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Poker Player Of The Year Contender Says PokerStars Cut Backs Hurting Game

American Poker Pro With Over $14.7 Million Discusses His Issues With PokerStars

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Bryn Kenney has been one of tournament poker’s hottest players for the past few years. Since the start of 2014 he has cashed for more than $10.9 million dollars in live events, making 41 final tables and winning eight titles along the way. In 2017 alone he has made 10 final tables, enough to see him climb into second place in the Card Player Player of the Year race standings.

Needless to say, there are few players more qualified to discuss the state of tournament poker than Kenney, especially as it pertains to high rollers. That is why the poker world took notice when the 30-year-old pro made a long post on social media detailing why he has decided to skip the PokerStars Championship Macau as a result of changes to the online poker giant’s approach to poker both live and online. Kenney has had a lot of success in events put on by PokerStars over the years, with six of his top ten largest scores coming in PokerStars sponsored tournaments. Now he says he will be boycotting their live upcoming live events to “show them they can’t do whatever they want and have people still showing up.”

Card Player reached out to Kenney as he made his way to Florida for the World Poker Tour Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown festival to discuss his public call for change, what he specifically wants to see addressed by PokerStars and more.

Card Player: So you made the posts on social media recently explaining your reasons for essentially boycotting the upcoming PokerStars Championship Macau. When did you start to notice a shift in PokerStars’ approach, as a company?

Bryn Kenney: I think it was largely around the time that Amaya bought the company. Just a little before that happened they started to rake re-buys in live tournaments, but that was a small thing, but I believe that all of the big, bad changes have taken place after Amaya took over.

CP: When PokerStars was still widely praised for going above and beyond for players, they were spending on loyalty rewards like the SuperNova Elite program as well as investing a lot of money in live poker tours around the world, both big and small. It seems apparent that Amaya has decided a lot of that spending had to be reduced, and they are in the process of streamlining their live tours with the rebranded PokerStars Championships and Festivals. What are your thoughts about all of that?

Bryn Kenney at the Super High Roller BowlBK: With the PokerStars Championship they cut off the other tours they had built, in order to save money on promotion. In my opinion they have essentially insured that all of their tournaments will have less players, apart from Barcelona, which I think will do great regardless because it’s the best city in the world to play poker in.

The thing is, back in the day you used to be able to spin up a roll and now I believe that’s essentially impossible. You can’t make a bunch of money, lose it, and win it back again. Now you are either in the high stakes community or you are in the smaller community, and you can’t really make the step up without maybe winning a huge main event. The online dream of spinning up a roll and going to play the biggest tournaments doesn’t really exist anymore.

What Amaya has done is pretty much push away the pros and say, ‘We don’t care about you, you guys will play anyway.’ But if they don’t care about the pros, why are they still allowing things like HUD’s and programs that are doing calculations for people in game. If their goal is really to drive the game away from being dominated by pros, they need to take those tools away. An amateur essentially has no chance to win. You are playing against the best in the world and they are using programs to help them beat you even more than they would on their own.

CP: So if I understand you correctly, the ways both the online and live tournament approach from PokerStars has changed have been negative. Is that fair to say?

BK: Yes, across the board. It all started with them cutting the SuperNova Elite program, not honoring the loyalty rewards that players earned and were promised. They essentially said fuck you to all of the players who grinded for a whole year, who had paid a bunch in rake with the expectation that they were going to rewarded. As a billion dollar company, they told their best customers that they don’t care that they guaranteed them certain rewards. That approach, from the beginning, made people sour. Then they just went on to make more and more bad decisions. People are close to a breaking point on this. Nobody traveled to PCA or Panama, everyone is kind of tired of PokerStars. They are either going to have to fix things or other tours are going to step up and put on their own high rollers. If other companies would make their own high roller tours then these Stars events aren’t even going to exist anymore.

In Panama the $50,000 buy-in didn’t have a single non-professional in the field. So what is the point of traveling to that tournament if it’s like that and you aren’t happy with anything the tour is doing. Another example is the hotel situation for the PSC Panama. The hotel normally costs around $100 to $120 a night. The price soared during that tournament to around $250 a night. It was all booked out and you had to get a room through PokerStars. I’d have to say that they almost surely booked all the rooms at a cheaper rate and then raised the prices. So they are trying to make money in every way, and if you just keep cutting costs and taking everything and saying fuck you every time, eventually people are going to get fed up.

Paul Newey, a good player for the high rollers, responded to my [social media] post about this and said he was completely fed up as well. A rich businessman who plays these events regularly says he’s taking his business elsewhere, that shows you it’s not only the professionals who are upset with how things are going.

CP: In your post you said that if someone from PokerStars was interested in making changes that you would be happy to talk to them. Has anything come from that offer?

Bryn Kenney at the WSOPBK: A friend of mine who works for PokerStars actually set up a meeting in Monaco with the people who can make decisions. So, maybe they are open to listening. Maybe now they have to listen, because it’s gotten to the point that they’ve pushed everybody into a corner. But until that happens I don’t believe they are really listening.

CP: Say that meeting does happen and someone with the power to make changes says, ‘Bryn, what is the short list of changes you need to see for us to regain your trust?’ If you were on the spot like that, what would you tell them?

!BK: First off I think they need to recommit to making their security and support the best again, like it used to be. They have cut too much there, those are key cornerstones of their business.

They need to make a better online schedule of tournaments. The big days, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, the slate of tournaments is now kind of pathetic. Professional players don’t feel motivated to play those. They have hit every guarantee that they’ve ever made. The site has missed maybe five guarantees in the last ten years.

As far as live events, they have really killed enthusiasm with a new approach to payout structures. All of the main events and side events with buy-ins of $5,000 and under are affected. Just look at the PSC Panama, the main event winner got less than $300,000. That payout is just pathetic. I know for a fact people are saying they aren’t excited to play more events because the payouts are just too flat.

If they could address those issues and maybe just make one more move, like maybe getting rid of rake on re-entries. They are hitting people over the head with multiple rakes and it leaves people with a sour taste in their mouth.

CP: Amaya, in their financial disclosures as a publicly traded company, have made it clear that they want to grow their sports betting and online casino businesses and are using their poker database to that end. While most of their revenue is still poker based, maybe poker is just realistically less of their focus these days.

BK: It seems that they are focused on growing those other aspects of their business. But at the end of the day if their players from poker or their name sour, as a result of squeezing the players, that is not going to be good for any aspect of their business. You could go play casino games or bet sports anywhere on the internet, you don’t have to do it on PokerStars. It’s still called Poker Stars. The business was built on poker. So I feel like the more people have a bad taste in their mouth from their approach, they aren’t going to want to do anything on the site.