PokerStars Tests Six-Table Max Cash Game Restriction In Italy

With effect from July 17, players at will be restricted to playing a maximum of six cash game tables simultaneously.

The decision was announced in a blog post by Severin Rasset, The Stars Group’s Director of Poker Innovation and Operations.

Players complain that games are too slow

Rasset explained that one of the most frequent comments he has received is that “the games are too slow due to opponents taking too long to act.”

PokerStars carried out some research to find out if this was the result of players multi-tabling rather than focusing on a single table. Surprisingly, the research found that the average time to act was around the same for single tablers and multi-tablers, “with multi-tablers even acting slightly faster than average in some situations.”

The devil is always in the detail. On closer examination PokerStars found that although the multi-tablers’ average reaction time was about the same, this average was distorted by the distribution of action times.

“But, multi-tablers’ deviation from this average is much higher. Or, in plain English, they act fast on average but can suddenly slow down drastically on all their tables. If you are a multi-tabler yourself, you will know why this happens: when there is an important decision to make at a table, all other tables must wait. And, of course, the more tables being played the more frequently this situation can happen.”

The average time to act may be the same, but from the perspective of the other players at the tables, the experience of playing with a multi-tabler is frustrating.

High volume players will be most affected

The table caps will apply to regular cash game tables with caps for other games such as Zoom remaining the same.

The limit of six tables has been chosen because Rasset says that 99.7 percent of players play six tables or less. Nonetheless, he acknowledges that this change will upset some players:

“I am acutely aware that behind this percentage, we have players with a personal story. Some of them might rely on poker for a living. I understand that this announcement will not be seen as good news by these players and that facing such a radical change will be difficult.”

For the highest volume players, those playing 16, 20, or 24+ tables the six table limit will have a drastic impact. Rasset expresses his hope that when limited to six tables these players will focus more and therefore win more.

He makes no mention of the importance of volume based VIP scheme rewards which form an important part of any professional player’s income.

PokerStars has been reducing these rewards over the last five years or so, in an attempt to re-engineer their player ecology to create a better playing experience for casual players.

This strategy has worked out well for the company, at least financially. Stars Group CEO Rafi Ashkenazi has praised the impact of the VIP scheme changes during both quarterly and annual earnings calls.

Liquidity is unlikely to be an issue

Rasset explained that the test will be evaluated by the changes seen in the deviation from the average time to act, plus any feedback that PokerStars receives from players.

What Rasset did not mention was any impact on liquidity. For most poker sites, multi-tabling by a minority of players helps to fill tables that would otherwise run shorthanded or not at all.

Liquidity is important for online poker operators because casual players can be deterred from playing if they can’t find a seat at a table at the stakes and game variant that they prefer. They also tend to leave tables which become short-handed.

PokerStars has the largest player base of any poker operator, so liquidity is a much less important issue for their poker room. Nonetheless, liquidity in the Italian regulated market is limited.

Cash game traffic at currently averages around 600 occupied seats. This figure will reduce with the implementation of the new policy. The question is by how much, and whether the reduction actually matters either in terms of revenue, or quality of the player experience.

Given PokerStars’ dominance in the market, the trial may well be a success in Italy, at least in terms of reducing unpleasant delays in the action.

So long as there is no concomitant reduction in liquidity that deters casual players, and .EU PokerStars sites, which share a player pool can expect the same limitation to be imposed when the experiment ends.