Report: PokerStars May Bring Back Novelty Games as Tournaments

PokerStars used to be known as the online poker site of choice for multi-table tournaments (it was “where champions play,” remember?). And it certainly still is, but this year, PokerStars’ modus operandi has been to launch novelty cash games for a short period of time before removing them and launching another shortly thereafter. That the games were temporary was planned most of the time, but what if players really enjoyed the new games? In an interview with Poker Industry Pro, PokerStars seemed to indicate that some games might return in multi-table tournaments.

“We are considering putting variants in, such as MTTs, because player feedback showed that they [would appreciate] this,” said PokerStars’ Director of Poker Innovation and Operations Severin Rasset. “Some players were disappointed that they could not find games when we turned them off, so this is something that we want to potentially offer.”


Split Hold’em

To review, PokerStars began by introducing Split Hold’em in April. This game threw even the pros for a loop, as it was exactly the same as regular No-Limit Hold’em except that two sets of board cards were dealt. And it wasn’t like running it twice; the boards were dealt at the same time.

To win the entire pot, a player had to win hands using both sets of community cards. In most cases when hands went to showdown, the pot was split, as one player had the best hand using one board and another player had the best hand using the other board.

It was definitely designed to be an action game, as players tended to open up their ranges as two boards gave more chances to win something. More information was out there, too, since more cards could be seen. At the same time, though, it could be very tough to read opponents, as someone who is raising could be doing so with two great hands or just one (and which one)?

Showtime Hold’emShowtime Hold’em

In May, it was Showtime Hold’em, a game which basically punished players for folding beyond just having them forfeit the opportunity to win the pot. The concept was simple: if you fold, you have to turn you cards face-up for the duration of the hand.

So think about what happens if you are a very loose player and perhaps a habitual bluffer. Whenever you fold, everyone will see – every single time – that you were playing garbage. What you are a nitty nit like me? People will know you will lay down Jacks to a pre-flop raise or top pair when pressured on the flop. Showtime Hold’em was a game that made players reconfigure their strategies often, lest their opponents have an easy read on them.

It also changed the course of the hand for the players who did not fold. Now, instead of just knowing their own hole cards and the community cards, they knew more sets of hole cards that were dealt. If a heart flush draw is on the board and three players folded hearts, perhaps someone with two hearts won’t chase. Perhaps they will and their opponent will figure it out and know the odds are lower that they hit. If someone paired their King and someone folded an Ace, they can be more confident that their hand is good. So on and so forth.


Then, in the beginning of August, PokerStars launched Unfold. This one was different, in that PokerStars said it was a permanent addition to the cash game lobby, but in the end, it wasn’t to be, as it has already been taken down.

In Unfold, everyone contributed an ante to an “unfold pot.” Subsequently, players who folded pre-flop had the option to “unfold” and retrieve their cards from the much after the flop was dealt. There was a price to pay for this, naturally. Those who wanted to get back into the hand had to pay an amount equal to what was in the unfold pot.

Those who unfolded were done at that point. They did not play the turn or river, but rather just watched as if they were all-in. The unfolders were also only competing for the unfold pot. Those who had stayed in the hand played it out as normal, competing for the main pot as they always would.

Poker Industry Pro has already figured out that PokerStars will release two new games at some point: Fusion and Six-Plus Hold’em. Fusion is an unknown quantity, likely some sort of combination of games, based on its name. Six-Plus Hold’em already exists at some poker rooms and was born out of the high stakes cash games in Macau. In this hold’em variant, twos through fives are removed from the deck. As such, the probabilities of hands change. Most significantly, a flush becomes stronger than a full house and a straight becomes weaker than three of a kind.

In the interview, Severin Rasset strongly hinted that at least one of these was on the way before year’s end, saying, “2018 is the first year we have created a stream of new games that occur on a regular basis. In that regard, we are quite happy that we have completed four new variants of NLHE in one year, and we still have three months to go.”


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