New CEO Appointed As Part Of Major Changes At PokerStars

There are major changes underway at the world’s largest poker site along with a change in leadership. On Wednesday, the Rational Group announced that Rafa Ashkenazi has been named CEO for the company.

Rafi Ashkenazi takes over as CEO of Rational Group

According to, Rafi Ashkenazi has been named the new Chief Executive Officer of the Rational Group. Rational Group is the division of Amaya that’s responsible for PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.

Ashkenazi had been serving as Senior VP of Strategy since earlier this year and reported directly to David Baazov. Previously, he had served as COO of Rational Group dating back to January 2013. Prior to joining Rational Group in 2013, he served as COO of Playtech.

According to Amaya CEO David Baazov:

“Rafi has been working very closely this year with our executive management team and returns to Rational Group with an even greater knowledge of our corporate strategy, vision and goals. Combining this knowledge with his operational expertise makes him an ideal leader for the Rational Group.”

Ashkenazi also commented on his new position, stating, “I look forward to re-joining the excellent team at Rational Group and working with them to continue to extend our leadership in online gaming.”

“We have great opportunities in the near future with our upcoming launch in New Jersey, the expansion of our casino and sports-betting businesses and our mission to grow the poker category.”

Ashkenazi will replace Michael Hazel as CEO of the Rational Group. Hazel is rumored to be one of the four employees that Amaya must terminate before PokerStars can launch in New Jersey.  

Ashkenazi will officially take over in his new role on November 9.

Shift comes after announcement of major changes for ROW players

Ashkenazi’s promotion comes just three days after PokerStars announced sweeping changes to the PokerStars experience for players outside of the United States. The first announcement, and one heralded by many, is that the company will continue its push to eliminate client access for HUD’s and other third-party data mining software. This change was done to attempt to level the playing field.

The other major announcement was not as well received. PokerStars announced sweeping changes to their VIP and rewards program that will significant impact it high volume and high stakes players.

Among those changes are a significant reduction in overall benefits and the elimination of VPP’s for high stake games. Furthermore, Supernova Elite players will have capped benefits in 2016 followed by the program being eliminated in 2017.

The reduction in benefits will range anywhere from 10% all the way to 60% for some SNE players. Numerous pros spoke out on the matter, calling it an apparent money grab by the site. Dani Stern, aka Ansky, was among the most vocal and stated that the new rewards program would cut approximately $50,000 per year from his bankroll.

The only players to see an increase in benefits are ChromeStar players who will see a 10% increase. According to Stern, that will equate to an average increase of 30 cents per month in rewards for ChromeStar players.

It is unknown at this time what type of rewards will be available for PokerStars NJ but it is expected that a similar program that’s offered to the ROW will be launched when operations begin in 2016.

About the Author