Ever since I started coaching microstakes players I have been pretty shocked at some of the games running on Pokerstars at the lowest limits. The full ring games at NL5 and NL10 especially seem to be infested with tight regs.
Now I’m not saying that you can’t make any money playing those games. The regs at those limits all have big weaknesses that are pretty easy to exploit. Most of them are just playing way too tight and will fold to any kind of aggression if they don’t have a big hand.
When I’m playing the micros though I’m looking for tables filled with loose-passive fish. You know the type, those 80/1 whales that won’t fold bottom pair to save their lives. Playing against calling stations like that is the best (and easiest) way to achieve a high win-rate. Sure you can make 2 or 3 bb/100 bluffing tight regs, but why make life hard for yourself? One of my students went from being a 2bb/100 winner at NL5 full ring on Stars to winning 38bb/100 in his first week at a different site. Good variance for sure but he told me that the difference in the games was mind-blowing.
Why Should I Switch Sites?
Pokerstars offers great software and a huge player pool. I’m not going to deny that it’s by far the most convenient site to play on. That convenience is what attracts all those other regs to play there too though. The reg-to-fish ratio on Pokerstars is just much higher than it is on pretty much any other site (at least at the lower limits up to NL50).
At the end of the day it’s about profitability and not comfort. If you’re prepared to deal with some flaws in the software you’ll be rewarded with much softer games.
If you’re playing the lowest limits on Pokerstars, chances are that you’ll never get beyond the SilverStar status. The sad fact is that rakeback for the lowest tiers on Pokerstars is extremely low. If you’re a BronzeStar player you will receive under 10% rakeback. That is among the lowest in the industry and combined with lower win-rates this will hurt your profitability a lot.
On most other sites, the rakeback for low volume players is a lot higher. A lot of rooms start at 20% rakeback, with some starting at even more.
Can I Improve Playing in Soft Games?
Some people will argue that you’re not going to learn anything if you’re only playing in soft games. I am strongly going to disagree with that statement.
First of all there will always be regs at the table no matter what site you play on. So there will be plenty of opportunities to test yourself against good opponents even in soft games.
Second, finding fish to play against should be your strategy for any stakes you are playing. So you might as well learn how to win the maximum against these guys.
Last but not least, learning poker is hard enough even when playing in soft games. When you’re playing in tough games where your expected win-rate is below 3bb/100 you will face long downswings on a regular basis. That’s just the way variance works. Those downswings are extremely demotivating and will mess with your learning process.
The higher your expected win-rate is, the lower the variance will be. It’s as simple as that. So besides making more money, you will actually have a much better chance of improving when you’re playing in soft games.
What are the Best Alternatives to Pokerstars?
Here are three great alternatives to Pokerstars where you are pretty much guaranteed to find easier games:
Betfair is one of the largest sports betting and online casino sites in the world. When looking for a different site to play on you should always look for companies with a high reputation, and Betfair certainly offers that. It’s part of the iPoker network that features some incredibly soft games at the lowest limits.
Once you rake €50 in a month at Befair you get a flat rakeback of 25%. That’s already better than SilverStar on Pokerstars. Once you rake €500 in a month you’ll get a flat rakeback of 40% which is 10% more than SuperNova on Stars.
Betfair also offers a Welcome Bonus of 100% up to €1500 (+ €10 in Tournament Tokens). The software at iPoker is not great but since the new client launched it looks a lot better. It takes some time to transition from Pokerstars but after a week or so you should be used to it.
TonyBet Poker is a relatively new site that was established in 2013. It is not part of a poker network so the player pool is pretty small so far. It appears that the site is growing in popularity though due to its incredible rakeback system and the fact that they offer Open Faced Chinese Poker and the option to put a straddle which should create some pretty good action!
The rakeback system at TonyBet Poker is unlike that of any other poker room. All players receive a flat 25% as base rakeback. Here is where things get interesting though.
If you win or lose no more than €100 in a single day, you receive an additional 25% rakeback for a total of 50%. And to confirm the absolute madness that is going on over there, if you lose more than €100 in a day you receive an additional 55% for a total rakeback of 80%! I have no idea where this site came from, but if they keep this up they should become very popular in the poker community.
Here is a summary of the rake based on your results in a day:
- Losing more than €100 -> 80%
- -€100 to +€100 -> 55%
- Winning more than €100 -> 25%
In addition to the great rakeback, TonyBet Poker offers a Welcome Bonus of 100% up to €2000 (+ €10 in Tournament Tokens). They also seem to offer a reload bonus of 100% up to €1000. I’m not sure if you can reload only once or unlimited times though.
Unfortunately I’m not able to test the site myself as they seem to block IP addresses from Thailand. If you wind up playing there I’d love to hear your comments on the traffic and the quality of the games. When you sign up at TonyBet Poker be sure to use the code “STARTER” to receive your welcome bonus.
888 Poker is the second biggest poker site behind Pokerstars. They offer high traffic and games that are incredibly soft.
One reason for this is the fact that any player can only play a maximum of 6 cash game tables at the same time. For one thing that simply stops all of the mass-multitabling pros from playing at the site. It has another effect on the games though: because any player can only be found on 6 tables the fish to reg ratio is excellent. If 10 strong pros at Pokerstars play 24 tables each while 10 amateurs play 1 table, the ratio of regs to fish is 24:1! At 888 this ratio is greatly reduced because of the lower maximum number of tables.
888 recently introduced a new rakeback system which technically isn’t really rakeback at all. Instead you are rewarded for completing a number of missions similar to what Pokerstars does every other month.
It’s pretty much impossible to find out how much money you can expect to make but I’m guessing the amount is lower than what you get back from the 2 rooms above. One thing is for sure, the new system severely hurts high volume players. That is another reason why the player pool at 888 will only keep getting softer. And if you’re able to achieve a much higher win-rate than you would at a different room then the rakeback isn’t as important anymore.
888 offer a welcome bonus of $88 without depositing any money. That is kind of a gimmick though. You only get $2 in cash and $6 in tournament tokens and you have to clear the rest by earning status points. Still it’s better than nothing, especially when you consider that they offer a Welcome Bonus of 100% up to $400 on top of the free $88.
Playing on Pokerstars is the most convenient way to play online poker. The software is fantastic and there are always games running for any stake. The problem is that this convenience attracts a lot of multi-tabling pros. Thus the ratio of pros to amateurs is extremely high.
For me, finding good games is one of the most important things about playing poker. It’s very hard to find good games on Pokerstars so the logical consequence is to look for a different site.
You don’t have to completely switch sites of course. You can just put a couple hundred on a different site and see if you can find good games there. I always have money on at least 2 sites so I can check if there are good games running on any of them.