PokerStars to Convert All Regular HU Cash Game Tables to Zoom Tables

And…the hits just keep coming at PokerStars. If there was any question before, it seems that it is pretty much official now: PokerStars has no desire to be the de facto employer for high stakes poker pros. The latest nudge out the door to grinders came this week, as the world’s largest online poker site sent an e-mail to players announcing that it will be shuttering its regular heads-up cash game tables as of Friday, February 12th. Gee, thanks for the…wait for it…heads-up.

The e-mail was quick and to the point:

You are receiving this message because you have played Heads-Up cash games on PokerStars within the last 3 months.

We are writing to inform you that as of Friday 12th February No Limit Hold’em, Fixed Limit Hold’em and Pot Limit Omaha Heads-Up regular tables will be removed and will be replaced with Zoom pools.

Heads-Up Zoom is already in place at most stakes and will be added at $50/$100. We will also be adding Zoom No Limit Hold’em Cap games at stakes up to $25/$50.

This change is part of our commitment to reducing predatory behaviour and improving the recreational player experience.

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

As the e-mail said at the end there, the goal behind the decision is to make PokerStars a more hospitable environment for recreational players, those players who are just play for fun, typically for short stretches, and are generally (not with all the time) on the low end of the skill spectrum. The predatory behavior (I got rid of the “u” in that word, thanks. ‘MURICA!) is what poker players call “bumhunting.”

Bumhunters (I know, it sounds awful) occupy a seat at a heads-up table, but sit out until somebody else sits down. If the opponent is someone they know is a pro or a good player, they continue to sit out, but if the opponent is a known fish or otherwise appears to be a recreational player (perhaps simply an unknown player), the bumhunter will sit in and start playing.

Of course, anything can happen in a poker game and all it takes is one or two good/lucky hands for a lesser player to stack a pro, but more often than not, the bumhunter will bleed the recreational player dry and send him on his way, proverbial tail between his proverbial legs.

Poker rooms do not like this type of activity, as it fosters a hostile environment for inexperienced poker players. It is not a good feeling to sit down at a table and get trounced; it is worse when you detect that it was not a coincidence, that you didn’t just get unlucky. Recreational players are not stupid, they just don’t have the experience and poker skills that pros have. They can figure out when they are being targeted. If they feel they were taken advantage of, there is a good chance they will just logoff, never to return.

An additional problem with bumhunters is that they render tables inactive for long periods of time. Because PokerStars allows multi-tabling, most bumhunters fill seats at many tables at once, but since they only sit in against select opponents, most of the time, the tables are inactive. Inactive tables, of course, cost PokerStars money. One might suggest that PokerStars simply open more tables, but bumhunters would just fill those, as well.

This is an extreme move for PokerStars, but not at all unprecedented. This past fall, Full Tilt, PokerStars’ sister site, got rid of heads-up cash games entirely. Full Tilt’s Poker Room Manager Shyam Markus explained on Two Plus Two that the company’s data suggests that the more a new player played on Full Tilt’s heads-up tables in their first month on the site, the less likely they were to continue to login for a second month. Recreational players were clearly turned off by the heads-up cash games, so much so that they didn’t even bother trying a different game.

While drastic, keep in mind that the change that is coming on Friday will not do away with heads-up cash games, but rather morph them from “regular” games to Zoom Poker games. There are currently Zoom Poker heads-up games running right now, though they are not highly populated. In Zoom heads-up matches, players will no longer be able to bumhunt, as they will have to join a player pool and then be automatically seated by the software. Once they are in the pool, they will either have to play or leave. No waiting for a choice of opponents. Players will certainly see the same players multiple times, especially if the player pools remain low, but pros will not be able to specifically target opponents.

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