If it ain’t broke, PokerStars will fix it.
The world’s largest online poker site made yet another attempt to reinvent the wheel late last month when it launched a new, limited time only, cash game variant which it says provides a novel twist on Texas Hold’em.
It’s the Cadillac of poker with the new upgrades package. The one including the undercoat you never knew you needed until the dealer sold it to you.
It’s called Split Hold’em, and basically, it’s Hold’em with two boards. There’s two flops, two turns and two rivers. It turns classic Hold’em strategy on its ear. Mostly because it’s a split-pot game where the winner of each board gets half the pot. Be best on both boards, or force folds all around, and you scoop.
A new game with familiar rules
It’s certainly something that will feel familiar to most poker players. It’s got the simplicity of Hold’em. Plus, it combines intricacies many players will understand from a variety of other Hi-Lo split games.
The idea of running it twice isn’t anything new to most players. Cash game players have been agreeing to this kind of thing in an effort to reduce variance increasingly over the past few years.
Of course, outside of some wild and woolly home games, double board games aren’t exactly spread regularly anywhere. And certainly, putting all these rule variations together in one new poker variant has to be considered something new.
PokerStars says Split Hold’em is an example of one of the new type of poker variants they’ve been working on. The kind of games they say provide engaging challenges and opportunities for players to test their wits in a fresh format that is new for everybody.
Is Split Hold’em just another rake trap?
In the past, these have included new gimmicks like Spin & Go’s and Beat the Clock hyper-tournaments. These games have proven popular among the masses, who seem to devour anything that makes the game faster. However, these casino game and poker hybrids have been exposed as rake traps that remove a lot of skill from the game.
Now, anytime PokerStars tries to reinvent the wheel again, it forces the poker community to ask if its another one of these gems.
At first glance, Split Hold’em may very well be. Variance is lower, as is any edge a player enjoys because of the split pot nature of the game. Players tend to try and lock up half the board and get it in. As a result, the average pot does tend to be bigger than your typical Hold’em game. Since it’s a split pot most of the time, the only one really winning is PokerStars. Bigger pots create bigger rake.
According to PokerStars’ Ring Games Manager Dan Price, the game will not be a permanent addition to the PokerStars offering. Although that’s probably subject to change. Particularly if the game proves wildly popular and continues to create bigger average pots and more rake.
Holding on to the title
Amaya, now The Stars Group, paid $4.9 billion to purchase PokerStars back in 2014. As a result, it can do what it wants with the site. However, it would do well to remember how PokerStars became the world’s largest poker site if it wants to hold on to that title.
It did it by offering the best software in the business and the largest poker tournaments anywhere online. Not by inventing new poker variants.
Poker was once a good enough game on its own to help the site attract millions of new players. Perhaps reminding the world of how much fun the original forms of the game can be would be a better use of PokerStars’ new game research and development budget.
Because trying to build a better rake trap and continuing to alienate much of the site’s most loyal customer base as a result isn’t going to work.