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PokerStars Begins n-Stack Tournament Soft Launch

Online poker rooms are always trying to come up with clever wrinkles on the game to keep players interested. Poker is fun in and of itself, but sometimes we get tired of the same, old No-Limit Hold’em freezeouts or Pot-Limit Omaha cash games. We want something different to reinvigorate us, to ramp up our excitement for poker again. PokerStars is hoping it may have a winner on its hands with a new tournament type called the “n-Stack Tournament.”

It sounds weird, I know. In this case “n” should remind us of our algebra classes back in school, as it looks like a variable. It looks like one because it actually is a variable that can differ tournament to tournament. In an n-Stack Tournament, every player’s starting chip stack is divided into “n” number of smaller, equally-sized chip stacks at the beginning of the event. To give an example, On Friday, there is a $10 + $1 Turbo 5-Stack (the 5 is the “n”) tournament at 13:00 in which all players begin the competition with 7,500 chips. Those chips will be split into five 1,500 chip stacks for every player.

At the outset of the tournament, each player decides how many stacks to put into play. At least one must be used, of course (or else the player would have no chips in front of him), but any number of the five can be put on the table. Thus, some players might have 1,500 chips to begin the contest, some might have 4,500, some might have all 7,500…you get the idea. One through five stacks, the option is each player’s to make independently.

At any point during the tournament, a player can choose to add some or all of his remaining stacks to his active pile of chips, regardless of how many chips he has won or lost. There will be an “Add Stacks” button on which to click to activate this option. Stacks will be added after the completion of a hand if selected while a hand is ongoing. If a player loses all of the chips he has on the table, he must add at least one stack, as after all, he has not really busted out – he still has chips behind. He doesn’t have to add only one stack; he can add as many of his remaining stacks as he wants. At some point in the tournament, players will automatically have any remaining stacks added to their active stack, sort of how there is a finite re-buy period in re-buy tournaments.

galaga-double-shipOf course, if a player loses all the chips on the table and has no stacks remaining, that’s it, he’s done. It is kind of like lives in a video game. If you lose a life and have more left, you keep playing. Only in an n-Stack Tournament, you can play all your lives at once. So I guess that analogy doesn’t really work, except maybe in Galaga, since you can get one of your ships captured in order to rescue it to give yourself double the fire power. In that case, players can have two lives in play at the same time. But I digress.

Players can always see how many stacks an opponent has remaining even if those stacks are not in play.

n-Stack Tournaments are essentially hybrid freezeout / re-buy events. Some players may choose to put all five stacks on the table at once and just play it like a deep-stack freezeout, while others might start with just one, playing it like a re-buy, but a re-buy in with a pre-determined, limited cash outlay. In the latter case, it could be fun for people who otherwise worry about being outspent by deep-pocketed players in re-buy tournaments or about overspending themselves. An n-Stack Tournament can feel like a re-buy, but the initial buy-in is the maximum anybody will pay.

Then there are the strategies in between, like starting with two or three stacks and leaving the rest behind. It could be a very interesting type of tournament. Being in the United States, I unfortunately cannot play on PokerStars, so I won’t get a chance to try these out. I would guess that most people will either start at one of the extremes – one stack or all stacks – mainly because these are the most familiar starting points. I could also envision players feeling pressured to increase their starting stacks when someone else at the table does so first out of fear of getting bullied.

There are currently a very limited number of n-Stack Tournaments running on PokerStars with buy-ins ranging from $2 + $0.20 to $10 + $11. All the tourneys on the schedule that I am seeing through March 1st are either 3-stack or 5-stack. PokerStars appears to in a sort of trial-run period for n-Stack Tournaments with a full rollout to come in the future.

A couple weeks ago, a PokerStars representative posted a first draft of the Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) schedule on Two Plus Two in order to get feedback and an n-Stack event was present. The few comments made about it were unenthusiastic.

It remains to be seen as to whether or not n-Stack Tournament will prove to be popular. Regardless of how it turns out, it is nice to see PokerStars try something new.

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