Deep Water and Tempest Might Not Be for You and PokerStars Is Fine with That

Hold your breath

Recently, PokerStars launched two new novelty cash games: Deep Water Hold’em and PokerStars Tempest Hold’em (yes, only the name of the latter includes “PokerStars”). Temporary cash games have been the norm the last couple years at PokerStars and like several others, Deep Water and Tempest were born to die. Neither is intended to be permanent.

As expected, much of the poker community isn’t overly impressed with these games. Tempest, in particular, has been derided as just a luck-fest, a gambling game. And hey, that evaluation isn’t wrong. I think it’s a dumb game and if I lived in a jurisdiction where I could play on PokerStars, I wouldn’t touch it.

Thing is, PokerStars knew full well that serious poker players wouldn’t like some of these novelty games. The lack of appeal to avid players is a feature, not a bug.

Poker siblings

Before we proceed, let’s quickly look at what both Deep Water and Tempest are, exactly. Both are six-max, no-limit hold’em games. What makes them unique from traditional no-limit hold’em games is that there are three blinds instead of two. In addition to the Small Blind and Big Blind, there is the Giant Blind, which is twice the size of the Big Blind. This is effectively a classic straddle (and works against a “bad to limp” mentality).

Additionally, if the hand does not reach showdown, the antes increase for the next hand. They keep increasing up to a maximum or until a hand reaches showdown. If a hand gets to showdown, antes reset back to their initial value.

Of course, Deep Water and Tempest are two different games, which implies there are differences. In Deep Water, stacks are deep, hence the name. Starting stacks are between 50 and 150 Giant Blinds. In Tempest, starting stacks are only five to 10 Giant Blinds. Tempest is also an all-in or fold game with a an all-in cap equal to the maximum buy-in.

You can see why lots of serious players have no interest in Tempest Hold’em. It’s just an all-in or fold pushfest with extremely shallow stacks.

Tempest is geared toward casual players

For years now, PokerStars and other poker sites/networks have been trying to become more recreational player-friendly. There are several ways to accomplish this. One way is to offer games that move quickly and require less skill than traditional poker games. Tempest most definitely fits the bill. The all-in or fold aspect of the game means that players don’t have to wait through multiple betting rounds. It also means that while there is definitely decision-making involved, the skill gap is narrowed significantly. I would fare much better in Tempest against Phil Ivey than I would in regular Hold’em.

The appeal to recreational players also has the effect of repelling the more serious players and pros. This, in turn, makes the games appeal even further to casual players, as they won’t be facing competition that might be able to eat them alive.

I should note that “recreational player” does not necessarily mean “bad player.” It just means someone that plays more for fun than for money. Recreational players are going to have more fun if they feel like they aren’t getting targeted by pros and if they can see enough action in the usually shorter window they have to play.

And that’s okay

As I said, PokerStars is fully aware that not every new game is going to appeal to every player. They said as much in the blog post when Deep Water and Tempest were introduced:

Of course, with their twists and turns, not every new game is right for everyone and one common piece of feedback we receive after a launch goes something like, ‘I just want to play No Limit Hold’em’. We want players to be excited every time they open PokerStars, and are committed to providing something for everyone. That’s why we’re thrilled to unveil not one but two new NLHE variants.

Now, is Tempest also a bit of a cash grab? Yeah, probably. It’s a fast-moving game with high rake, catering to the types of players who don’t typically pay much attention to rake. And that kind of stinks, but that’s also how the poker economy works. The poker rooms make their money off of recreational players, not pros. It’s to be expected.

If one is to criticize PokerStars for Tempest, the above would be the critique. But there’s no reason to gripe about any poker room adding games – especially temporary ones – that you don’t like. I want online poker rooms to try out different things. Variety keeps things interesting. If you like them, play, if you don’t, don’t. Not everything is going to work, but in most cases, we can appreciate the attempt.

Tempest isn’t for everyone, but it is for someone. People will play it for a couple months and then it will be gone. And that’s fine.


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