PokerStars Launches Duel: the Casual Mobile Poker Game

The very same week that PokerStars is eliminating regular heads-up cash game tables from its lobby, the world’s largest online poker room has introduced a different type of heads-up game, clearly aimed at casual players. Call it coincidence, call it strategically timed, call it anything you want, but PokerStars took yet another step in its metamorphosis from the site for pros to the site for recreational players with the introduction of “Duel” today.

Jumping on the Social, Mobile Game Train

My wife is WAY into Lexulous and Words with Friends on Facebook. Every day, she has probably dozens of Scrabble-esque games going at once. On the occasions I look over her shoulder when she has a game up, I have seen her statistics reflect that she has played thousands of games, with the game counts with a couple of her Facebook friends up into the thousands by themselves.

Now, normally, I would not be all that happy that my wife is spending a ton of time playing word games on Facebook with others when she could be spending time with me (for some people, this might be a good thing, but let’s just say we have a happy marriage), but with these games it’s not a big deal. Since she is not playing live, she can take her turn whenever she wants. Play a word, come back the next day, play another, and so on. Sure, she has a bunch of games going on simultaneously, but it doesn’t take long to make a move. So really, it’s not that big of a time commitment. And it’s not like I don’t waste a few minutes here and there surfing some pointless site on the interwebs.

It is people like my wife – if she liked poker – that PokerStars is targeting with Duel. People who want to play, and even want to play several games at once, but do not want to have to commit to sitting down for a lengthy period of time to do so. Duel is designed like a Word with Friends – it is turn based, heads-up poker in which players are permitted to take days, rather than seconds or minutes, to make decisions.

Poker in Spurts

Available only on mobile phones (iOS and Android) and only in Norway at first, Duel has the look and feel of a hybrid poker and social mobile game. Players can use their existing PokerStars account or, if they are new to the site, create one either at PokerStars or via the Duel app. The game is really geared towards playing against friends, thus the existence of a friends list in the app, but since many people might not have friends who play poker or who also have Duel, games can be initiated with random players. Those players can then be added to friends list, if both parties so choose.

Duel can be played for real money or play money, with the maximum real money buy-in set at $5 right now. As was mentioned earlier, this is clearly aimed towards casual players. Play money games consist of 10 hands, while real money games consist of 20 hands.

Duel by PokerStars Flying Sceen RGBIn Duel, all hands are played simultaneously with each player having the button for half the hands, though players don’t actually have to make decisions in every hand at once. For example, in a real money game, a player will have all 20 hands available to play immediately, but if he only has time to look at two of them and make a move, the other 18 can be saved for later.

A player starts, naturally, with the hands in which he opens the betting. One hand is played after the other and once the first move is made in each, the player is then shown the hands in which his opponent opened the betting. Play continues from there, with each player able to take their turn once the opponent has taken theirs. Players can take as long as they would like, though right now, there is a three day limit on each contest. Thus, someone can play a few hands in one contest or many during their lunch break and not worry about missing anything when they have to return to work. Aside from the multi-day time limit, players can play at their own pace, just like in Words with Friends.

Of course, that means the chip stack situation has to change, as multiple hands are time shifted by varying amounts. In Duel, each hand is really its own game. Aside from possible chip strategy with hands that have yet to finish, each hand is independent and has no effect on the others. Each player starts with 500 chips for each poker hand; whichever player has the most combined chips once all the hands are completed is the winner.

The Kneel-on-the-Ball Issue

The obvious problem with this – and this is something that has been brought up on poker forums and in other articles – is that if one player has a substantial chip lead with just a few hands left to finish, he could conceivably just fold his way to victory. Sort of like when a Jeopardy! player has more than double the money of her opponents going into Final Jeopardy! All she has to do is wager nothing and she is guaranteed the win.

According to PokerListings, which was able to play a demo of Duel last month, one way PokerStars has mitigated this problem is to delay the reveal of any all-in situations. If a player goes all-in (and we assume is called), that hand is paused until all the rest of the hands are completed. It would appear that this is supposed to keep the matches closer and therefore make it more difficult for someone to protect a lead by folding. Of course, someone could still build a huge lead without all-ins, but this is at least a start.

Again, Duel is only available in Norway right now, but there are plans to roll it out to other countries in the near future.


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