After Folding ‘Unfold’, Where Does PokerStars Go Next With Innovation?

Martin Derbyshire September 12, 2018 524 Reads
Unfold

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, but you’ve no longer got to know when to unfold ’em.

That’s because, after a six-week run, PokerStars is dropping Unfold Poker, the site’s latest twist on cash games. In fact, PokerStars’ Director of Poker Innovation and Operations Severin Rasset told Pokerfuse that after a strategic review, PokerStars made the decision to “fold ‘Unfold.’”

Unfold Poker is essentially a no-limit hold’em ring game where players pay an additional Unfold ante. Then, the players who fold preflop have an option to go after the side pot created. They just need to match it, which allows them to pull their cards out of the muck. The antes are returned if all players pass. If more than one player Unfolds, the best hand of the bunch wins the side pot. PokerStars rakes both the main and Unfold ante side pot.

Just another rake grab?

Like many of the innovations PokerStars has rolled out recently, the game has been panned by critics. Most say it’s just another rake grab. Still, Rasset told Pokerfuse PokerStars’ attempts to try new game formats it believes will appeal to players will not end here:

“PokerStars is invested in creating and testing products and new variants of poker to suit a variety of player tastes. While not every new development will be a home run, we will keep trialling, listening to player feedback and analysing engagement with our goal of continuing to offer fresh promotions, formats and updates that enhance our players’ experience and bring more people to the game.”

PokerStars’ Split Hold’em, played with two boards, and Showtime Hold’em, which reveals all player holdings after they have folded, have both come and gone this year. Both faced similar criticisms in the short time PokerStars offered them.

A question of motives

All these stops and starts raise an important question. Should the poker community be applauding the world’s leading online poker site for its attempts at innovation, or panning it for failing to produce anything that is still around?

It really comes down to a question of the site’s motivations.

If the only innovations PokerStars comes up with are games the poker community widely considers rake grabs, its research and development team are nothing more than a bunch of con artists trying to fleece the community out of its cash. If money is the only motivation here, it’s time to call a red spade a red spade.

However, if PokerStars is really testing new game formats in a legitimate effort to bring more people into poker, it’s important the site be recognized for its effort to grow the game.

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Is Short Deck the answer?

Pokerfuse did some digging into the PokerStars client. Based on that, it seems to think either something called Fusion Poker, or Six Plus Hold’em, will be the next innovation the site rolls out.

Leaving Fusion aside for the moment, since little other than the name is known about the game, releasing something like Six Plus Hold’em could go a long way towards convincing the community the site’s motivations are pure.

Otherwise know as Six Plus Hold’em or Short Deck, the game is hold’em. Although, it’s played with a deck where the deuces through fives have been pulled out. The game evolved out of some of the biggest cash games in the world over in Asia. It is quickly gaining steam all over the world. The Poker Masters just ran one of the first Short Deck events on US soil this week.

It’s an action game with increased variance. It’s the kind thing most poker players seem to love.

Releasing Six Plus Hold’em simply makes sense for PokerStars because of its appeal to players. Plus, perhaps even more importantly, it’ll be seen as more than just another way to generate rake.

It may not be purely PokerStars’ innovation. However, it’s the kind of idea that can help improve the image of the site’s Poker Innovation and Operations department. It’ll give the poker community something it clearly wants. A move that can only help the community begin to see PokerStars is after more than just its money.

If PokerStars wants to continue to be the world’s largest poker site, making a decision that’s as much public relations as it is innovation is the right move right now.