2019 Retrospective: PokerStars Boycott Tops February Headlines

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An online poker boytoctt was the biggest story in February, but Bryn Kenney and Phil Galfond also found some love in the headlines.

As 2019 draws to a close, PocketFives takes a look back at the year that was in poker news, going month-by-month through the biggest and most important stories of the year. When the calendar turned to February, a number of the top online poker players attempted to take a stand against PokerStars and a much-heralded new online poker site launched.

The Boycott: PokerStars vs MTT Heavy Hitters

Just before Valentine’s Day, PokerStars broke the hearts of some of their most frequent high stakes tournament grinders. A little over 18 months after first introducing Stars Rewards, the company announced major changes to the program that meant MTT players would be earning 55% fewer reward points for any tournament fees paid. Players originally earned 100 reward points for every $1/€1 in rake paid. The changes meant players would now earn just 45 reward points for every $1/€1 in fees.

The online MTT community didn’t respond well to this change. One of the top-ranked players in the world, ‘girafganger’, organized a boycott which started out as 250 other players agreeing to sit out a $5,200 buy-in Turbo Series event on PokerStars that same week.

“The nonstop rake increases and unbeatable formats they have been pushing on all of us, with the latest one pushing me over the edge, made me reach out to some of the high stakes regs to try and convince them to skip the $5K PokerStars Turbo Series event as a protest,” ‘girafganger’ said in a statement. “The positive feedback was overwhelming and it didn’t take long for a group to naturally form.”

Some of the players boycotting included ‘lena900’, ‘C Darwin2’, Laszlo ‘omaha4rollz’ Bujtas, Calvin Anderson, and Samuel ‘€urop€an’ Vousden. PokerStars’ chief competition, partypoker, even went as far as to create a special $5,000 buy-in tournament with a $1,000,000 guarantee to run against the PokerStars tournament that was subject to the boycott.

The boycott didn’t seem to have the impact the players were hoping for. The PokerStars event drew 187 total entries, down just seven players from the same tournament a week earlier while the partypoker event met the guarantee.

Bryn Kenney Chops Up the Aussie Millions Main Event

Bryn Kenney had himself one helluva 2019 and it all started in earnest in February when he won the Aussie Millions Main Event after a three-way chop.

The tournament ended as soon as the deal was agreed upon. Michael Del Vecchio actually had a slight chip lead when negotiations began, but Kenney was able to talk his way into a deal that gave him the title and a $1,272,598 AUD ($914,617 US) payday. Kenney won the title despite not being responsible for eliminating a single player from the final table.

Del Vecchio took home $1,272,162 AUD while third-place finisher Andrew Hinrichsen banked $1,097,739 AUD.

The event drew 822 runners to break the previous record of 800 from 2018.
Kenney wasn’t the biggest winner from the Aussie Millions though. Toby Lewis, who won the $50,000 High Roller and finished runner-up in the $25,000 Challenge, earned $1,607,654 AUD ($1,149,064 US) to top the 2019 Aussie Millions earnings list.

Team PokerStars Loses Two

In January, PokerStars was more than happy to trot out their Team Pros and Ambassadors at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure for every media opportunity possible. Less than a month later, two of the most visible pros on their roster began what would be a season-long exodus.

In early February, Jamie Staples and Jeff Gross both announced that they were leaving Team PokerStars. Gross and Staples each made an announcement of their own confirming their departure.

For Gross, it was a matter of not being able to come to terms on a new contract to continue representing the site.

“Is this it for you in poker? The answer is ‘no’,” Gross said “If anything, we are just getting locked in, just getting strapped in and it’s seriously about to turn up.”

Staples was looking further ahead and had plans to take his career, poker and streaming, to a new level.

“I felt as if I might have an opportunity to do something bigger with my career in poker,” Staples said at the time. “It was a risk and I thought about it a lot and I decided to go on my own.”

Over the course of the next few months, Gross and Staples both signed on with partypoker to represent their brand at live events on via player-created content on YouTube and Twitch.

David Peters Takes Home US Poker Open

In mid-month, the PokerGO airwaves were jam-packed with the 10 events from the US Poker Open. Most of the high roller regulars were out in full force for events with buy-ins from $10,000 up to the $100,000 Main Event.

David Peters closed out the by winning the Main Event for $1.32 million. That victory also allowed him to beat out Sean Winter for the overall Series title. Peters had two cashes heading into the Main Event. He finished second to Winter in Event #4 ($10,000 Short Deck) for $100,800 and then fifth in Event #9 ($50,000 No-Limit Hold’em) for $164,000 before winning the 33-player Main Event.

Stephen Chidwick won a pair of USPO titles. He beat Winter heads-up to win Event #1 ($10,000 No-Limit Hold’em) and then won Event #6 ($25,000 Pot Limit Omaha). Other US Poker Open event winners included

Jordan Cristos (Event #2), Lauren Roberts (Event #3), Ali Imsirovic ( Event #5), Bryn Kenney (Event #7), Nick Schulman (Event #8), and Koray Aldemir (Event #9).

Run It Once Goes Live

When Phil Galfond announced in 2016 that he was launching an online poker site of his own, the poker world was excited that one of their own was stepping out to give them a new place to play. It became a patience tester for both Galfond and poker community.

It took two years longer than Galfond expected, but in February, Run It Once launched the Public Beta version of their software to much fanfare. Galfond, who had been transparent about the delays and hiccups experienced along the way, was more than happy to put the product out to the world in an effort to get much-needed feedback.

“The deck may be stacked against us, but I believe that with just a little bit of help from you, we can make our poker dream a reality – we can conquer threats to online poker’s future through the innovations we launch with and the countless more still to come, we can be a driving force for positive change in the industry, and we can make Run It Once exactly what a poker site should be.”