PokerStars Launches Power Up Alpha

Poker players, prepare to get either really excited or rally incensed. PokerStars announced today that it is working on yet another product designed to appeal to recreational players, a product it hopes will make poker games more fun and exciting. And by more fun and exciting, I mean more like a video game. Of course, the world’s largest online poker site is hoping veteran players will like it, too, and by the brief look Stars has offered of what it calls “Power Up,” there is certainly a non-zero chance that it will be hit.

Power Up is not part of the regular game lineup yet; it is only in limited Alpha play-money testing with a select number of PokerStars players. Put simply, there is a long way to go before Power Up sees broad release across PokerStars’ different platforms.

PokerStars has not provided much in the way of details on Power Up yet, but what it is is a Texas Hold’em game in which players are given power-ups or special abilities that can alter the cards and the way a hand progresses. Think Magic the Gathering or Hearthstone meets poker. As many poker players also play those types of strategic card games, it seems like a good match on the surface.

PokerStars Power Up -Cards400That is really the extent of what we know so far, as we have not been privy to the Alpha testing. In a screenshot provided by PokerStars, it appears that each player is able to select or is dealt special cards before a hand (or Sit-and-Go, depending on how all this works) that can completely change the way a game plays out. The special power-up cards shown are as follows (there may be more, we don’t know):

Clone – receive a copy of the last power played this hand
Disintegrate – Destroy a targeted board card dealt this street
EMP – prevent powers on this street
Engineer – choose the deck’s next card from three options
Intel – view the deck’s top card for the rest of the hand
Reload – redraw selected hole cards
Scanner – view the top two cards in the deck; choose whether to discard them
Upgrade – draw a third hole card, then discard one
X-Ray – force all opponents to expose one hole card

As you can see, a game of hold’em changes dramatically with powers like these available.

In a short, half-minute, video from gameplay in January, it looks like one player is using an X-Ray card to make the one opponent remaining in the hand to show a card. In another, the Upgrade card is being used, giving a player with J-K as his hole cards an Ace to go along with them. As the description above states, that player would have to discard one of the hole cards. With a board of 9-K-T in the video, my guess is the new Ace would be thrown out. In a third example, Disintegrate is activated, obliterating the Jack of Clubs on the turn.

In a blog post, PokerStars Director of Poker Innovation and Operations Severin Rasset explained that Power Up is classified internally as a “potential game changer” product, as opposed to a “product evolution,” like Beat the Clock, KO Poker, and Spin & Go Limited Edition.

Severin discusses Power Up:

It’s a combination of traditional enjoyable No Limit Hold’em injected with powers that give players the ability to influence how hands play out and change up game play in a variety of ways with boards, cards and chips. This project introduces a lot of new features to poker that we have built from scratch and it’s taken a lot of time and effort to get to this stage in the game’s life. We balanced the game for six months in a sandbox environment with a group of very high volume experienced poker players and gamers to attempt to break the game in every possible way. We integrated a new engine within our software, created animations and powers, and put a lot of time and thought into how poker players will have fun with the game.

Severin said that the PokerStars team understands that something as ambitious as Power Up is a risk and “requires a concerted team effort to dive into the unknown, to keep the faith and to deliver a project that will be right for our players.”

Players will also notice that the Power Up table looks nothing like what a regular PokerStars table looks like right now. The graphics are completely changed, looking much more like a video game than a traditional online poker view. There’s a sort of “futuristic space age” vibe to it, with lots of metallic grays and blues, along with electrical effects. It looks good, certainly not boring.

While novel, Power Up is not exactly a new concept. About a year ago, Mediarex Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the Global Poker Index and Global Poker League, launched HoldemX Alpha, a heads-up hold’em game with essentially the same elements as Power Up. In that game, there are 15 “xcards,” each with a different point value. Before the game, players can select which xcards they want in their arsenal, using a budget of 45 points. Players also choose three cards that their opponent is prevented from using. After each betting round, players can choose whether or not they want to use an xcard.

Looking at the Power Up screenshots, the power-up cards each have what looks like a point value at the top (the ones listed have values ranging from two to five), so it is fully possible that the cards are distributed or selected in a similar way to HoldemX.

Power Up is without a doubt a fascinating concept for poker. Whether it resonates with players remains to be seen, but for now, it may be worth watching.

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