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Pokerstars Review - Long Live the King!

So you want to play poker. And you don't feel like schlepping to some crowded, noisy, smoke-filled casino. You'd rather hang out at home in your underwear and test your luck with some online poker. The next decision to make is which of the dozens of poker sites that are on the web are going to get your hard-earned dollar.

PokerStars is one of the dozens of poker sites, but they are distinguished by the fact that they are the largest. But does "largest" necessarily mean "best?" Here then is my studied, educated view of PokerStars.com.

PokerStars certainly boasts of an impressive cadre of pros and dare I say "poker celebrities" (yes, the world has spun off its axis because there is such a term as "poker celebrities"). But are they merely rented shills who speak for a site because they're paid to? Or is there some actual value to the site such that a Daniel Negreanu or Joe Hachem or Greg Raymer or Chris Moneymaker would actually be interested and willing to play here? And if so, what are the reasons they would, other than wanting to play in their underwear?

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Software

The first thing you need to do to play, of course, is download the site's software. In this day and age of fast connection speeds and rapid downloads, this is no problem. A few clicks on the main website, some simple default choices, and pretty soon you're ready to play – after you deposit your money, of course.

For U.S. players, in particular, this is a big deal, and PokerStars offers some, shall we say, "alternatives" that allow U.S. players to deposit money.

When you're fully registered and ready to play, PokerStars' gaming software operates as a top ranked site's software should. The game flow is crisp with very few glitches seen or reported. And if an issue does arise, the site is quick to notify and fix any issue.

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Aesthetics

In this day and age, it's not that hard to put together a sharp-looking, dynamic poker site – and yet, so many get it wrong. Clearly it's about investing the time, energy, and money in designing a top notch site. And certainly it helps to have that money to design that site.

Well, whatever came first in PokerStars basket, they've been able to create a site that is warm and appealing to the novice player, yet sturdy and authoritative to the experienced player who knows his way around poker sites.

PokerStars presents very few surprises – which can be good and bad. As is the case with most poker site Lobbies, the design is sloppy and confusing. But the main reason for that is that it needs to cram a lot of information in a relatively small space. No poker site I've seen has been able to accomplish that in a completely user-friendly and attractive way. PokerStars seems to embrace that confusion.

When it comes to the actual table layout, this is where sites separate themselves from each other. While PokerStars certainly has its own look, it also allows for adaptability. A player can change virtually any aspect of the physical layout. Don't like the color of the deck of cards? Change ‘em! Don't like the background image or color scheme to the table? Change it! Don't like your icon or picture that shows up when you play? Load anything you want!

Online poker players have a lot of choices when it comes to which site to play on. Might as well give them a lot of choices on one site.

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Games

Certainly the heart of the poker craze is Texas Hold 'em. Add to it the drama of a player all-in for all of his or her chips at one moment and you have the high drama of No Limit Hold 'em. While that is probably PokerStars' most popular game, it is by no means their only one.

PokerStars also embraces the old school poker stylings of 7 card stud, with some newfangled twists such as Hi/Lo and Razz (aka "Lowball").

Omaha is another popular standard these days, and PokerStars has no shortage of Omaha tables. They also offer various forms of Draw Poker games as well as Mixed Games such as HORSE.

And for each of these games, there are tournaments. And more tournaments. Boy, there are a lot of tournaments! As well as Sit n Go (single and multi tables) tournaments.

Needless to say, there are a LOT of games, which is why the Lobby gets crowded and convoluted. How can one system possibly keep track of all these games? That's a feat by itself.

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Stakes

In addition to all manner of Games, PokerStars offers all manner of Stakes. Action for high-rollers as well as for the penny pinchers. But certainly the stakes offered differ for each game. For example, for a game such as Hold'em, the range of stakes is much greater than say for Stud. You can find a Fixed Limit Hold ‘em game for as much as $2,000 all the way down to as little as 4 cents. But for the less popular 7 Card Stud, the range goes from a high of $60 to a low of 8 cents.

Tournaments, on the other hand, play by their own rules – figuratively and literally. But in terms of stakes, you can find some in the several hundred thousand range, and others for as little as a dollar. A wide range of Buy In prices can also be found at the Sit & Go Tournament tables, which of course affects the stakes.

Keep in mind that all games – tournaments included – feature free games, or as PokerStars puts it, for the "Fun" of it.

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Tournaments

As mentioned, the Tournaments run a vast range from "top of the line tune-ups for serious-minded challengers for a WSOP bracelet" to "what the heck, give it a shot, it's only a buck" players. Naturally, the cheaper the buy-in cost for a Tournament will make it more popular. Some low buy-in Tournaments have been known to attract over four thousand players.

Tournaments can be found for any and all games that PokerStars offers, but Hold ‘em is of course the most popular. The craving for re-creating that WSOP feel runs high.

By the way, finding a Tournament that suits your liking can be difficult on PokerStars. There are hundreds of offerings, and navigating through the lobby can be difficult. But the PokerStars Lobby does allow for Sorting with as many as three levels of tabs that help narrow down what you're looking for. You can also sort by selecting on the tab relating to your personal priorities. It's confusing and there are very few concise explanations for it found on the site. But any player can acclimate themselves to the system after about 10 minutes of clicking buttons.

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Sit & Go Tournaments

The overwhelming field size of some tournaments is one key reason for the development of Sit & Go tournaments. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a Sit & Go Tournament is simply one with a finite number of seats available for the tournament. Some Sit & Go Tournaments are single table size (and even the size of the table varies from 10 seats to as few as 2) while others offer seats for as many as 360 players.

Sit & Gos allow PokerStars to control the size of a tournament – and therefore its payout – but still maintain the feel of a legitimate tournament. Trust me, when you're in a pool of over 200 players, any sense of "limitation" is gone.

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Freeroll Tournaments

At the other end of the "control" spectrum from Sit & Go Tournaments are the Freeroll Tournaments, or as I like to call them, "Free-for-all Tournaments." Even though a buy-in is non-existent for Freeroll tourneys, that's not really what I'm talking about. I'm referring to the nature of the play.

For one thing, Freeroll tourneys are free to enter, so that eliminates a major restriction. For another, there's very rarely a cap on the number of players, although a random check of the PokerStars lobby seems to imply there is a cap for Freeroll tournaments at 12,000. That's a cap?? I haven't even met 12,000 people in my life!

The other "Free-for-all" element of Freeroll tourneys is the style of play. Since no one committed any money, no one's got anything to lose. And they play like it. Freeroll tournaments are not a very good barometer of style or quality of play. They're not a good place to hone your skills. Everyone is trying to win money without investing any, which of course is the main draw of Freeroll tournaments, but that leads to rash play.

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Satellite Tournaments

Satellite tournaments have never made a lot of sense to me. You pay money to play in a tournament, you fight and battle your way to the final table, and for all your trouble, the only thing you win is a chance to fight and battle your way through another tournament (set for a pre-determined time) against even better players. It's only at that point that you can win some serious coin. That seems to me like you're doubling your odds of losing - at much much lower cost, mind you, which is, I must admit, the big advantage of the Satellite tournaments.

As such, like others, and probably in a much better manner than others, PokerStars offers a slew of Satellite tournaments, some that even get you into tournaments where you could win a coveted WSOP bracelet. It's no wonder that online champ Chris Moneymaker is a PokerStars "Team Pro."

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Competition

PokerStars' popularity and keen graphics and seemingly unlimited table options mean players flock to the site, and many of them are very good. As a matter of fact, I would put PokerStars on a par with perhaps two other sites as attracting the most qualified players in the world.

Any game, any tournament, any time, you could find yourself locked in a battle with one of the top players – and you would never know it until well after you lost all your money. The fact is that with the proliferation of books and magazines about poker, as well as poker sites, you don't have to be a professional poker player to be something of an expert. And you don't have to be an expert to be good. But when you are good and you have a solid grasp of the basics of the game and strategy, you want to play in a challenging environment with a variety of players. So naturally, you're going to play at a popular poker establishment.

I say this only as a warning. If you're a weekend scrub who plays "once in a while," you'd be putting yourself at huge risk to play a $1000 No Limit Hold ‘em table. But the beauty of PokerStars is that you can find like-minded and similarly-skilled players at a $5 table.

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Traffic

As mentioned above, Competition and Traffic go hand in hand. But does the quality competition (which goes hand in hand with the high-stakes games offered) lead to increased traffic? Or does the high rate of traffic simply, by its nature, mean there is going to be greater competition? Whatever the cause and effect, PokerStars has it in spades. The site is crowded day and night, and you never have to wait long for a table.

As a matter of fact, the only real wait only comes when you want to play a Sit & Go tournament because the games need to have a requisite amount of players before they start. But the tables fill up so quickly that by the time you get from the Lobby to the Tournament – with Log in and Cashier time factored in – the table may fill up on you and cause you to start all over again. But rest assured – another Sit & Go of that same stake level will be starting up in moments.

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Cashier

Needless to say, PokerStars works hard to overcome any obstacles for depositing money. For example, if you don't have a credit card that allows for gaming deposits (as many in the U.S. don't), PokerStars allows deposits through an internet checking system.

But the Cashier is more than just about depositing or withdrawing money. PokerStars has safeguards in place in an attempt to curb abusive gambling. You can ask it to refuse attempts to deposit if you've been making too many. The Cashier will also give you a detailed history of your deposits and withdrawals so you can keep track of any exorbitance.

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Promotions / Bonuses

The online poker landscape seems to dictate that all sites need to offer bonuses to players (especially at initial sign-up). Even though PokerStars doesn't really need to do that to attract new players, they seem to feel obligated. I guess it's just another way for PokerStars to put the screws to the little guy who has to work extra hard to compete. Like a good poker player, PokerStars doesn't want to let the little guy up for air.

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In addition, PokerStars rewards people who not only maintain an account but use it often. It's their Frequent Players Program, and it's designed to keep you attached to PokerStars for better or worse. When you amass a certain number of points, you become eligible for the "VIP club" where you can win cash and prizes. Membership has other privileges as well.

Read about the Pokerstars Marketing Code and Bonus.

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Support / Customer Service

Perhaps the most important element of any poker site (well, AFTER how quickly it pays you out) is the support you get when troubleshooting issues arise. PokerStars starts with a great system that is constantly monitored so troubleshooting issues rarely arise in the first place.

When they do, Customer Service is always available, and in various forms. There is, of course, web support in the guise of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). Chances are, anything you're experiencing has been experienced before, and the answer to it can be found in the FAQs. If not, you can always send a question to a Customer Service rep, and you can expect an answer in about a day.

Support is naturally more readily available when trying to deposit money. PokerStars has what it calls a Deposit Assistance Department that helps you with any issue relating to establishing an account or depositing money. This help is available on the phone or sometimes in a live chat.

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IN CONCLUSION

PokerStars is truly a unique, state-of-the-art poker site. It's clear what online poker has become, thanks to all the money that has been poured into it. It has become PokerStars.com. Long live the king!

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