Poker Stars could arguably be considered one of the most popular – if not the most popular poker room on the Web. In operation for several years, Poker Stars was put on the map in 2003, following the World Series of Poker win by Poker Stars member, Chris Moneymaker, and then later followed by a big WSOP win by Greg Raymer in 2004. Both players started off gambling online at Poker Stars, and can still be found frequenting the website and playing in high stakes games. 2005 World Series of Poker winner, Joseph Hachem, later joined the ranks of MoneyMaker and Raymer, making the professional triumvirate official sponsors and “Stars” for Poker Stars. With over five million registered players, up to 100,000 players online at peak times, a diverse range of table stakes, one of the largest tournament selections online including satellites for the World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour, and the first-ever guaranteed $1 million weekly jackpot, Poker Stars is a formidable force in the world of online poker. Online activities are managed by best-selling poker author and veteran player, Lee Jones, who also happens to be Silicon Valley software designer. Poker Stars holds their online gaming license through the government of Costa Rica. All financial transactions are processed by subsidiary, Rational Entertainment Enterprises.
Software & Games
A free download is available from the Poker Stars website. Considering what is offered on this 6MB platform, the download speed is fully optimized. For all cable and DSL internet connections, the download should take under two minutes, while 56kbps connections will take in the neighborhood of fifteen minutes. It is irrelevant to go into detail on how to install and download the software, for you are prompted by the Installation Wizard every step of the way. Whether using Internet Explorer, Netscape or FireFox, all it takes to get started is to click the “Download Now” button. Compatible operating systems are Windows 95/98/ME/NT4/2000/XP. It is recommended that players use a 333 MHz Pentium Processor, a DSL or cable internet connection and have 128 MB of Random Access Memory (256 MB of RAM is optimized for best performance), although anything less than this will still be able to accommodate players.
Software Platform – PokerStars.com uses their very own proprietary software, which is amongst the best on the Web. Offering more than just the standard poker games of Texas Hold’em, Omaha and Stud, the software platform was designed to cater to a comprehensive online playing experience. The software “Quick Tour” explains all of the interactive options a player has while logged in the main lobby and viewing tables. From here, players are guided step-by-step on how to customize game features, transfer money, view hand history, chat with other players, take notes, and read player stats, to name a few. The most stand-out and useful features include customizable lobby themes (which now include Shiny, Saloon, Marine, Renaissance, Stars and Hyper-Simple), table resizing (allowing players to participate at several tables at once), poker hand histories (up to the last 200 played hands), note pad for keeping tabs on other players, sorting options to help players sort through the different available tables, displayed internet connection status, table focus choices (giving players at multiple tables the option of allowing the software to alert them every time an action is required at any of the tables), real time chat, and personal playing statistics showing everything from how many times you are playing through to the flop to how tight you are playing the blinds. This software platform is truly one of the most user-friendly and comprehensive we have seen. And to top it off, Poker Stars allows players to use their very own images for designating their online identities.
Games – One of the larger selections of poker games than other rooms online, a download of the Poker Stars software platform gets you access to Texas Hold’em, Seven Card Stud, Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo, Omaha, Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz and Horse, all of which offer extensive tournament action.
Buy-ins – All games are met with a buy-in equal to ten times the minimum stake for for the table. For instance, a $.50/$1 table will require a buy-in of $.50 x 10 = $5 to join the table. This rate is the norm for all legitimate online poker rooms.
While there is no “traditional” school at Poker Stars, the software offers free pot-limit and no-limit tables with unlimited play money. With proper research and study, consistent practice is, by far, the best way to learn the game of poker and improve your playing skills. Since there is no school at Poker Stars, we recommend new players to try the free tables first before playing with real money.
Betting Structures, Rake & Tournament Fees
The rake structure is simple and to-the-point at Poker Stars (See the below chart for an entire listing of rake fees). There is no rake charged if there is no Flop. Tournament fees are 10% of the buy-in for both no-limit and pot limit tournaments. The tournament selection here is one of the largest on the Web, especially for World Series of Poker satellites.
Regarding betting structures, depending on the game of poker, they are consistent with universally accepted rules. In Limit Texas Hold’em, a maximum of four bets is allowed per player in each betting round (amounting to a bet, raise, re-raise and final raise), while in Pot Limit and No Limit Texas Hold’em, there is no limit as to how many times a player can raise in each betting round. The maximum eligible raise for No Limit Hold’em is the size of one’s chip stack, while in Pot Limit the max raise is for the amount of the pot and all chips on the table at that time. For games of Omaha Hi Lo and Limit Omaha, specific betting limits are applied to each individual game and betting round. Bets at pot limit games are limited to the amount of chips in the pot and on the table in that betting round, while no-limit games are limited to each players chip stack. For games of Seven Card Stud Poker, there are no betting limits or pot limits.
The Rake Chart for fixed limit, no limit and pot limit games is as follows:
|FIXED LIMIT GAMES|
|LIMIT||# OF PLAYERS||RAKE/POT||MAX RAKE|
|$0.02/$.04||2 to 10||$.01 for every $.20 in pot||$0.04|
|$0.04/$.08||2 to 10||$.01 for every $.20 in pot||$.08|
|$0.05/$.10||2 to 10||$.01 for every $.20 in pot||$.10|
|$0.10/$.20||2 to 10||$.01 for every $.20 in pot||$.20|
|$0.25/$.50||2 to 10||$.05 for every $1 in pot||$.40|
|$0.50/$1||2 to 10||$.05 for every $1 in pot||$.50|
|$1/$2||2 to 10||$.25 for every $5 in pot||$1|
|2 to 3||$.50 for every $20 in pot||$1|
|$.50 for every $40 in pot||$1|
|4 to 5||$1 for every $20 in pot||$2|
|$1 for every $20 in pot||$2|
|6 to 10||$1 for every $20 in pot||$3|
|$1 for every $40 in pot||$3|
|$1 for every $70 in pot||$3|
|$200/$400||2 to 3||$1 for every $100 in pot||$2|
|4 to 10||$1 for every $100 in pot||$5|
|POT LIMIT & NO-LIMIT GAMES|
|LIMIT||# OF PLAYERS||RAKE/POT||MAX RAKE|
|2 to 3||$.05 for every $1 in pot||$1|
|4 to 5||$.05 for every $1 in pot||$2|
|6 to 9||$.05 for every $1 in pot||$3|
New account holders at Poker Stars are eligible to receive a 100% First Time Bonus up to $50 Free. For returning players, Poker Stars offers reload bonuses, which become available from time to time, and are announced via the lobby of the software. In other words, this is Poker Stars way of encouraging you to logon as often as possible so you do not miss out on free money. All bonuses are governed by wager requirements – just not in the traditional way in which online casinos often govern free bonus money. In order for bonus funds to be eligible for cashing out, players must earn Frequent Player Points (FPP’s). For sign-up bonuses, players must earn FPP’s in the amount of 10 times the bonus amount. Also, this must be done within a six month time period from the date one receives the bonus. For reload bonuses, the FPP wager requirment will vary, although it is safe to say that many reload bonuses will be eligible for cashing out after FPP’s in the amount of five times the bonus are earned.
Frequent Player Points are earned for every raked poker game a player participates in and for every tournament entered. The rate at which they are earned varies. The first FPP is earned when the rake for a fixed limit, no limit and pot limit game with stakes of $1/$2 and lower reaches $.40. For all other games, the first FPP is earned when the rake reaches $1. The second FPP is earned when the rake reaches $2 for all 6-max tables and $3 for all other tables. The third FPP is earned when a player participates in a game in which a $5 rake is taken. In addition to meeting bonus cash-in requirements, FPP’s also can be exchanged for merchandise and buying seats to notable poker tournaments, such as the World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and Poker Stars’ very own Caribbean Adventure tournament.
One last thing worth mentioning is Poker Stars VIP Club, which every real-money player is granted membership into. There are different levels of monthly membership status, beginning with the Bronze level and moving upwards through Silver, Gold, Platinum and Supernova. As an extension of the FPP program, the VIP Program allows players to earn more FPP’s (up to 3.5 times faster), participate in VIP Freeroll tournaments and as mentioned earlier, exchange FPP’s for merchandise, such as iPods.
All transactions at Poker Stars are securely and confidentially processed through their eCommerce subsidiary company, Rational Entertainment Ltd. There are several banking options available through the services of the Poker Stars online cashier. Real money deposits can be made via several reputable eCommerce handlers, including NETeller, eChecks, CentralCoin, ePassporte, VISA and VISA Delta Cards, MasterCard, Diners Club International, Solo/Maestro/Switch Cards, Wire Transfers, Cashier’s Check / Money Order / Bank Draft (the latter require a minimum deposit of $100). Withdrawal requests are facilitated through the software platform, which players only need to log into, visit the online cashier and type in the requested amount.
Payouts are promptly received, which depending on the exact method used to transfer funds, can take place in as little as twenty-four hours. For withdrawals not exceeding the original deposit amount, these will be received in just minutes from the time of the request when using either NETeller, ePassporte or CentralCoin. For all withdrawals exceeding a player’s deposits, these must be verified first (for security reasons), and are promptly done so. Withdrawals of this kind using NETeller, ePassporte and CentralCoin will be processed within seventy-two hours, as will those using Switch, Maestro and Solo Cards (allow three to ten days for payments to reflect on your Switch/Maestro/Solo statements). eChecks are processed in seventy-two hours, checks under $1,000 will be received by mail within fifteen business days and checks over $1,000 will be received by mail courier within seven business days.
Players should keep in mind that all withdrawal requests should take place after 48 hours has elapsed since making a deposit, and that Poker Stars may inquire for further identification checks upon requesting for withdrawals. Another great plus about the Poker Stars cashier is that they do not charge conversion fees, which are incidentally processed according to daily Reuters exchange rates.
Security is a major area of concern for Poker Stars.com management, which is attested to by the transparency of the Poker Stars website, describing the various security protocols used and enforced in their back-end online operations. Data privacy is specifically safeguarded, which goes beyond just data encryption between player computers and software servers. Regarding Poker Stars software, a Thawte security certificate and 1024-bit RSA key are used to ensure the download is executed in an unmodified form, while https:// web servers are protected at all times. Not to get too technical for the sake of this review, Poker Stars uses Triple-DES EDE3 to encrypt playing sessions, which coupled with 512-bit RSA key, updated server private keys and industry standard Secure Socket Layer (SSLv3) protocol, provides for an excellent safety margin.
All card shuffling is generated by an Intel RNG using algorithms that ensure required degrees of randomness. In other words, bad card distribution of shuffles is specifically prevented in the software programming modules. For specific algorithm parameters, we suggest players refer to the Poker Stars Website, where this information can be obtained. For those players who just want to know the authenticity of Poker Stars software validation, it should suffice to know that the software platform has been independently certified not once, but twice, by renowned RNG analyzer’s, Cigital and BMM International.
In terms of player collusion, Poker Stars keeps a watchful eye over this illegal activity. Players should find it reassuring that Poker Stars keeps data records of all played hands, which is sound evidence against colluding players. Sophisticated software monitors and analyzes all activity, which upond detecting unusual activity, are followed by manual investigations by Poker Stars’ security department. Likewise, all collusion claims made by players are investigated. Those players who are found guilty of colluding with other players, will be expelled from the site.
The disconnection policy at Poker Stars is fair and lenient to say the least. When the rare occasion of being disconnected from the software server occurs, the player(s) who were disconnected will be automatically detected by the software and will be kept in the game as if they were all-in. Of course, this does not mean they truly are all-in, with their entire chip stack being put into the pot. It simply means the player will be allowed to stay in the game. All further betting will go into a side pot automatically generated by the software, which the other remaining players will vie for. Considering that players have twenty-five seconds to act in Limit games and thirty-five seconds to act in Pot Limit and No Limit poker games, there is a reasonable chance that players may be able to log back in and join the table before their turn to act has expired. If this is the case, and the player does indeed return to the table before being timed out, they will be given at least ten seconds to act.
Poker Stars operates a sound customer and technical support center. Largely contributing to the awards Poker Stars has received over the years, including Honorable Mention for Top Poker Site, the friendly customer service team at Poker Stars proficiently handles player affairs. Considering the size of their player base, it is no overstatement to say they offer outstanding service.
One thing worth mentioning, however, is that players should get used to sending emails here, for this is the preferred method of contact. Support @ pokerstars.com handles all inquiries. In addition to a 24/7 staff, Poker Stars publishes an in-depth Frequently Asked Questions section on their website, covering everything from tournament rules to banking options.