Daniel Negreanu Offers Comments on PokerStars VIP Program Changes

The boycott of PokerStars by a couple thousand players is in its final day (officially). After that, who knows – some players may continue to stay away from the site, most will probably go back, and there is supposedly more action on tap from the boycott’s organizers come January. The root of the boycott, as readers of this site likely know by now, is the recently announced set of changes to the PokerStars VIP program, slated to take effect on New Year’s Day. Earlier this week, Poker Hall of Famer and member of Team PokerStars Pro, Daniel Negreanu, joined Joe “ChicagoJoey” Ingram’s podcast to give his thoughts on what PokerStars is doing.

Daniel Negreanu

Daniel Negreanu

Negreanu has been with PokerStars for a number of years now and, as such, is naturally a cheerleader for the world’s largest poker site, but at the same time, he has never been known to shy away from speaking his mind. As such, while he didn’t go off on a rant about the VIP changes like many players have, he was willing to dole out criticism.

To briefly review, PokerStars announced significant changes to the VIP program about a month ago, changes which were alluded to, but not specified, several months earlier. The adjustments target high volume, high stakes players and will greatly reduce benefits enjoyed by upper-level VIPs. Some of the changes that have sent many in the online poker community into a frenzy include:

•    Conversion of FPPs to StarsCoin, the new form of loyalty points. It is not the StarsCoin in of itself that is the problem, but rather that players will have to spend their FPPs before the end of the year if they don’t want them to be converted to StarsCoins at an exchange rate that reduces their value.
•    A rewards cap will be put in place that will greatly decrease the benefits high level VIP players can expect to earn.
•    No VPPs will be awarded for high stakes cash games.
•    The Supernova Elite status level will be removed entirely as of January 1st, 2017.

For his part, Negreanu agreed with the general direction PokerStars is going with the changes, even if he isn’t absolutely thrilled with each and every modification, saying, “These changes were inevitable. Absolutely inevitable and essential. Because if you look at the online poker economy, it has been shaped very differently than it was ten years ago. It’s not the same as it once was. So changes were gonna happen.”

He understands that high level VIP players will be hurt by the changes. “I believe, regardless of what happens, in 2016 there will be more new players on PokerStars than there was in 2015,” Negreanu said during the conversation with Ingram. “I genuinely believe that based on some of the ways that marketing and promotional dollars will be spent. How does that benefit the guys who are basically getting screwed out of Supernova Elite right now? It doesn’t.”

Negreanu’s biggest problem with the changes (again, it’s not that he loves every single one) was the way with which they were communicated by PokerStars. Pointing to the elimination of Supernova Elite and the capping of rewards, specifically, he said, “It is…a broken promise. It’s, you know, do ‘x’ in 2015, you will receive ‘y’ in 2016. Up until November 5th or 12th, I believe, it said so in plain English on the website what value you’d get. So to not honor that is a broken promise.”

Negreanu disagreed with how PokerStars warned customers of the changes earlier this year, as all the company did was say that changes might be coming. The better approach, he believes, would have been to straight-up say that VIP benefits were going to be reduced for upper level players so that those players could at least start getting ready. Instead, PokerStars was entirely too vague and then basically said, “Well, we told you this was coming,” when the bomb was dropped in early November.

In Negreanu’s words, the communication was “nothing short of junior high.”

PokerStars claims that the changes, while hurting those at the highest reaches of the VIP ladder, will help recreational players. Most knowledgeable players doubt this. Again criticizing PokerStars’ awful communication, Negreanu said he knows of additional changes that will be made that he believes will be great, that really will benefit casual players. The problem is that PokerStars has not announced these and thus all anyone has been hit with has been the bad news.

Negreanu also told Ingram that while he encourages players to boycott if they feel it is the best course of action, he isn’t so sure that it will accomplish anything. His thought is that the upside potential of the boycott is low, while the downside is too high. “Imagine they go three days and [PokerStars player traffic] numbers are up,” he said.


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