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High-Stakes Poker Pro Discusses Leaving PokerStars Over VIP Rewards Program Changes

Alex Millar Left Site's 'Team Pro Online' Over Controversial Changes

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British online poker pro Alex “IReadYrSoul” Millar surprised the poker community in mid-December by walking away from his PokerStars sponsorship, just weeks after the company announced major reductions in its VIP rewards program. The site’s decision made many top poker pros unhappy.

Millar, who is up more than $4 million lifetime playing online cash games, said his departure was the right thing to do because he wasn’t able to help influence PokerStars into handling the situation, especially with regards to the Supernova Elite system, more appropriately.

Card Player had the chance to speak to Millar about the move and his 2015 at the tables.

Brian Pempus: First off, can you talk about your initial reactions to the VIP changes and how you think they will affect high-volume grinders?

Alex Millar: Obviously high-volume grinders will be pretty badly affected. I don’t think it’s acceptable that people have been playing all year to get SNE, which is advertised as a two-year program, and then, in November, they get such huge reductions in what they would earn for the second year. Also I don’t think the changes will be effective in what they set out to do, or at least they are certainly not the best way to do things. So, all in all, you could say that I’m not a fan of the changes.

BP: Did the company try to get any feedback from its team of pros? Did you immediately question your affiliation with the site after they announced the changes?

AM: No, the changes were all made without consulting the pros. We found out when the leak came out, the same as everyone else. I was actually already questioning my affiliation with the site before the changes came out. My contract expired before the changes were announced but I wanted to wait for the resolution of a few things before deciding if I would sign another one. I have not been impressed with the direction of the site since Amaya took over. Then the changes were worse than I could possibly have guessed, so it became very unlikely that I would stay. I tried to see if I could have any positive effect myself, but when it became clear that there was nothing that I could do it just became a case of waiting to see if Daniel Negreanu could get anything done. I didn’t want to leave before the completion of his discussions, just in case any situations arose that I could help with. Once Daniel failed it was just a case of speaking to the Team Pro Online manager, saying my goodbyes to the team and then leaving.

BP: As a player who plays the nosebleeds, how much do the changes affect your bottom line in a calendar year? Given the toughness of the high-stakes games these days, are we going to see some top players stop playing on PokerStars?

AM: The changes affect me personally less than many others because I am not a particularly high-volume player and I mainly play $25-$50+. I imagine the $5-$10 and $10-$20 games will suffer quite a lot but the $25-$50+ games will not be quite so affected. We’ll see though; it largely depends what stance the guys who start games at $25-$50+ take. If they stop starting games and start bum-hunting then the games will be made drastically worse. Overall, you will see many players playing less on PokerStars and more on other sites, and you will see fewer players willing to start games. So the environment will become more predatory, which is exactly what PokerStars is claiming to want to avoid.

BP: With PokerStars having such a large market share, do high-volume poker pros have solid options to grind on other sites and make the same kind of living they have grown accustomed to?

AM: It is not so much that high-volume players will leave PokerStars and play exclusively on some other site; that seems unlikely. In the past though, people who grind for SNE are missing out on good games that run on other sites in order to play in a lot of tough games on PokerStars in order to get the volume they need to get SNE. Now that this is no longer worthwhile, they will be more inclined to just spread their action across multiple sites, sitting at the best tables that they can find. I would expect that they can do just as well by doing this. It just means that PokerStars gets less [regulars] playing against other [regulars], which should be a desirable thing for the site.

BP: That makes sense. How do the VIP changes compare to Black Friday in terms of altering the high stakes landscape and putting poker further from its golden area of the mid-to-late 2000s? Do you think the changes PokerStars is implementing will make another poker (cash game) boom less likely?

AM: They are a much smaller event than Black Friday for sure. This will cause players to reduce volume, probably move down if they were playing $5-$10 and to start playing on a wider variety of sites. Black Friday actually made people relocate countries or quit, as well as tying up a ton of money for people who had a lot of their rolls on Full Tilt. Honestly I think another cash game boom is unlikely whatever PokerStars does. I assume they believe that their changes will increase the chances of another poker boom. I don’t see it myself, but since the changes have been made, let’s hope they’re right.

BP: How has your year been at the cash game tables? How do you feel about your performance?

AM: I haven’t played a huge amount of volume this year, and my results have been unspectacular but fine. Last year my win-rate was really good and this year it has been more average, so there is probably some variance in there, but I’ll keep working to improve as always and hopefully I can do better next year. I think earlier in the year I had a lot of distractions, and I wasn’t playing so well but the second half of the year has been much better in terms of my performance.

BP: Who do you think played great all year and was really tough to play against in 2015?

AM: I have mainly been playing six-max no-limit hold’em over the last year, and OtB_RedBaron is probably the best at that right now. Also, I seem to have been doing particularly badly against Katya_18. He plays shorthanded games and seems to be playing pretty well. I don’t know their real names, though.

BP: What kind of distractions did you have early this year? Can you talk about the process of getting back to you’re a-game if something outside of poker is taking up a lot of mental energy?

AM: I bought a house and it needed a lot of work, so I had to spend quite a lot of time dealing with that and it dragged on quite a lot as these things always do. I also got a puppy, which was nice but it took up more time. It’s not that all that affected how well I played at the tables, though, it’s just that it took away time from being able to play and work on my game. At the top level everybody is constantly working to improve, and if you stay still for six months then you will find yourself behind. I think I was ahead of a lot of people last year but they caught up in that period.

BP: Was some of the stuff you did early this year to help with your poker-life balance?

AM: I was happy enough before, and I’m happy again now. At some point you have to do that sort of stuff though, and with my contract ending on my rented place I decided to go for it and finally buy my own place. I would say my poker-life balance is too weighted towards poker in general, but I think it’s hard for that to not be the case if you want to compete at the very top level. I’m not unhappy with that though anyway. I’m aware that my poker career probably has an expiration date that isn’t too far in the future, so the balance may well shift the other way quite heavily for quite a while when I stop playing.