Ultimate Poker Concludes Busy First Week, Highlighted by Sold-Out “Sundays $10,000”
The United States’ only online poker site Ultimate Poker marks one week of operation today. While only available to players physically located within Nevada, the site has nonetheless drawn considerable attention from players and industry observers interested to see how the first licensed and regulated real money online poker site in the U.S. fares.
Just minutes ago (at 9 a.m. Pacific time), Ultimate Poker ended seven full days of operation. Hand numbers for games currently running on the site indicate UP has dealt more than 368,500 hands during its first week.
Fertitta Interactive LLC, who operates Ultimate Poker, received its interactive gaming license from the Nevada Gaming Commission in October 2012. At the time UP was running as a free play game on Facebook. As a host of other Nevada companies likewise obtained their licenses, it was UP that nudged in front of the pack, making news with the signing of poker pro and MMA fighter Terrence Chan in March as a team member, then in early April signing Antonio Esfandiari as Brand Ambassador.
There was little forewarning prior to UP’s launch last Tuesday, with sign-ups only becoming available through the site or by visiting Station Casinos in Las Vegas during the hours preceding the noon launch. While no official statement has been offered regarding numbers, word is the initial rush of players signing on at UP was in fact in the thousands.
Ultimate Poker co-founder and chairman Tom Breitling wrote a piece for Card Player this week describing that first morning. Breitling had been scheduled to appear on CNBC’s business news program “Squawk Box,” a three-hour long talk show focusing on interviews and analysis of financial markets.
As Breitling explains, he had been invited to discuss Ultimate Poker’s launch at 8:50 a.m. — just 10 minutes before the site would be going live — but was bumped in favor of a President Obama press conference running longer than expected. Thus was Breitling able to repair back to the UP offices in Las Vegas to watch the first hand dealt on the site.
Shortly after going live, players slowly began to fill a full ring $4.55+$0.55 turbo NLHE sit-n-go, and after nine minutes the tourney finally began. Player “chazman” earned the distinction of winning the first hand on the site, in fact knocking out “prognostic” in a hand that saw all of the chips go in on the turn (see below).
Meanwhile, a few cash game tables began to fill with other SNGs intermittently taking place as well as through the afternoon and evening.
Only fixed-limit and no-limit hold’em has been offered on the site thus far, with LHE games available from $0.05/$0.10 up to $10/$20 and NLHE games from $0.01/$0.02 to $3/$6. Of note has been a maximum buy-in at the NLHE tables of only 50 big blinds, a limit which is apparently scheduled to change in the future. Meanwhile, SNGs ranging from $0.25 up to $100 have been offered as well.
More than 25,000 hands were dealt at the cash tables and SNGs that first day, with the site celebrating its 100,000th hand dealt by Thursday. According to PokerScout, traffic during the first day peaked at 136 players. At the moment PokerScout lists Ultimate Poker 40th in its worldwide rankings of poker sites, a few spots ahead of the bitcoin-based Seals With Clubs and just behind PartyPoker.es.
The week was then highlighted by the first running of a multi-table tournament on Ultimate Poker, it’s version of a weekly “Sunday major” — i.e., a $91+$9 no-limit hold’em tournament with a $10,000 guaranteed prize pool scheduled to take place each Sunday night at 6 p.m. Pacific time.
The inaugural running of the “$10,000 Sundays” was capped at 200 players. I spoke with Scott Yeates, Director of Game Operations at Ultimate Poker, about how the first big MTT on the site played out, including the slight hitch that occurred during the afternoon on Sunday that saw the event disappear from the lobby momentarily.
“We did have a server go down last Sunday that cancelled the event during registration,” explained Yeates, noting that a handful of SNGs were cancelled as well. “Players were refunded double their buy-in and the $10,000 Sundays was restored with players that had already registered,” explained Yeates.
From there more signed up and the tourney reached its 200-player max. about an hour before the first hands were dealt. The tourney’s structure employed 15-minute levels with blinds/antes increasing at the same rate as found in PokerStars’ popular Sunday Million tournament.
“The $10,000 Sundays event ran without an issue once it started,” said Yeates. “We had it all planned for months, but to see it run was a great thing with half the company watching it. The stress for Andre [Ledoux, CRM Manager at Ultimate Gaming] and I was like having another kid.”
The top 27 finishers made the cash, with those finishing 19th-27th earning their $100 buy-in back and the 10th-18th place finishers winning $200 apiece. After just over seven-and-a-half hours, it was “d4heals” earning the first Sundays $10K title and $4,173 first prize.
Las Vegas resident Bob “scsuhockey10” Lauria was among those making the final table, finishing fifth for a $1,296 cash. Lauria tweeted afterwards about the ease with which he was able to cash out $1,200 of his winnings, choosing the option to pick up his winnings at the Palace Station Hotel and Casino on Monday night.
While many have shared Lauria’s positive experience with signing up, playing, and/or cashing out, others have run into occasional difficulties in their efforts to play on Ultimate Poker, most of which have concerned the use of cell phone triangulation or “location-based services” to ensure players are indeed located within Nevada’s borders when playing on the site.
Upon registering for an account, becoming age verified, and depositing, players must be able to receive a text message on their cell phones sent by Ultimate Poker from a “short code” number (UPOKER, or 876-537). Players then respond to the message by saying “yes,” thereby acknowledging they are opting in to location-based services while also allowing UP to make certain the player is physically within Nevada.
In some cases, players’ providers have short codes blocked as they are often used for spam purposes; players must have such blocking removed to receive the message from UP. However, some cell phone providers are currently not allowing UP to leverage location-based services on their network, thus presenting another obstacle for some.
At present AT&T, Cricket, Sprint, T-Mobile, and (recently added) Virgin all have LBS enabled. Meanwhile, MetroPCS, Simple, TracFone, and Verizon do not, with Verizon having informed UP that they will not be allowing such LBS leveraging to occur. UP has encouraged players who are Verizon customers to voice their complaint with this policy to the provider while also suggesting such players purchase inexpensive “drop phones” on the T-Mobile network in order to be able to play.
As those issues continue to be addressed, I asked Yeates about plans moving forward for Ultimate Poker’s “Sunday major.”
“The $10,000 Sundays will have a 400-player cap this weekend,” he noted. “MTT satellites will be added this week as well, which will let players satellite in for as little as $5.”
Yeates also mentioned how Ultimate Poker is “finalizing plans for a promo related to the big tourneys that will run down the street from us in June” — i.e., the World Series of Poker events at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. He also mentioned plans for Ultimate Poker-related live events at Station Casinos properties as well.
The progress of Ultimate Poker is not only being watched by players and industry observers, but by the Nevada Gaming Commission Control Board, to whom a report on the first 30 days of activity at Ultimate Poker will be delivered for review.
Thanks to Scott Yeates for taking the time.