was the first major online poker site to upend its VIP program with the elimination of the top tiers. This was part of shifting to a recreational model that also included missions and rewards designed to cross-sell poker and casino.
Speaking of PartyPoker, during the past few years, the company has made many sweeping changes:
- The elimination of the upper levels of its VIP program and adding missions and rewards;
- The elimination of most of the high stakes tables from the site;
- Hiding player screen names at tables until a player sits at the table;
- The elimination of player screen names from hand histories;
- Changing its terms and conditions to prohibit the use of seating scripts;
- The creation of a site-wide waiting list, similar to land-based card rooms and random seating.
And with the launch of PartyPoker’s Fast Five short-stacked cash game tables, the company’s aim toward creating a recreational-player-friendly environment seems to be continuing.
What is Fast Five
Fast Five is a six-max cash game table where PartyPoker sets the buy-in at five big blinds.
Because of this shallow stack dynamic, the tables begin, more or less, as all-in or fold games. However, they quickly morph into something else altogether, as players start to win some of those all-ins and build their stacks.
New and rebuying players must play with five big blinds. But players who have been at the table for an extended period of time could have a stack of 25, 50, 100, or even more big blinds. The potential for so many different stack sizes at the same table makes these games quite interesting from a strategic point of view, once the all-in or fold stage is passed.
In a press release announcing the new games, PartyPoker Group Head Tom Waters called Fast Five tables: “A fun, fast-paced cash game, suitable for players with only a short amount of time but wanting action quickly.”[i15-table tableid=20717][i15-table tableid=19346]
Fast Five isn’t the first shallow-stack cash game
PartyPoker isn’t the first online poker site to add shallow-stack games, and it likely won’t be the last.
Winamax has something called Short Track tables. Short Track tables are virtually identical to PartyPoker’s new Fast Five games, only at Winamax the tables are five-handed. (Like PartyPoker, Winamax limits buy-ins to five big blinds.)
Sky Poker has a slightly different version of these shallow-stack games, something called Spin Up tables, where players can buy in for anywhere between three and 10 big blinds.
Are these changes ‘good’ for poker?
Whether it’s lottery sit & go’s, Beat the Clock tournaments, or Fast Five, these new formats — designed to increase action and drastically shorten the time of an individual game — receive a lot of criticism from professional players.
Critics argue these changes, coupled with the high rake that accompanies these games in many instances, make these games unbeatable. They also say it helps steer players away from poker and toward chance-based games in the company’s online casino, or toward sports betting.
However, it’s still too early to say if either of these perceptions — unbeatable games or detouring players away from poker and into the casino — are actually occurring.
The beatability of games is dependent not only on the skillfulness and rake, but also on the quality of players.
A $1/$2 NLHE game full of card room regulars that charges a $20/hour collection is likely unbeatable. However, this same game is a goldmine if it consists of 10 random players from a typical home game.
At this point, it’s simply too early to say “Game ‘X’ is unbeatable and a rake trap” with any kind of certainty, although this could very well be the case.
Steering people away from poker
There’s also little evidence, at least at present, that these changes have been pushing people away from poker tables and toward casino games and sports betting.
As I noted in a column earlier this month:
“… PokerStars has added $500 million in revenue from casino and sports, almost exclusively from cross-selling those two verticals to its poker players. (PokerStars only recently began acquisition marketing for casino.)
“Despite marketing casino and sports to its poker customers, PokerStars’ publicly available numbers from its earnings reports shows poker to be at least relatively stable, down just a tick over the past year.”