While doing research for this guide, I read hundreds of pages of 2+2’s PokerStars Improvement Thread and played tens of hours of online poker at PokerStars.com during the past week. Also, I’ve been in the online poker industry for well over a decade, from before PokerStars ever got started.
With that said, let’s get going.
Since 2006, PokerStars has reigned as the most popular online poker room in the world – and not only has it been in the lead, it has dominated its competition.
For instance, according to PokerScout.com, PokerStars’ cash game traffic at its lowest hours is still twice as high as its nearest competition’s traffic at peak hours. At the time of writing, PokerStars has about 19,000 cash-game players online while the second busiest site 888 Poker) has about 3,000.
Not one competitor comes even close to PokerStars. But for how long?
…the ability to fight off the ABCs of business decay, which are arrogance, bureaucracy and complacency. When these corporate cancers metastasize, even the strongest of companies can falter.Warren Buffett
Only time will tell if Amaya is making smart business decisions. But I can tell you something right now: plenty of PokerStars customers are disappointed in the recent changes. Amaya has either a) cut back on costs, or b) increased fees, both of which have lead to a worse user experience.
Not only is it more expensive to play at PokerStars due to the increase in rake fees in both cash games and tournaments, and the decrease in the VIP benefits, they now seem less and less willing to promote poker by cutting out affiliate marketers and terminating contracts with Team PokerStars Pros all the while launching online casino games and sportbooks.
They’ve also decreased the quality of the playing experience. When it comes to significant software updates in any business, you’ll have long-time users who aren’t fond of the changes but it eventually grows on them – in this case though, lots of players started experiencing significant lags after the software update from what’s called PokerStars 6 to PokerStars 7 – players are now reporting continuous lags, sometimes to the point where the tables are frozen for several minutes while multi-table tournaments are running (the lags seem especially bad for multi-tablers).
But is this happening because of the new software or is there something else?
If the rumors on poker forums are to be believed – not always a good idea – Amaya has also cut back on server costs which, in turn, has caused its customers to experience significant lags. A PokerStars representative took part in 2+2 forum’s discussion with the following quote:
Unfortunately, lags have continued long after the tournament was held. And it was a weak response either way since we’ve already seen PokerStars host the biggest tournaments online ever. If the problem is on server-side, then the server-side isn’t what it used to be.
And that, in turn, is in line with the rumors.
Player Traffic and Tournament Prizepools
Even though the recent changes have been unpleasant (to say the least), PokerStars is lightyears ahead of others when it comes to cash game player traffic and tournament prizepools. Volume makes a huge difference and PokerStars has ten times the volume of its closest competitor. For a poker player who cares about the art of game selection (as any winning player should), there’s no better place to play at than PokerStars.com.
While I write this PokerStars review, there are 99,228 players online and 4,845 tournaments running. I dislike that PokerStars keeps getting tremendous amounts of traffic while deliberately making playing conditions worse, however, there’s no denying that players benefits from the stupendous amount of traffic, and at the end of the day, playing at PokerStars.com is still worth your time.
For several years now, I’ve ranked PokerStars’ software as the second best in the world, right behind Full Tilt. For me, Full Tilt has something special but PokerStars has always had good software as well which obviously appeals to plenty of people.
What’s so good about the software, then? Well, for one, it works (or at least worked before the latest major update). It’s easy on the eye, and even more importantly, it’s easy to use. Online poker has been around for over 15 years now and it’s mind-boggling how few online poker rooms still have top quality software, and PokerStars happens to be one of the rare sites who do.
One of the recent changes to the software has been the addition of casino games (unavailable for iOS users as of now). They have the whole selection including blackjack and a wide variety of slot games. You can also play multi-player casino games and have a live dealer at your table if you prefer.
Update on July 16th, 2015:
PokerStars has recently launched a sportsbook as well, moving the company further into the direction of more lucrative fields of gambling (poker rarely makes up for a big percentage of income in any casino environment).
You don’t get to be the top online poker site in the world by providing bad customer support. PokerStars is a professional online poker operation and they will treat you that way. They’re also active in online gambling communities by answering to members’ questions, solving their problems and asking for feedback.
The customer support personnel aren’t to blame for the decisions the directors of the company have made regarding the recent (mostly negative) changes. If anything, their job has become harder since people are surely complaining more nowaways.
I have no complaints regarding the customer support department (except for the lack of phone support which could come in handy). But the way PokerStars takes care of its customers as a company (again, referring to the recent changes) has changed for the worse and that bothers me (and judging by all the comments made online, bother a lot of other people too).
PokerStars may still be the best option for online poker players around the world (US players are prohibited) but its quality has gone downhill recently. However, it’s hard to argue against the massive amounts of player traffic and tournament prizepools which tower over all of PokerStars’ competitors, in addition to other types of promotions that PokerStars is better-equipped to offer than its significantly smaller competition.