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Alex ‘Kanu7′ Millar is one of the most successful high-stakes cash game players in the online game. He is also a man with dust free set of values, most notably brought to our attention when he walked away from his PokerStars Team Online contract after failing to steer his former employer away from making drastic changes to the VIP program.

In the first of a two-part interview, we cover the reasons behind that resignation, his thoughts on the actions of his fellow team pros and much more.

Who is Alex Millar?

“A relatively normal guy I guess. I like poker, football and a few other sports when I get the chance. I live with my longterm girlfriend and our dog and prefer heading to the pub and chatting with friends instead of going on big nights out.”

Talk about your emotions and feelings when PokerStars declared their decision to make drastic changes to the VIP program?

“To start with I felt pretty angry and then a lot of frustration got added in as it was becoming clearer that they would not reverse the changes.

What were your feelings regarding the boycott and did you take part in it, if not/why not?

“To be honest, I prefer not to talk about the boycott too much. On one hand my personal feeling is that I didn’t think it was the best idea. On the other hand, I am aware that I could easily be wrong and didn’t want to talk people out of doing something that may work just because I don’t agree. I didn’t play the days of the boycott out of respect for the players who were taking part. I didn’t want to go and play the games and take the EV they could have had while they tried to help the situation. PokerStars sponsored me at the time, so I didn’t officially take part.”

Describe the options you had available to you internally to make a difference?

“As it turned out, no options this time. There is a Team Pro Online chat that the Team Pro Online Manager, VIP Club Manager, Poker Room Manager and other Stars employees are a part of and we can put our views across and have discussions in there, as well as being able to talk to these people individually where necessary. In the past, we have been able to make a difference with some things by working with these people but the decisions, this time, were made at the top so there was nothing we could do.”

Were you suggesting alternative approaches? If so what were they?

“The main thing is that they should honour their commitment to VIP rewards for 2016 for those people who have been playing all of this year to get the promised rewards next year. Other than that I don’t think removing VPPs for high stakes is a good idea. It seems that it’s either a poor decision or Amaya are trying to fudge some numbers to make things look rosier than they are in the short-term. I suspect just the first one.

“If Amaya wants to make more money from high stakes games, it is a much better idea, in my opinion, to raise the rake of full 6 handed games while keeping the rake the same for shorthanded games. Shorthanded games will almost always be pros playing against each other to start games, and this behaviour is directly suitable for PokerStars as they get rake from players who would otherwise end up cashing out the money.

“Removing all rewards from all high stakes games just means that people will be less likely to play shorthanded games with other pros, and you will push things toward a more predatory, less recreational player friendly environment.

“Perhaps they have plans that will force pros to play against each other, but it all just seems like someone at the top said “make $X in VIP program cuts” and it wasn’t on the table to find better ways to make the same amount of money. It sounds like either poor management or for some reason they want to be able to say: “we are going to make $X more next year because we are making $X of VIP program cuts.”

Talk about the process and frustrations of not being able to effect change?

“It was just a lot of making what I think are good points and not getting satisfactory answers. While it’s a good point that PokerStars should honour the VIP program promises for 2016, the answer is that they are just not going to do so, no matter how well you explain why they should. After some time, it became apparent that I just had to wait and see if Daniel Negreanu could convince David Baazov directly that he should change his mind.”

What do you believe PokerStars did wrong?

“They have a two-year VIP club system that has been advertised on their website right up until November this year. The system is that if you play enough during one year, you get a higher rakeback percentage the next year. To get Supernova Elite, the highest status, you have to play an absolute ton of poker over the course of a year. The people who do this have to play in a lot of tough games in which they are perhaps even losing to get the volume in that is necessary to achieve the status.

“People only do this because of the stated rewards for the next year, so I don’t think it’s acceptable to be advertising that all year, only to take it away in November after people have already dedicated most of their year to chasing Supernova Elite status.

“Another thing that they have got badly wrong is their general attitude towards the Supernova Elite players. It seems like they have failed to realise the distinction in value to the site of players who start games and play vs. other pros and players who only play when there is a terrible player at the table.

“Not only do the players who play other pros create extra rake for PokerStars. which they wouldn’t have got from the players who only play against weak players but they also create a friendlier and less predatory environment for recreational players.

“These changes directly encourage people to behave in a more predatory manner at a time when they are justifying these changes by claiming that new player retention rates are not good. The changes do not fix the problem that they are claiming they are trying to fix. Then by further alienating (by the awful and insulting communication) the base of loyal players who have always played significant volume on Stars including games vs. other pros rather than spread their action across multiple sites to search for the best games, they are making it harder for themselves to fix the problem in future.”

How would you have handled things differently?

“Assuming that some form of cuts were clearly necessary, which I can’t say for sure without seeing all the data, I would have kept players up to date with any potential changes planned as they were being worked on so that players can make fair decisions on what they should play. Then I would have looked at alternative ways of raising the extra cash and picked the best way to do it rather than arbitrarily deciding that we’re doing VIP cuts, and that’s that.

“Finally, I would have been a lot more honest in communications with the players. The announcement made in a blog with the title “Comprehensive Plan for Enhanced PokerStars Experience” is absolutely pathetic. The whole blog post smacked of being written by someone who thought they were an extremely clever spin doctor, putting a positive light on everything. It actually looked like it was written by an idiot. Perhaps it was.”

Do you believe the rest of Team PokerStars did enough to show up for their fellow grinders?

“A lot of people on the team care a lot about doing the right thing and about sticking up for their fellow players and the state of the games. I can tell you that these things don’t happen with just a shrug from Team Pro Online. Just because I am currently the only one who has quit doesn’t mean I am the only one who cares.

“Everyone has their personal situation and eventually makes their own decision on whether something like this is worth leaving over, but I was far from the only one trying to get the players points across to management.”

Will you continue to play on PokerStars?

“I plan to. I’m a professional poker player, and PokerStars is where the highest stakes action goes on. I expect that many people will do the same. What has changed is not that everyone will pick up and leave PokerStars immediately, rather it’s that people no longer have any loyalty or preference to PokerStars.

“With the evaporation of the good brand and reputation that Stars have built up over some years, they will become just another site and people will be more inclined to play more elsewhere whenever they get the chance. For the sake of balance, it is fair to say that despite all of this, they are still the best site out there in some ways, people are just so disappointed at what they see now compared to what they saw a couple of years ago when they look at PokerStars.”

Read Part 2 of Alex Millar’s interview here

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Lee Davy

Life can be viewed as the sum of the parts or the parts themselves. I believe in the holistic view of life, or the sum. When dealing with individual parts you develop whack-a-mole syndrome; each time you clobber one problem with your hammer another one just pops up.

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