I Tried PokerStars Power Up and It Was Pretty Cool
When PokerStars launched its second public alpha of its new Power Up game, I saw all these articles about it and whether or not it was fun and what-not and lamented the fact that as someone who lives in the United States, I had no access to PokerStars and its wonderful array of poker fun. BIG GOVERNMENT keepin’ me down.
But then I realized that had been ignoring the side door: PokerStars.net, Stars’ play money-only client. Even I, in the “land of the free,” am allowed to play there. Excited that I had stopped being stupid, I downloaded the software, unearthed my old PokerStars login, and revved it up. After playing several Power Up games, I can confidently say that Power Up looks like the first game that both turns poker on its head and will actually have staying power. It probably won’t replace traditional poker or even things like Zoom or Spin & Go’s, but for something that has the potential to severely piss off poker purists, Power Up is pretty damn fun.
Power Up, at its most basic, is a three-handed, winner-take-all, Sit-and-Go. An entire game can play just like any old poker match, but it won’t and that’s because of the power cards that every player is granted.
At the start of the tournament, each player is dealt three power cards in addition to their hole cards. Just like the hole cards, these power cards are hidden from view of the other players. Power cards allow players to use an associated power that can change the flow of the game significantly, tilting the proceedings in the player’s favor. Each power has an “energy” cost; players start with 10 energy and receive 2 more energy before every hand, up to a maximum of 20.
Here are the possible powers that can be played, along with their energy cost:
Clone: receive a copy of the last power played this hand (2 energy)
Disintegrate: choose a card to destroy that was dealt on the current street (4 energy)
EMP: prevent the use of additional powers on this street (3 energy, reduced from the original 4)
Engineer: choose the deck’s next card from three options (5 energy)
Intel: view the deck’s top card for the rest of the hand (3 energy)
Reload: select either or both hole cards to re-draw (5 energy)
Scanner: view the top two cards in the deck and discard them if desired (4 energy)
Upgrade: draw a third hole card, discarding one (5 energy)
X-Ray: force all opponents to reveal one randomly selected card (2 energy)
Powers can be played during a player’s turn, before the player makes a poker action. If a player uses one or more power cards in a hand, he will be given one new one prior to the next hand; the most power cards a player can have at once is three.
Initially, you might guess what makes Power Up exciting: every player can do the things they have always dreamed of in poker. We can cheat, but cheat legally. We can initiate our own god-mode.
But as I played, I realized that Power Up went deeper than that. As much as poker involves multi-level thinking (I know that he knows that I know such-and-such, for instance), Power Up adds butt-loads more levels. Take this hand that I completely played myself on (I’m going from memory on this, so I hope it’s fairly accurate):
I was down to heads-up, but was facing a sizeable chip deficit. I had J-Q, so I was naturally aggressive pre-flop. The flop was A-Q-T, giving me middle pair and a gutshot draw. Needing to nab some chips, I decided that I was fine taking down pot right there, so I used a Disintegrate card to erase the Ace and turn my hand into top pair. Now, if my opponent had an Ace, his hand would be ruined and he would fold.
My opponent didn’t fold, though. Instead, he used an Intel card, allowing him to see the turn card (and river, if we got to the next street). He looked at it and called my flop bet. That wasn’t a good sign. I don’t remember if I ended up busting on this hand or if I just lost a bunch of chips, but the turn card was a King and my opponent hand a King. So what happened was that by using Disintegrate, I not only blew what would have been a Broadway straight, but likely telegraphed to my opponent that I had Queen. When he saw a King was coming, he felt great and I was totally boned. Like I said, I played myself.
One thing that Power Up does is that it adds all sorts of opportunities to bluff. For instance, I could use and Intel or Scanner power, allowing me to what cards are coming, and then put forth a big bet, making my foes think I was going to end up with a strong hand. Or perhaps I could use Disintegrate on a card that was actually meaningless to me, making my opponents think I had something that I didn’t.
Of course, with those bluff possibilities come counters, as my opponents could use their own powers to sniff out my ruse. I could use Scanner to check out the next two cards and then if they don’t help me at all, I could still place a healthy bet or raise to make my opponent think those cards are going to give me a strong hand. That opponent, though, might also have Scanner. If he uses it, he might see that the cards will help him which would mean (depending on the cards) that they might not be able to help me as much as I am trying to make him believe. Or, he might decide to throw those cards out, making me have to abandon my bluff or create some sort of new story to tell.
As I said earlier, Power Up probably won’t usurp good, old poker on PokerStars, but for those who don’t mind three-handed games, it really adds a heck of a lot of extra strategy and fun. It looks like a great change of pace game who would like to inject some Hearthstone into their poker.